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19 Posts authored by: teachontarioteam




In this installment of TeachOntario Talks we are profiling and celebrating a group of educators from the KidsAbility™ School Authority who embarked on a year-long Teacher Learning and Leadership Program (TLLP) using art as a pathway to learning for their students at the KidsAbility™ School (Waterloo site).





The Context


At this Section 68 School, operating within a children's treatment centre, kindergarten-aged children who have communication, physical and/or developmental disabilities experience one-year programs that focus on early


identification, intervention and transition into community schools. Kellie Bell, Lori Bick, and Virginia Andersen - three teachers at the school - worked together to develop their TLLP, "Art for All - Exploring Visual Art Across an Alternative Curriculum". Kellie explains, "We all had an interest in art and realized that could be a great vehicle for our students to access the curriculum."



The inquiry's objective was to:

  • investigate how a diverse array of skills and domains across the alternative curriculum can be targeted through visual arts
  • develop insight into how they can build students' conceptual understanding through art
  • determine which adaptations are necessary to enable all students to participate



Planning started before the school year began. The educators thought about their students' abilities and interests and designed mini projects that would allow every student to participate. "A lot of our children have motor challenges, so they may not be able to participate the same way that other kids do. We wanted to look at what equipment and what modifications we might need to make, in order for them to be able to be artists" shared Kellie.LoveBalloonWcaptions_r2.jpg


The Project


The inquiry consisted of one major project each month, along with other smaller projects all based around a specific medium. Over the course of the year, they explored Paint Splattering, Sumingashi printing, Stamping, Paint Making, Flexible Glass Sculptures, and even Chihuly Glass.





With the help of adaptive tools and assistive technology, including switch-adapted equipment, every student was able to participate and contribute equally to a giant mural at a community event. Zot Artz provided giant paint rollers and paint stampers that could be attached to walkers and wheelchairs, allowing each artist to be successful in their own way. The year culminated with an art festival showcasing all of the students work. The event drew hundreds of guests, including media, providing a truly special moment for students and their families to celebrate what they accomplished.


Kellie says of "Art for All", "I think it reinforced our belief that, all of our children, no matter what their skill level... they all have the right and the ability to Zot-WalkerRollerWcaptions_r2.jpghave the same experiences and be able to participate. Sometimes all it takes is a small modification, or accommodation, and it's really incredible what these kids can accomplish".


“Art for All” illuminated previously undiscovered talents in students allowing them to express themselves in different and powerful ways, regardless of abilities. It was an equally powerful experience for the educators as it brought them proudly together, it made them more committed than ever in their collective belief that “inclusion is possible” and that they can provide learning pathways that allow every child to learn.


Questions? Ideas? Comments? Ontario's educators can register on TeachOntario and join in more in-depth conversation about this teacher here.



In this installment of TeachOntario Talks, we are profiling and celebrating a group of teachers from the London District Catholic School Board (LDCSB) who embarked on an Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA) Collaborative Learning Community (CLC) Project to explore the role of computer programming and coding in mathematics instruction.


Across Ontario, school districts are very aware of the ever-quickening pace of programming and coding education worldwide. Students are excited and ready to go when it comes to learning how to code and program, and teachers are stepping up to ensure students are getting a jumpstart at an early age.


The Project


LDCSB educators Richard Annesley, Steve Floyd, Tim Miller, Mark Palma and Catherine Veteri, believe students learning how to code is of the utmost importance.


This group, ranging from grade 4 to high school, developed a Collaborative Learning Communities (CLC) project to research the benefits of student coding and programming. This unique project not only focused on an innovative topic, but also included students from elementary and secondary schools.


The purpose of the project was to explore what happens when a student learns coding. Does he or she use this knowledge as a link to understand mathematic concepts? This was the major question the group wanted to investigate. The group's work was closely based on research by Dr. George Gadanidis from Western University in London, Ontario. Gadanidis specializes in computational thinking and believes that students of all ages from elementary to high school should be educated in coding, programming, and technology for the many benefits that come along with it.



In a research report developed by Lisa Floyd and Brian Aspinall for a graduate course on Computational Thinking in Math and Science Education, these benefits are outlined. The report shows that learning to program and code makes mathematical concepts more tangible, helps students develop pattern and structure awareness, and gave students the agency to become creators with technology rather than just consumers.




To begin their learning journey, the team took part in collaborative discussions about coding and programming and its connection to mathematics instruction. Grade 11 and 12 computer engineering and computer science teacher Steve Floyd, showed his colleagues how the block based programming tools available for younger students compare to widely used, text based coding languages like JAVA and Python. The group shared resources as they learned from one another and quickly implemented their new learnings throughout the course of a school year. Through this process the group explored the impact their lessons had on students’ broader knowledge of mathematics.


For example, grade 4 teacher at St. Marguerite d'Youville Catholic School Tim Miller developed "unplugged" activities that incorporated physical activity with coding language skills. Students would interact directly with cards that represented code as a way to develop sequential writing skills.


Similarly, in one lesson, grade 5/6 teacher at St. Marguerite d'Youville Catholic School Richard Annesley helped students learn to write, represent, and announce the numbers zero to 10 while using ScratchJr. Annesley used pre-made cards with the numbers written on them and placed them face down on a desk. Students would respond when a card was selected by speaking up and also used Scratch characters to represent the number. This exercise helped students recognize numbers through finding connections to the software.


Furthermore, in order to help students explore angles in triangles, squares, pentagons, and hexagons, grade 7/8 teacher at Holy Cross elementary school Mark Palma used Scratch and ScratchJr – a free programming tool developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Palma developed an exercise to make a sprite turn in a circle, move on a line, and eventually complete a triangular pattern. This lesson reinforced the principles of geometry to students while growing their knowledge of basic coding.



Moreover, to gain a better understanding of topics in mathematics such as parallel lines and interior and exterior angles, Secondary Mathematics teacher at Holy Cross High School Catherine Veteri used Spheros. Her exercise involved teaching students four to six basic tile commands using the Sphero app. They were able to use the commands to investigate the area and perimeter of a square and a rectangle.


Additionally, Steve Floyd worked with his grade 11 and grade 12 Computer Science students at Mother Teresa High School, exposing his classes to tool such as Sphero, ScratchJr and Scratch. Students then offered their opinions on how these block based tools compared to the text based programming languages students were using at the high school level. “My wife Lisa has been doing a tremendous amount of work in the area of teaching computational thinking and problem solving skills," reports Floyd. "Hearing my high school students talk about the importance of problem solving and computational thinking, and having them realize that the syntax of the language isn’t that important, was profound. All of this tech is an amazing context for the learning of so many skills beyond the accurate placement of commas, semi colons and braces.”


Over the course of the year, the CLC group discovered that their students had substantial prior knowledge of technology and its applications. This observation allowed them to make their starting points for lessons a little more advanced. It also helped them gauge the types of lessons to demonstrate at schools they visited.


The team of educators also found that the project had changed not only their view of teaching, but gave them a deeper perspective on how new knowledge can benefit students and teachers.


The group documented their progress on Twitter using the hashtag #CLCMathAndCompProg to archive both images and learning.




Richard Annesley says that his students' confidence in mathematics has greatly benefited from learning how to code.


"Students responded with consistent enthusiasm," says Annesley. "Students were sharing their projects and accomplishments with each other and provided peer-to-peer feedback about how they could improve coding developments.”


He found that through the coding activities students who were once reluctant to take on math began to enjoy it. They started using coding as a context for learning and even found themselves learning at home while playing with software like Scratch. It opened their minds to a new way of thinking.



As part of their CLC, the team planned a celebration to highlight student achievement. The Coding and Mathematics Showcase Day at St. Marguerite d'Youville Catholic School allowed their pupils to showcase what they had learned to teachers and administrators.


"It was a big day for us and we were all very proud," reports Veteri. "The students made all who attended see why we need this in our school and at an early age.”


Groups of students took on the role of facilitators to guide visitors through a variety of tasks including showing them how to navigate a Sphero through a maze and making a character move around the screen in Scratch. Students were able to show how their coding knowledge benefitted their understanding of mathematical concepts.


To build his knowledge of coordinates and measurements, Pablo Gonzales, a grade 6 student at St. Marguerite d’Youville Catholic School, used Scratch. The programming language in the software allowed him to use numbers and commands to move characters around.


“I wanted to make a character move in Scratch, so I had to use ‘x’ and ‘y’ coordinates,” says Gonzales. “I had to use lots of measurements too.”


"I really like this way of learning," chimes Gonzales. "The lessons stay in your mind a lot longer."


He encourages other students to take on programming because he says it helps you see the world differently and assists you with problem solving.



"Math really is everywhere," he says thoughtfully. "In coding you have to think of ways to make something work. When I see something in a video game now I think about how the code would appear and how I can make a mini version of it.”


"It’s a fun way to learn, especially for kids who like to play video games. This way you’re making things happen and you get to see the end result. You also get to learn math without even thinking about it" - Pablo Gonzales


Pablo's father, Andres, has also noticed the growth his son has experienced while learning to code. "Pablo has always been very good at school, but coding and programming gave him a new challenge that he definitely took on. We are definitely looking forward to continuing this program next year."


With the help of facilitators like Richard Annesley, Steve Floyd, Tim Miller, Mark Palma and Catherine Veteri, students like Gonzales will have a chance to get a head start on learning math in this increasingly conventional way.


You can read the group’s Action Research Report, CLC-ActionResearchReport.docx . You can also take a look at some of the lessons plans they developed during their project, here.


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: Driving Student Engagement in Mathematics with Coding and Programming


In this installment of the TeachOntario Talks, we are profiling and celebrating the work of secondary teacher Kendra Spira and her colleagues at Erin District High School in the Upper Grand District School Board. Spira has created a learner-centred classroom that uses technology tools to help deepen student learning.


With only about 500 students, Erin District High School may be small in stature, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in caliber.


The school is one of the Upper Grand District School Board’s leading schools, ranked in the top 10% of Ontario secondary schools in the Fraser Institute School Rankings. This is due, in part, to the sheer scope of programs it offers, from a champion athletics program, to a renowned French Immersion program, to a thriving Drama department, to a plethora of clubs and activities for students to join.


students_using_cell_phones_to_learn.jpgIt also has a rich technology department, which has recently become even more robust due to the efforts of Science teacher Kendra Spira and her colleagues. Spira, a self-confessed techno-geek, is passionate about students, specifically the students in her Grade 10 Applied Science class, and how technology can deepen their learning.


About one quarter of the students at the school are in the applied stream and require a different approach to learning. Spira believes that a learner-centred approach and using technology will open the world of learning to these students and as a result, all students will benefit.


A few years ago, Spira started introducing the use of iPads to her Grade 10 students. “We started trying things and looking at them a bit differently,” she says. From there she ordered tablets for the classroom and that led to working with Google to try out different products with her students. Her aim was to capture and deepen student learning through using technology.


This past September, Spira joined forces with Geography and Phys.Ed. teacher Melanie Sammit and Science and Math teacher Megan Millen. “We've been looking at ways we can really engage kids using technology and then if they're engaged, helping them improve in their school work,” explains Spira.


Shifting to a Learner-Centred Classroom with Technology


Some students struggle with organization, focus, productivity and putting their thoughts into words. There are many apps and online resources that help address all of these issues and Spira has worked hard to get the students to begin using those apps as learning tools.


“Differentiated instruction and technology is a way to help some kids hook into what they're doing,” says Spira. “I feel that they're very strong kids, just not strong in academics in the traditional way.”


“Once I can get one or two of them trying it, and then they will show their buddy how this is working, and then it's not me saying they should use it, it's somebody else,” describes Spira.


students_accessing_assignments_in_hallway_on_tablets.jpgGrowth Mindset and Risk-Taking with Technology


When Spira began using technology with her students, she assumed they would be even more technologically advanced than she was. This was not the case. “They know how to use phones to play games but they don't know how to use phones for learning,” she laughs.


So she realized the teachers and students would be learning the technology together, which has proven to be a unique learning experience in and of itself. “Watching us falling on our faces at times has been really beneficial for the kids,” explains Spira. “To say ‘oh so Ms. Spira really doesn't know what she's doing, so maybe I can take a risk and try something too.’”


The teachers want to facilitate ways to help the students make their learning visible and explain their thinking. To do that, the teachers are using apps like Explain Everything and Adobe Voice with the students.


For instance, before shifting to a learner-centred approach, when Spira was teaching Balancing Chemical Equations, she would teach a lesson, have the students complete a worksheet and then there would be a test. Now, she teaches the lesson using Notability, where her notes are projected on a 70-inch TV screen in her classroom. The lesson is then posted to her Google Classroom where the students can access the lesson, not only written out, but narrated by Spira.


student_presentation_using_explain_everything.jpgInstead of a test, students are required to pick one of the equations that they had worked on in class, and using an app like Explain Everything, do the equation while explaining their thinking.


“So many of my kids when we started said they knew how to do it but they didn't know how to explain to someone else how to do it,” Spira recalls. “What we are finding is that their learning is really being pushed much deeper because they have to explain what they were doing and why they are doing it.”


Spira, Millen and Sammit all use Google Classroom, which is available to Google Apps For Education users, to send notes and assignments. All assignments are submitted through Classroom so assignments can be checked and then sent back to students for changes and re-submission. The students all have Classroom on their phones and they get notified every time something gets sent. “This helps increase student organization and accountability,” says Millen.


Students need a variety of supports depending on their learning needs. The use of Google Forms allows Spira to have quick access to student thinking and provides feedback on classroom activities, so both Spira and her students know what they need to do to improve.


Students who struggle with reading and writing use Read & Write for Google which can be used to hear assignments and documents read aloud with highlighted passages for easy following. The use of apps like Mindomo, helps students organize and draw connections between ideas and review prior to a test.


student_presentation_using_adobe_voice.jpgTo provide students with voice and choice, options like Adobe Voice, Explain Everything and iMovie allow students to present their learning orally rather than in written form. “What we're trying to do is get them to get their ideas out and then when they get their ideas out, then they have something they can write about,” explains Spira.


Lesson content and resources are now being presented in a different way. The daily use of Chromebooks and iPads gives students and teachers the added value of online resources and videos. “Access to these devices allows students to view videos on topics we are learning in class to solidify information that they have learned,” explains Millen.


Spira has also made her digital binder of lessons public, so that parents can have access to some of the activities the students are learning and other teachers can use the lessons themselves.


The Impact of Shifting to a Learner-Centred Classroom


grade_nine_students_explain_learning.jpgAs a result of focusing on student-centred learning with  technology, Spira, Millen and Sammit have all changed how they approach their courses-- and working collaboratively has heightened their enthusiasm.


“It's been a real journey,” says Spira. “Melanie and Megan are discovering things and bringing them to me and it's been amazing and really exciting. That confidence that we feel just spreads to our students.”


“I have had the opportunity to explore new apps, programs, and ways of integrating technology, which has allowed me to improve my teaching methods, and therefore has improved student engagement,” acknowledges Sammit.  “Students have had the chance to work more interactively with information, which improves their engagement and allows them to take ownership of their learning.”


Grade 10 student Moses Santos, agrees. “The way we have been using technology makes it way easier to access information,” he says. “It lets me get the ideas from my head onto the paper easier so that my teacher can understand how much I know.”


“When we used the technology I understood the stuff we were learning way better,” says student Johnny-Tranter Allan.  “I actually remembered the stuff we were learning.”


Liam McGill, echoes his classmates’ enthusiasm: “When we use the technology, like the iPads, it’s way easier to explain what I mean,” he says.


Shifting to a learner-centred approach and providing students with different ways to learn and celebrate their work has been game-changing for the students and teachers alike. The technology has been a valuable tool in their teaching toolbox and the teachers plan on extending its use throughout the whole school and beyond.


Some of the Apps Used by the Teachers:


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: Using a Learner-Centred Classroom to Inspire and Engage Struggling Students

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In this installment of the TeachOntario Talks, we are profiling and celebrating the work of teacher-librarian Kate Johnson-McGregor from Brantford Collegiate Institute & Vocational School in the Grand Erie District School Board. Johnson-McGregor has implemented a successful and vibrant Library Learning Commons in her school.


Today’s schools are in a state of transformation. It is important for students to acquire global competencies, including: critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, entrepreneurship, self-directed learning, collaboration and communication. The perfect place to do that is the school library.


The library has always been at the centre of learning in most schools. In an age of collaboration and authentic learning, teacher-librarians have embraced and driven change to make libraries the 21st Century learning hubs of their schools.


integrated learning.JPGOne of those teacher-librarians is Kate Johnson-McGregor. After teaching English and Drama for 12 years, Johnson-McGregor wanted to do something that would impact not only her students, but the whole school. She was teaching at Brantford Collegiate Institute & Vocational School in the Grand Erie DSB. In 2011, Johnson-McGregor left the classroom and became the new teacher-librarian at the school. She never looked back.


In 2010, the Ontario School Library Association (OSLA) created a document that outlined a vision for the future of school libraries, called Together for Learning: School Libraries and the Emergence of the Learning Commons, and later the Canadian Library Association released, Leading Learning: Standards of Practice for School Library Learning Commons in Canada. Johnson-McGregor thought a Library Learning Commons was the perfect way to bring excitement for learning into the library.


What is a Library Learning Commons?


The OSLA defines a Learning Commons as “a vibrant, whole-school approach, presenting exciting opportunities for collaboration among teachers, teacher-librarians and students. Within a Learning Commons, new relationships are formed between learners, new technologies are realized and utilized, and both students and educators prepare for the future as they learn new ways to learn.”


The Library Learning Commons at Brantford Collegiate has very little in common with the school libraries of the past. It is not a place where the only noises heard are the gentle rustling of turning pages, furtive whispering and the occasional cough. Books are still very important there, but what is essential to the space is the learning, in whichever form it takes.


It starts with a commitment to flexibility. All the furniture is movable and can be rearranged to suit different learning designs. It can accommodate multiple groups and classes. It is high-tech with 30 computers, and areas for students to work on their own devices. There is a spot for quiet reading, complete with leather couches, a coffee table and a fireplace, however, jokes Johnson-McGregor: “we discourage napping, canoodling and tussling.”


couches for quiet reading.jpgFor a bit of fun, there is a Lego wall, and students and staff are welcome to build any creation they wish. Needless to say, it is a very popular spot, particularly for the Grade 12 boys.


There is no need to whisper because conversation, collaboration and curiosity are celebrated. “It's about building more of a collaborative culture in the school,” says Johnson-McGregor. “We're all on a learning journey and there's always a new way to think about something; there's always the possibility for solutions and creative ideas.”


That collaboration can occur in person and online. The Library Learning Commons has an active presence on Twitter, Tumblr and many other social media platforms. It tries to serve all of its stakeholders—students, staff and parents—equally.


What does the Library Learning Commons Offer Students?


Brantford Collegiate has 1,350 students and over 90 teachers. Students come to the library with any number of projects to work on, and although the online world provides a wealth of information, researching online is a skill that must be learned. Johnson-McGregor spends a great deal of time helping students with their research skills and ensures all online databases are used effectively.


blind date with a book.jpgGrade 12 student Chayce Perkins visits the library at least four days a week to work. “Having a librarian like Ms. Johnson-McGregor, who puts emphasis on relevant databases is something that I am extremely grateful for,” says Perkins. “Being in my last year of high school, I feel confident in my online research skills. I am thankful to have a librarian who is able to keep up with these trends and is always trying to remain on par with the best ways that current students can learn.”


In addition to helping with projects, the library always has something going on that encourages reading. The library has initiatives like “Speed Dating Books,” where 15 books are lined up on 6 tables and students rotate through getting 4 minutes per table to look at the books. At the end, they have a list of books to take out of the library. It’s a great way to expose students to different types of literature.


The Library Learning Commons is also meant to be an equalizer, and that means ensuring that all resources are accessible to all. “A tech revolution isn't a revolution if it's only for some kids, so we want to make sure that everyone can come in and use whatever we've got—and they do,” asserts Johnson-McGregor. “We have online books and resources, but also the physical resources that they can take out.”


Johnson-McGregor is always looking for partnerships with outside organizations to use the library in ways that are beneficial to everyone and to provide authentic learning opportunities for students. For instance, when the Brant County Six Nations councillor asked to use the library’s little seminar room for some local Haudensaunee women to make Two Row wampum belts, Johnson-McGregor insisted the group do the beading out in the open using the tables in the middle of the library.


Haudensaunee community explains the history of Two Row wampum belts and helps the students make their own.jpgThe group came with giant looms to make big belts and smaller looms that students could use to make individual belts. Students would come up, ask questions and start making their own belts. “Just by chance, I had a history class booked in to be on the computers and they ended up not doing their research,” describes Johnson-McGregor. “They came and sat on the floor and listened to the story of the belts and the history of the Haudenosaunee people. It was such authentic, awesome learning and it was exactly what the whole premise of the Learning Commons is.”


She also brings in experts, like the Historical Society, and the Public Library, as well as artists and a variety of guest speakers. “I am an extra pair of hands, eyes, ears and I'm always willing to try new things and revisit and rework existing ideas to make them better,” says Johnson-McGregor.


Another goal for Johnson-McGregor is to transform part of the library into a makerspace. A makerspace is a student-centred area where students can create, invent and learn using electronics, software, crafts and hardware supplies.


Along that vein, the Ontario Library and Information Technology Association (OLITA) has a technology lending library that is open to Ontario Library Association members. Johnson-McGregor uses that resource to try out new technologies in her library. For instance, she borrowed Squishy Circuit kits to incorporate into the Grade 9 electricity unit in Science. Soon students will be using Makey Makey kits to make anything from a keyboard out of bananas to a video game joystick out of their artwork.


The Library Learning Commons is an incredible place that supports academics and encourages inquiry. It also offers a variety of other activities. “With such a vast diversity within our school population, students are always in search of a place they can feel comfortable and the Library Learning Commons offers that location,” says Geography teacher Toni MacNeil.  “Students are able to express their creativity and relieve stress through makerspace activities as well as the Lego wall.”


For Johnson-McGregor, there are endless possibilities for what can be offered for students at the library, but the most important aspect of the Library Learning Commons is the collaboration with the staff.


How to Build a Collaborative Culture


squishy circuits and authentic learning.jpgIn order to build a successful Library Learning Commons and promote collaborative teaching and learning, Johnson-McGregor recommends something she calls “stealth librarianship.”


It is all about building trusting relationships with the teachers. Some tactics Johnson-McGregor uses to build those relationships include: connecting with all new teachers and helping them navigate the building, running professional learning sessions, connecting with departments that wouldn’t regularly visit the library, and when all else fails, offering free food. “Always have candy on your desk,” she says.


In this high school with so many students and over 90 teachers, it can be difficult to make yourself known. Teachers tend to stay in their own departments and are often unaware of how the library can help. So in order to spread the word, Johnson-McGregor will go to them “because I’m portable,” she jokes.


In addition to co-constructing and collaborating on the creation of inquiry projects, assignments and assessment, she gathers relevant resources for teachers and students, whether they are virtual or physical, to support teaching and learning.


“The BCI Library Learning Commons is a fantastic place of support, providing all staff with a place to pitch new ideas and questions about developing engaging projects for students at all levels,” says Toni MacNeil. “Our Teacher-Librarian is always excited for the opportunity to collaborate and team teach lessons, giving new and experienced teachers the chance to try new things and allowing students to benefit from their combined expertise.”


Johnson-McGregor credits her library technician, Sara Haddow, who manages the library collection and the space, and without whom, Johnson-McGregor would not have the time to do all that she does.


Recently, Johnson-McGregor became the incoming president of the Ontario School Library Association, and in that role she will continue to showcase how the Library Learning Commons can play an active and important role in the success of Ontario’s students.


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: Co-Create and Collaborate at a School Library Learning Commons

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In this installment of TeachOntario Talks, we are profiling and celebrating teachers from Nipigon-Red Rock District High School of the Superior Greenstone DSB and their project: “21st Century Learning & Leading: Using Technology to Reach Every Child and Family.”


Research shows that parents who are engaged in their child’s education not only improve student achievement and well-being, but also make good schools even better.


Nipigon-Red Rock District High School is part of the Superior Greenstone DSB in Northwestern Ontario. The school serves the communities of Red Rock, Nipigon, Dorion, Hurkett, Lake Helen First Nation and Rocky Bay First Nation.  There are 115 kilometers between the two furthest communities and most students are bussed in from up to 75 kilometers away.


map of school.JPGGiven those distances, how can isolated schools encourage and support families to become active members of the school community so that their children can achieve greater success?


Answering that question was the challenge four teachers at Nipigon-Red Rock took on as part of their 2014/ 2015 Teacher Learning and Leadership Project (TLLP). Teachers Jenni Scott-Marciski, Colleen Rose, Kim Mannila and Erin Langevin thought they could use technology to bring families closer to the school, and so they began their project: “21st Century Learning & Leading: Using Technology to Reach Every Child and Family.”


The Use of Digital Tools to Reach Families


“One thing that is apparent now more than ever is that students at our school need strong, direct support from parents to be successful,” says Jenni Scott-Marciski.  “So, to engage students we need to engage parents first.


To do this, the teachers began by collecting data from students and parents through surveys about their need for, access to, and expertise with, technology. The results of the surveys informed local decisions regarding which digital tools to use to best engage with the school community.


The project team began by starting a school Facebook group. The goal in using Facebook was to engage parents and students through posts about school events, and increase enthusiasm and participation in those events.


The team also used Remind, a free teacher communication platform, to reach families and sent letters home to invite parents to view and comment on student blogs.


In the classroom, teachers began using Google Apps for Education (GAFE) as a way for students and teachers to collaborate both inside and outside the classroom. The news of the ease of use with these apps began to spread throughout the school, and soon even teachers who were previously hesitant to use technology began collaborating with students and colleagues using digital tools.


The team also made use of Google+ as a way to collaborate with one another online. In this online community, the team was also able to learn how to better serve students by increasing their own understanding of technology-enabled learning.


The Impact of Technology on Community Building for Students and Families:



The impact of using technology as a tool to bring student learning to families across the Nipigon-Red Rock District High School community was fantastic.


One parent shared that when the school started up the Facebook page she couldn’t believe all the things happening at the school. She laughed and explained that “every time I asked my kids what was going on at school, they would always say nothing.” This was clearly not the case! Another parent, after reviewing her daughter’s work online posted this comment, “Good job! It’s nice to see the progress of your work.” Another stated, “As a parent, I’m loving this blog. It is so nice to be able to follow along and see what you produce.”


Students also enjoyed sharing their learning with their families and friends. A Grade 12 student explained: "I have a lot of family that does not live around me. By using technology in my art class, I was able to post it on my Facebook where all my family and friends near and far could see my art. I posted a video I made on YouTube and copied the link to my Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and of course my art blog and had so many people watch it that never thought they could. Having to see the physical copy of artwork is close to nothing now days because people have their art all over the web. Technology has changed so much and I love to share my art online for all my family and friends to see who are not around."


Perhaps the best illustration on how the use of technology brought together a school community separated by vast wilderness played out earlier this year with the Nipigon River Bridge failure.


The Nipigon River Bridge, the only highway link between Eastern and Western Canada, split in two on January 10, 2016. Not only did this cut off transport of goods across Canada, it also severed the only access to school for students living on two First Nations reserves. It was a critical time to miss school, as students were in the middle of culminating tasks and exam preparation.


Due to the implementation of the TLLP project, teachers had embedded the use of technology in many Nipigon-Red Rock classrooms, and the students had become very comfortable accessing information and projects online. Teachers were able to communicate with the band offices at both First Nations reserves and direct students to blog posts, Facebook posts, and links to Google Docs so they could access their assignments, receive feedback and complete culminating tasks.  As a result, the bridge closure that wreaked havoc upon the rest of Canada, barely impacted students’ access to their learning at the school.


Regardless of the Nipigon River Bridge failure, technology has been a wonderful way to bridge the school community together in a climate that can sometimes be challenging! Students from Rocky Bay First Nation, who are located in a snow belt and are 75 kilometers from Nipigon-Red Rock, often miss school because of bad weather. Today they are tethered to the school and their learning all year, regardless of the weather.


The Impact of Technology on Community Building for Teachers:


There has also been an increase in out-of-box thinking among staff members who are now more willing to try new digital tools. For instance, the Grade 9 class has 47 students. Based on EQAO data and diagnostic testing, only a handful have reading comprehension skills at grade level. Seventeen of the 47 students have Individual Education Plans and require extra support. In response to this, a team of teachers who previously may not have considered using technology to support learning, are now doing an inquiry about the use of text-to-speech and speech-to-text tools to see how these tools can be used to help improve students' literacy skills and to assess learning in a variety of subject areas.


Just the TLLP process itself also helped bring together colleagues in a shared learning environment. “Our TLLP encouraged us to communicate more with staff members,” says Colleen Rose. The team facilitated 4 different learning sessions and staff participation was enthusiastic.


digital art.jpgHappy Surprises along the Way:


Although the team set out to reach families through digital tools, what they achieved turned out to be so much more.


The Facebook group increased engagement with school alumni, which was a surprise to the team. Bringing back former students is a great way to encourage community engagement! Parents of students currently attending the school continue to join the group today and the reach is increasing.


Through the data collection from families, the team increased their own knowledge and understanding of tools and how to use them to share and support student learning.  As new technology emerges, the team feels much more confident in their own understanding of how these tools can be used to bring the community into the classroom, as well as bring learning beyond the walls of the classroom.


Staff enthusiasm was another happy surprise. One teacher was so inspired by what was being done at the school as a result of the TLLP work, that she applied to lead another TLLP next year.


That good start continues to grow, not only at Nipigon-Red Rock, but throughout the district and beyond.


“Now if only we had more bandwidth and better information technology infrastructure in the vast northwest…” quips Rose.


Useful Apps and Online sources:


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



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: Using Technology to "Bridge" a School Community Together  

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

bannock.jpgIn this installment of TeachOntario Talks, we are profiling and celebrating the tremendous effort by school boards and schools across the province as they work to move the Ontario First Nation, Métis, and Inuit Education Policy Framework into action.


What is Ontario’s First Nation, Métis, and Inuit Policy Framework?


In June 2005, the Ontario government released Ontario’s New Approach to Aboriginal Affairs which reflects a commitment by the government to help make Aboriginal communities healthy and prosperous. A big part of that commitment is the recognition of the importance of education in improving lifelong opportunities for First Nation, Métis, and Inuit children and youth.


Since June 2005, the government has been working with Indigenous leaders and organizations to improve the outcomes for Indigenous students because the Ministry of Education has committed to “improve achievement among First Nation, Métis, and Inuit students and to close the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students in the areas of literacy and numeracy, retention of students in school, graduation rates, and advancement to post secondary studies.” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2007)


To achieve those goals and help guide educators, in 2007 the Ministry released The Ontario First Nation, Métis, and Inuit Education Policy Framework. An Aboriginal Education Strategy was also developed with initiatives that unite the Ministry, school boards and schools in working together to close the achievement gap between Indigenous students and all students in provincially funded schools.


In 2014, the Ontario First Nation, Métis, and Inuit Education Policy Framework Implementation Plan was released to build on the Aboriginal Education Strategy and help further support the full implementation of the Framework by June 2016.


snowshoe.jpgWhat are the Goals Set Out in First Nation, Métis, and Inuit Education Policy Framework?


To track the progress of implementation, the Ministry has outlined performance measures for school boards. These performance measures were rolled out in increments since 2007 to ensure that data is collected and the efficacy of each measurement is tested. Here are six examples of the 2013/2014 performance measures:

  • enhance the inclusion of First Nation, Métis, and Inuit students’

needs and experiences in board and school initiatives that promote

safe and accepting schools;

  • increase opportunities for the participation of First Nation, Métis,

and Inuit students in student voice, student engagement, and

peer-to-peer mentoring activities;

  • work in collaboration with community partners to identify and

address topics relevant to the health, including mental health, and

well-being of First Nation, Métis, and Inuit students;

  • increase opportunities for Native languages and Native studies

education, based on local demographics and student and community


  • focus on supporting successful transitions for First Nation, Métis,

and Inuit students;

  • continue to work with local First Nations to implement successful

Education Service Agreements and to support successful transitions

for First Nation students.


A solid foundation has been built since the release of the Framework in 2007, and school boards and schools across Ontario are building on that foundation by improving outcomes for Indigenous students and fostering understanding and acceptance in all students.


How are School Boards and Schools Meeting the Goals?

drumming.jpgThunder Bay Catholic District School Board and St. Ann School


For the past three years, the Thunder Bay Catholic District School Board has been committed to supporting Indigenous learners reach their full potential and has made implementing the Framework a key priority.


Tesa Fiddler, from Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug in Northwestern Ontario, is Thunder Bay CDSB’s First Nation, Métis, and Inuit Education Resource Teacher. She works with teachers and support staff in helping to infuse culturally relevant pedagogy in their classroom and subject areas. This includes offering authentic resources for teachers to use as well as co-teaching Indigenous content in classrooms.


An important part of Fiddler’s job is running professional learning opportunities for all staff in the district and conducting a workshop series that focuses on awareness training.


“The awareness training is so critical to the understanding of relationship building with our First Nation, Métis, and Inuit families,” says Fiddler. “Without understanding the history and current issues and successes, school staff might have difficulty working effectively with First Nation, Métis, and Inuit families.”


Recently Fiddler began working with St. Ann Elementary School in Thunder Bay to incorporate the Indigenous Knowledge Land-Based Learning Project. This project provides an opportunity for students and teachers to connect knowledge and learning with traditional Indigenous knowledge and culture.


grade 6 trap lines.jpgSt. Ann School welcomes students from over 16 different reserves in the North. Indigenous students make up 60% of the student population at the school, many of whom are facing unique challenges.  Land-based learning brings students back to the land, using traditional Indigenous knowledge of the land to feed into the curriculum.


“Being on the land is inclusive,” says Fiddler. “Land-based learning naturally develops environmental stewardship and character development. It easily connects with science and technology, math, language, history, and social studies.”


Just recently, the Grade 6 class at St. Ann’s went to a trapline for a full day excursion in the surrounding area of Thunder Bay. “We were out on the trapline and learning about habitats, history, harvesting methods, relationships and culture,” says Fiddler. “The students were so completely engaged.”


The land-based learning project is not the only First Nation, Métis, and Inuit education initiative at St. Ann. Principal Jan Bazaluk’s approach to learning is through well-being which includes honouring the students’ rich sense of oral storytelling and tradition. This is evident throughout the school, in classrooms, and through the programs offered to students and their families.


The well-being of the students is central to Bazaluk and the teachers at St. Ann because of the unique challenges faced by many of the students. Often the students come from remote reserves to go to school, and are sometimes away from their family. Parents who make the move with their children can find it difficult to find work in the city and struggle to make ends meet.


As a result, some students come to school hungry. To combat hunger and to teach students to cook, St. Ann has a cooking program where the students cook together and eat their creations. There is also an Indigenous after-school program that provides meals and culturally relevant crafts and activities.


grade 3 eqao and grade 6 eqao.jpg“It is amazing what can be accomplished with students when we are academically optimistic, have academic press, and are willing to change how we do things with students in order to meet their needs and impact success,” says Bazaluk. “Everything we do is constantly sprinkled with TLC. We are always mindful of the expectations around our well-being commitments for students at our school, as it is this part of school improvement that holds together and drives the academic achievement piece at St. Ann School.”


The implementation of these initiatives at St. Ann is driving student success and that success can be seen in the student achievement data. In 2011, 29% of Grade 3 students met the standard as measured by the EQAO in reading. In 2015, 88% of Grade 3 students met the standard in reading. In 2011, 57% of Grade 6 students met the standard as measured by the EQAO in math. In 2015, 74% of Grade 6 students met the standard in math.


“The Thunder Bay Catholic District School Board has done a great job of implementing the Framework and has worked hard at heightening knowledge, awareness, and sensitivity around Indigenous education," says Bazaluk.


"Over the last 5 years, St. Ann School has had a collective transformation in mindset around Indigenous education and meeting Indigenous learner needs. Change has proven to be progress, as the school has turned a corner, and is now currently making phenomenal student well-being and academic success gains. Despite the challenges, we push forward positively, relentlessly, and resiliently in order to ensure the equitable, inclusive, and subsequently effective implementation of curriculum for all learners.”


How are School Boards and Schools Meeting the Goals?

Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board and St. Marguerite d'Youville Secondary School


For schools with a large number of self-identified Indigenous learners, the success of Indigenous students would be a school priority. But how are school boards and schools with fewer Indigenous learners working to close the achievement gap?


Fostering an understanding and awareness of First Nation, Métis, and Inuit histories and perspectives in all students drives Indigenous student success. The awareness piece is what some boards are focusing efforts on in order to ensure equality and success for all learners.


The Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board does not have a large number of self-identified Indigenous learners but is committed to addressing the lack of understanding of First Nation, Métis, and Inuit cultures, histories and perspectives.


students in north.jpgMary Ellen Gucciardi is the First Nation, Métis, and Inuit Studies Consultant for the Dufferin-Peel CDSB and she champions many initiatives to grow a collective understanding. Gucciardi collaborates with schools to provide professional learning and resources to help teachers and staff disseminate Indigenous cultures, histories, perspectives and culturally relevant pedagogy throughout the curriculum. Gucciardi also organizes school excursions to the North, where students can experience the Inuit culture first-hand.


"My job is to be an ally and work with First Nation, Métis, and Inuit elders and leaders and those in my community to better understand this history," Gucciardi says.


St. Marguerite d’Youville Secondary School in Brampton has collaborated with Gucciardi to increase student and staff awareness of First Nation, Métis, and Inuit cultures and heritage with an aim toward greater understanding and acceptance. The school has made a strong effort to bring First Nation, Métis, and Inuit perspectives into staff professional learning, school-wide presentations, library resources and course offerings. Students also had the opportunity to participate in a 9-day excursion to Iqaluit, Nunavut.


“This excursion is an extension of our learning and our vision to build awareness and understanding of the complexities of Inuit culture and history, and to begin to provide a curriculum that facilitates learning about all Canada’s First Peoples,”  says Principal Kevin Greco. “We also want to build community partnerships and implement strategies that facilitate increased participation by First Nation, Métis, and Inuit communities in Catholic school curriculum.” See a student-created video of the excursion, right


Students learned how to live off the land, even in the harshest climate, and learned about the Inuit culture and traditions. But most of all, they were exposed to social justice issues and the complicated history between Indigenous people, non-Indigenous people and the Church.

                                                                                                        video caption.jpg

“Our students entered into authentic, realistic and sometimes blunt discussions on social, political, and economic issues important to Inuit individuals and communities in Canada,” says Greco. “Our hope for the students on this excursion was to begin to unravel truth and wholeness of our Canadian history. If we ignore any part of our Canadian history, then our history is not complete.“


food.jpg"I can guarantee that every student who has gone on these excursions has been transformed," says Gucciardi. "Some students have even moved forward in their careers with a fascination for the Arctic and go back."


The excursions to the North have been such a success that they prompted the creation of two documentaries, one of a teacher excursion, and another of a student experience in the Arctic.  As well, Gucciardi and her team are working on final edits for an iBook about Inuit knowledge based on their experiences, to be used by teachers and students.


The Dufferin-Peel CDSB continues to be committed to including accurate Indigenous history, voices and stories into the curriculum. "Champion teachers are embracing this learning and continuing to offer students curriculum that includes an accurate history," says Gucciardi. "Dufferin-Peel CDSB is committed to addressing and supporting the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report, including:  sharing information and best practices on teaching curriculum related to residential schools and Aboriginal history, building capacity for intercultural understanding, empathy, and mutual respect, and identifying teacher-training needs to address these matters."


The Framework successes are beginning to emerge and will continue to grow as the Ministry, school boards and schools work in partnership to close the achievement gap, and make schools inclusive and equitable so that all learners can reach their full potential.


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

TeachOntario Talks Discussion: Closing the Achievement Gap for Ontario's First Nation, Métis, and Inuit Students

astronauts taking sample.jpgIn this installment of TeachOntario Talks, we are profiling and celebrating the second 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). Dr. Jim Magwood,  from Lisgar Collegiate Institute in Ottawa, is the secondary category winner.


How do you get secondary students with differing interests and learning styles to get excited about math, physics, chemistry, geology and biology? You send them to space, of course!


That has been the strategy for Dr. Jim Magwood, a chemistry and science teacher at Lisgar Collegiate Institute in Ottawa. As a chemistry teacher, Magwood has been known to ignite a lasting love of science in his students.


fun chemistry.jpg“Dr. Magwood is an exceptional teacher,” says Susan Hewitt, the Head of Science at Lisgar. “In class, he’s able to challenge our most gifted students, while also inspiring applied level students to reach farther than they ever thought they could.”


But it is what he does outside of the classroom that shows his true dedication as an educator.


For the past 15 years, Magwood has been the teacher supervisor of the Ottawa Carleton Educational Space Simulation (OCESS), a non-profit organization that promotes a greater understanding of space exploration and space research in students. Each year Magwood dedicates hundreds of hours and personal resources to the program.


What is the Ottawa Carleton Educational Space Simulation?


“The OCESS is a student-run group of anywhere from twenty-five to fifty students each year,” says Magwood. “They do two things: they try to further their own understanding of the exploration of space and space science, and they try to disseminate this knowledge to other students through a series of science educational outreach presentations.”


The OCESS, or "SpaceSim" to the students, is a club open to high school students across the Ottawa-Carleton region. It brings together students with a wide range of interests and abilities to run an elaborate space exploration simulation culminating in a 120-hour “mission.”



The mission is no small feat. A spacecraft is built by the students and is complete with bunks for sleeping, chemical toilets, a kitchen, complicated machinery, lab equipment, space suits, a bank of computers and anything else an astronaut needs in space.


The students divide themselves into groups. One group of six is the astronaut group. The astronauts learn to use advanced flight software similar to that of NASA astronauts.  They do the bulk of their work during the actual mission, as they spend the entire 120 hours aboard a spacecraft, taking and analyzing planetary samples, making complicated repairs in space gear, and trying to solve a myriad of problems sent their way, like water shortages, hull breaches, and engine malfunctions. Before it starts, the location and almost all aspects of the mission are kept secret from the astronauts. See TVO's video profile of Dr. Magwood at right.


Another group is Mission Control. Mission Control is a representation of a base on earth, like Houston in the movies. The astronauts defer to Mission Control for permission to undergo various tasks and pass along information of critical importance. Mission Control has direct authority over the parameters of the mission objectives.


simulators cause asteroid attack.jpgThe final group of students act as the simulators. The simulators are treated as if they don't exist by both the astronauts and Mission Control. The simulators create the events and environments that the astronauts experience. They spend a large portion of the school year crafting a makeshift planetary surface, and have the ability to tamper with the flight software to simulate events meant to test the astronauts' ability to adapt and problem solve.


Everything from the ship to the planetary surface is built by the students under Magwood’s supervision. The group meets on Fridays and Magwood is often there for 7 hours after school helping students with complicated math equations or even consulting on the best materials to build stalagmites. Magwood wrote the complex flight simulation software used by the group and often brings his own tools to help in the building. He also collects and donates old, used computer equipment from which the group can scavenge parts.


Learning for All


It might seem that only students with a demonstrated scientific acumen would join a club requiring a keen understanding of biology, chemistry, physics and math. But, according to Magwood, that is not the case.


mission control prepares for launch.jpg“Club members are students who are interested in science and interested in space,” says Magwood. “But we also have students interested in performance arts and in drawing and construction. There’s a huge range of interests and skills. We’ve got all sorts of students.  People who are homeschooled, people who are in private schools, anybody who is a student and is in any way interested in what we’re doing can join up.”


And, Magwood says, it’s amazing how quickly students realize they know more than they think they do. “They all work really hard, they all really stretch their brains and they all pull stuff together,” he says. “They’ll be bringing in chemistry, physics, earth science and space science and picking the little bits of things that they've learned through the years and putting them together—sometimes on the fly.”


The club celebrates diversity. Over the years several LGBT students and even non-binary students have found a home at OCESS. Kids who would not necessarily feel comfortable trying out for school teams or joining the school council, find the opportunity to shine and lead others at OCESS.


“Dr. Magwood cultivates a space where people who don’t fit in, do fit in,” says Samuel Baltz, one of Magwood’s former students. “SpaceSim is a place where everyone is welcome every Friday night, and for some teenagers that welcoming space is the single most important constant in their lives.”


Student Opportunities to Share Their Learning


In addition to completing a 120-hour mission, the students harness their learning and do outreach to elementary schools and high schools through space science workshops and planetarium presentations (they own a StarLab © portable planetarium). They also run a space science contest open to all grade 9 and 10 students in the region. Dr. Magwood supervises and helps the students polish their presentations.


Life-Long Impact


The students who have taken part in Spacesim laud Dr. Magwood for giving them a once in a lifetime opportunity that will help them exponentially in the years to come.


Samuel Baltz moved on to astrophysics at the University of Toronto and became the president of the university’s space society and the director of a federal space advocacy not-for-profit.


"I do these things because of Spacesim,” he says. “Dr. Magwood did not simply inspire me, he concretely shaped who I am today.”




Magwood describes the spacecraft and planetary surface (Above) .


Questions? Ideas? Comments? Ontario educators can register on TeachOntario and join in more in-depth conversation about this school in Share under: TeachOntario Talks Discussions: Space Exploration Ignites a Passion for Science in Students

French Self Regulation w caption.jpgIn this installment of TeachOntario Talks, we are profiling and celebrating teachers from École Secondaire Catholique Franco-Cité in Ottawa and their project: “Teaching Self-Regulation Strategies in Math, Science and French to Gifted Students in Grades 7 to 10.”


There is no one portrait of a gifted student. Like typical students, some may develop good learning habits early on, while others may progress well without much effort. After students transition into the Intermediate and Secondary years, the gifted students who did well previously can sometimes struggle with the curriculum in later grades.


The Rationale for Change

École secondaire catholique Franco-Cité in Ottawa is a Grade 7-12 French Immersion school in the Conseil des écoles catholiques du Centre-Est (Centre-East French Catholic School Board) . In 2013, when teachers running the Gifted Education program at the school noticed a rapid decrease in engagement in many of the gifted students in Grade 7, they knew they needed to make changes.


Gifted Education is part of Special Education and, like lower achieving learners, gifted learners require accommodations and need to be given proper guidance and resources to meet their potential. Knowing that low results in higher achieving students can lead to a complete disengagement from school, the teachers at Franco-Cité began to look for additional teaching practices that focused upon student-centred learning.


girl at desk.jpg“We wanted to offer these gifted kids something new,” says Marc Côté, a former guidance counselor at the school.  “Something more than just a spot in the gifted program with other gifted kids going through the regular curriculum.”


Côté and the gifted program teachers did some research and discovered that the application of self-regulated learning strategies, which have been proven to be very successful with lower achieving students, could also work well with gifted students.


To build their own understanding and to put self-regulated learning strategies to the test, the team developed their Ontario Teacher Learning and Leadership Project (TLLP): “Teaching Self-Regulation Strategies in Math, Science and French to Gifted Students in Grades 7 to 10.”


Côté and several teachers including Sylvie Rocan, Alex Bernard, Amélie Oulette, Boniface Basambombo, Francine Landry and Angélique Gossé, set out to test strategies in the classroom and create a website detailing successful strategies for other French Immersion teachers to use in their own classrooms to support increasing student engagement.


What is Self-Regulation?

Self-regulation can be defined as the ability to stay calmly focused and alert, which often involves – but cannot be reduced to – self-control. Self-regulation nurtures the ability to cope with greater and greater challenges because it involves arousal states, emotions, behavior, and thinking skills. (Stuart Shanker)


girls looking through glass.jpgA student practicing self-regulation:

  • sets own individual goals and monitors progress towards achieving them;
  • seeks clarification or assistance when needed;
  • assesses and reflects critically on own strengths, needs, and interests;
  • identifies learning opportunities, choices, and strategies to meet personal needs and achieve goals;
  • perseveres and makes an effort when responding to challenges.

Growing Success, 2010, Ministry of Education


The Project: Applying Self-Regulation Practices to Learning

The team at Franco-Cité set to work, learning as much as they could about self-regulated learning. They invited experts in the field of self-regulation to train staff and help define the best strategies for use in the classroom.  Once those strategies were established, the teachers integrated them into their lesson plans and began to pilot specific strategies to teach self-regulation to their students.


Examples of Strategies used:


  • Goal Setting:
    Teachers encouraged students to set their own learning goals.

    “The student will feel more engaged if he or she establishes his or her own goals and if they feel they are actively involved in the process of their own learning,” says Secondary teacher Sylvie Rocan. “It is easier for a student to recognize the purpose of a learning objective when they are given the opportunity to orient their experiences based on their own interests and needs.”

    Rocan also encouraged her students to set self-regulatory goals (such as time management) in a monthly survey.

  • display wall.jpgUsing Exemplars to Move up Levels:
    Students do not always understand what they need to do to meet the success criteria.  Often, they need concrete examples of those expectations.

    To help students understand the difference between acceptable and exceptional work, some of the teachers at Franco-Cité used curriculum exemplars to illustrate the levels. To make this an active lesson, teachers:
    • Provided quality work for students as a model (levels 3 and 4).
    • Facilitated a discussion group to determine why the work was of good quality.
    • Presented the work of all performance levels (1, 2, 3, 4).
    • Placed the work on the wall in a continuum from lowest to highest.
    • Asked students to describe what was different from one level to the other.
    • Invited students to self-assess their work based upon the exemplars, and note the changes.

  • Using Descriptive Feedback:
    Teachers provided descriptive feedback throughout the learning process and students were able to make the necessary adjustments to improve their work prior to a summative assessment. Descriptive feedback is clear, detailed and concise so the student easily understands what they have done right, what they need to improve or work on, and in some cases, what they need to know for next time.

    For example, Intermediate teacher Alex Bernard incorporated Google apps and provided his students with feedback, both synchronously and asynchronously, to improve their work before they handed it in.


For a full list of different strategies and how to apply them in Math, Science and French, visit the website the teachers created. The website is in French, however, using Google Translate will allow any user to explore the resources in English.


science experiment girl and boy.jpgOutcomes for the Students

At the end of the school year, the results were dramatic. The students were focused, more engaged and in control of their own learning.


“The kids were starting to see the difference between urgent and non-urgent things, and the difference between important and non-important things,” says Alex Bernard. “I saw them prioritizing better and putting effort and focus on things that would improve their performance.”


Sylvie Rocan noticed a palpable change in her classroom. “The self-regulatory strategies were transforming the learning environment by making it much more animated and energy filled,” she says. “The students interacted more with their peers and were more active. The courses were much more dynamic.”


The students got more involved and changed from passive information receivers to active participants in their own learning.


“It is also very exciting to see the transformation of the classroom into a dynamic learning environment,” says Rocan. “It is as if the students and I are now collaborators working together towards the common goal of enhancing their learning experience, and I am learning along with them.”


Outcomes for the Teachers

website.jpgThe teachers documented their learning and developed a website for other French Immersion teachers to use in their own classrooms.  The team also noted the following benefits:


  • A better use of differentiated instruction;
  • New classroom routines that encourage critical thinking and lessen teacher talk;
  • Learning from research and exploring new teaching strategies;
  • A new proficiency in the use of Google apps;
  • Providing authentic opportunities for students to work together on projects and celebrating a collaborative learning environment;
  • Opportunities to encourage kids to take chances and make mistakes without judgement.


“I think it comes down to this,” says Bernard. “We can teach a subject, or teach how to learn through a subject.  There's a big difference.  One will be useful in a few aspects of life while the other is transferable and applicable regardless of the challenge faced.  That is the most rewarding outcome for me.  Knowing that the kids will be a little bit more self-reliant after our work together really makes me feel good as a teacher.”


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

TeachOntario Talks Discussion: Using Self-Regulation Practices to Support Learning

accountable_talk_main.jpgIn this installment of TeachOntario Talks, we are profiling and celebrating teachers Kim Savoie and Erin Briska's project called "Classroom Chit Chat." Kim and Erin both teach at Sacred Heart School in the Northwest Catholic District School Board.


What is Accountable Talk?

Research shows there is a strong correlation between talk and learning in school. However, just having students to speak in class, or to each other, does not necessarily lead to learning. For classroom talk to promote new learning, it must be accountable.


The term "Accountable Talk" refers to talk that is meaningful, respectful and mutually beneficial to both speaker and listener. Accountable Talk stimulates higher-order thinking— helping students to learn, reflect on their learning, and communicate their knowledge and understanding. To promote Accountable Talk, teachers create a collaborative learning environment in which students feel confident in expressing their ideas, opinions and knowledge. (A Guide to Effective Literacy Instruction Volume 1, Grades 4-6).



map of sioux lookout.jpgThe Project Overview:

Sacred Heart School in Sioux Lookout, Ontario is comprised of a unique demographic. Sioux Lookout serves a high percentage of Aboriginal learners who already come to school with a strong oral story-telling tradition. To enhance student voice, two Intermediate teachers at the school decided to test Accountable Talk strategies as a way to empower all students.


Kim Savoie* and Erin Briska wanted to create a division-wide collaborative environment in which students could explore and develop critical thinking skills while feeling safe to share their own knowledge and opinions, and where there was an increased ratio of student talk to teacher talk..


As part of the Teacher Learning and Leadership Program (TLLP), Savoie and Briska, along with colleagues Manuela Michelizzi and Michela Salter at Sacred Heart School, endeavored to research and compile successful Accountable Talk strategies to use for their project: "Classroom Chit-Chat."


Guiding how students talk and what they talk about is key to creating an Accountable Talk classroom. Teachers require deep understanding of the Accountable Talk strategies available, and how to use them effectively to create a collaborative learning environment. With that in mind, the goal of the project was for teachers to increase their understanding, knowledge and ability to use a wide range of Accountable Talk strategies and compile successful ones as a resource to be readily used in the classroom.



lucy west quote.jpgAssessing Accountable Talk Strategies:

Using resources such as Accountable Talk Sourcebook: For Classroom Conversation that Works, and educational thought leaders like Lucy West, the teachers co-planned, co-taught and co-assessed various Accountable Talk techniques.


At the beginning of the project, teachers modeled Accountable Talk norms by continually questioning, probing, asking for clarification and challenging misconceptions. Once this foundation was set, teachers and students could move forward, jointly constructing the learning.



accountable_prompts.jpgFor example, teachers placed prompts around the classroom as anchors or visible reminders for students to always use appropriate and helpful forms of discussion when in class. Over time, with teacher support, students began to use these Accountable Talk norms themselves in peer discussions.


Teachers and students then began testing partner, small group and large group Accountable Talk strategies together. Students were asked for input through self-evaluation and peer-evaluation forms and surveys. Teachers logged each strategy on tracking sheets, listing strengths and challenges, and rated each strategy using a 4-star rating system.


For example, "Save the Last Word for Me" was a large group strategy tested in the Intermediate classrooms. Students were assigned a reading selection to read independently. Students then chose a passage that "spoke" to them and wrote it on a recipe card. On the reverse side of the recipe card, students explained why their selected passage was important or interesting.  The class broke up into small groups and used an instruction page provided by the teacher to guide the discussion. The first student read his or her selected passage, and each group member responded to the passage. Then the first student shared his or her own thoughts on the passage, getting the "last word."


Once the activity was over, students and teachers listed the strengths (e.g., it provided students with a chance to make a connection with the text), and the challenges (e.g., students found it difficult to remember to take turns). The strategy was then given a rating of 3.5 stars.  Assessing the strategies together was a unique way to further student engagement and provided the teachers with useful data with which to complete their project.



The Results:

The overall impact of implementing Accountable Talk strategies was a positive one from the students' point of view. The data taken from the student surveys showed:

  • Students felt they could clearly articulate their ideas and opinions.
  • Students felt they were better active listeners, and could paraphrase peer discussions more accurately.
  • Students felt they could reflect more on their learning and show proper body language during discussions. (See video at right for an example.)


Teachers were able to:

  • Research and explore various teaching strategies.
  • "Open" their classrooms and lessen teacher talk.
  • Co-plan, co-learn and co-teach.
  • Build upon and respond to individual staff members' unique needs and expertise (lateral capacity building).
  • Provide students with various opportunities to develop and apply critical thinking skills.
  • Share their learning with colleagues throughout the Northwest Catholic District School Board.




Sharing the Learning through Technology:

A large part of the project was compiling the successful strategies in a resource to be used in the classroom. The result was an app. The "Class Chit-Chat" app was designed as an easy teacher resource with 'at your fingertips' strategies for use in the classroom.


The App offers partner strategies, small group strategies, and large group strategies. Each classroom strategy is given a rating based on the research done during the project, a definition and explanation of how to use the strategy and a list of strengths and challenges for further insight. Each strategy has suggested uses and is referenced to its source. Along with detailed descriptions of usable Accountable Talk strategies, the app also provides the user with documents, visuals and links to further support the strategies.


The app is available for teachers anywhere and anytime they wish to use it, and is a useful tool for teachers new to using Accountable Talk to promote learning.


qr w text.jpg






*Kim Savoie is now the Vice-Principal of Sacred Heart School.




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digital_cart_class.jpgIn this installment of TeachOntario Talks, we are profiling and celebrating teacher Leslie Boerkamp's project called "Bringing Itinerant Teachers into the Now Generation." Leslie teaches at Sacred Heart School in the Bruce-Grey County Catholic District School Board.


Teacher Leslie Boerkamp calls herself a “techie wannabe.” But based on the impressive ways she’s integrated technology into her elementary school classrooms, some might say she’s earned the title Full-Fledged Techie.


Boerkamp is an itinerant teacher (moving from class to class) of The Arts, Health, and Physical Education at Sacred Heart School, a small rural K to Grade 8 Catholic School in Bruce-Grey County. In 2013/2014, she embarked on a project to carry a class set of iPads with her to all of her classes and use them to bring traditionally 20th Century subjects into modern day. “I wanted to take my love of teaching, technology, and the subject areas I teach, and roll them into one to create learning goals and objectives that my students would enjoy,” says Boerkamp, who is also a half-time Special Education resource teacher at the school.


In order to fund her project, and set aside the time and focus to make it happen, Boerkamp applied for, and received, a grant from the provincial government’s Teacher Learning and Leadership Program (TLLP). Her project called “Bringing Itinerant Teachers into the Now Generation” focused mainly on Music class, but also included Drama, Health and Physical Education.


Focusing on the Learning


So just what did she do?

Finding “meaningful and planned uses” of technology in her lessons was critical, Boerkamp says. That meant finding the best educational iPad applications and matching them to specific curriculum expectations and co-constructing the design of learning opportunities with her students.


The Results


Using iPads and subject-specific educational apps improved student performance and engagement substantially in all subject areas, Boerkamp says. “The results are most clearly evident in the quality of student work that the students produced,” she says. “And many times I had students wanting to work straight through recess, even though it was a gorgeous, sunny day outside. That level ofdig_cart_chart_redo.png commitment and dedication in task completion is pretty awesome and inspiring to see.”


The students also reported a significant improvement in their learning. The Grade 4 through Grade 8 students completed a pre and post TLLP project survey, reporting how much they believed the iPad would and did improve their learning. The students ranked three areas, engagement, creativity, and learning, on a scale from 1 to 5. A 1 ranking on the scale meant “not much” of an impact on learning and a ranking of 5 indicated an “amazing" transformation. “The results (see chart, left) show the students found the iPads to be a great tool for their learning, creativity, and engagement,” Boerkamp says.


Beyond learning the curriculum and enjoying class, the kids also acquired valuable digital skills and knowledge that will ultimately aid them in future learning, Boerkamp says. “I’ve worked hard on getting them to realize the skills and possibilities of creativity that the iPad opens up,” she says. “I hope going forward the students will think creatively about how to present ideas and assignments using the multi-leveled tools right within the iPads.”


What She Learned


Learning new ways to engage young minds, and connect traditional subjects to digital tools, has been a rewarding journey, Boerkamp says. “I’ve learned that a willingness to try new things will take you far,” she says. “It will open your mind with your students, to new ways to think, problem solve, collaborate, and contribute.” She’s also learned how important it is to adapt your approach when what you’re doing isn’t working. “Learning is a continuum,” she says. “We will often need to lighten our load and toss aside items that no longer fit or mesh with our new ideas.”


Boerkamp's Favourite Apps


Below, Boerkamp shares her favourite educational iPad apps in each of the subject areas she teaches.




garage_band_final.jpgWith the GarageBand app, Boerkamp was able to virtually bring hundreds of different musical instruments into the classroom. “It’s like having an orchestra in your backpack!” she says.  Students were able to play the iPad instruments with the touch of their fingers, often in much the same manner as you would play the real thing, she says. “iPad instruments are fantastic when used in conjunction with real instruments, or when you don’t have access to real instruments,” Boerkamp says. “While it’s not completely the same, real musical ability is still required to play these instruments.” With GarageBand students can explore instruments that otherwise might never find their way into an elementary school classroom. Kids can also record multiple tracks of music and layer on dozens of effects on the recorded sounds.


In one of Boerkamp’s class projects, students used GarageBand’s sampler feature to record themselves saying their first and second names. By adding drum tracks and changing the pitch settings on the app, the children were able to create a ternary (A-B-A or Mi-Fa-Mi) form piece of music. Recording oral reports for research assignments is also possible with the app’s podcasting feature. The iBand option, meanwhile, allows the entire class to play different parts of a song together as one big band. An application like GarageBand can be particularly helpful as more and more schools invest in more technology and less in music programs, Boerkamp says.



MadPad is another of Boerkamp’s favourite apps for use in her music classroom. This application invites users to “remix your life” by recording sights and sounds from everyday surroundings to create your own percussive or melodic instruments. In one project, students were asked to record 12 different sounds all made from a single object or a limited space, like a chair and the playground. The students then used those 12 sounds to create a Stomp performance group-style rhythmic composition. In one Kindergarten class Boerkamp used MadPad to help the kids learn about a variety of different musical instruments. Check out some of Boerkamp’s Kindergarteners learning about different instruments with MadPad in the short video (below, left).





Recording silent films in class was made possible with the iMovie app. “Without iMovie we wouldn’t be able to share the evidence of student learning with others,” Boerkamp says. In this project students created a pantomime that introduces a character and setting, establishes and develops a conflict and then shows its resolution. An example of one student film project is called The Amazing Flea Show. You can view a sample of this project in the video on the right.




The Video Frames FREE! App allowed students to record four different “found space” group dance routines and play them together within four video frames. A found space dance is when a group comes up with a series of movements within a set physical space that uses interesting aspects (i.e. staircase) of the space within your dance. “What the app allows you to do is to essentially make a collage of videos, helpful for students to see the same dance from multiple points of view as well as a performance to be captured in stages, and then come together to make the final performance,” says Boerkamp. This video is an example of this found space style dance performed by teachers at Boerkamp’s school.


Health & Physical Education




Quick Response codes, known as QR codes, helped Boerkamp bring the internet into the Health and Physical Education classroom by connecting students’ iPads to the required webpage within seconds. “The students could scan the code and have a sample of the game/activity played out before them on a video,” she says. “As easy as that, everyone would be on the same page.” For Physical Education, Boerkamp often turned to the physical education games channel on YouTube.




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TeachOntario Talks Discussion: Using Technology to Support The Arts and Physical Education



kids on floor.jpgIn this installment of TeachOntario Talks, we are profiling and celebrating a group project aimed at using iPad and Google Apps for Education as a platform for student-driven learning and inquiry in two schools in the Thames Valley District School Board.


Teacher Michelle Cordy is on a mission to ‘hack’ the classroom.


The Grade 3 teacher at Stoney Creek Public School recently teamed up eight other elementary teachers in the Thames Valley District School Board to use technology to support inquiry learning in Grades 3 and 6.


"We wanted to be responsive to the shifting needs of young learners entering our classrooms," says Cordy. "We think students who have experienced play-based learning in full-day kindergarten will have different views of themselves as learners, and a different set of expectations for the classroom. We expect that these students will want more agency in the learning and yearn for a curriculum which is co-constructed."

Michelle board_crop.jpg

In an effort to give students just that, Cordy and her team decided to use iPad and Google Apps for Education (GAFE) to support student-driven learning and inquiry in nine classrooms spread across two schools. Cordy’s co-lead on the project was Lisa Morris, a Grade 6 teacher from Parkview Public School. Other teachers who participated in the project include Stoney Creek Public School Grade 3 teachers Danielle Cadieux, Jerry Austin, and Sheryl Ledingham, and Parkview Public School, Grade 6 teacher Jennifer Parker and Grade 3 teachers Patti Clark, Kari McDonald and Shannon March. The project was supported by Ontario’s Teacher Learning and Leadership Project (TLLP).



"These are 21st century learners within a world that is a pinch, swipe and tap away," says Cordy, who is also an Apple Distinguished Educator. "We wanted to help these young learners be engaged, curious and feel like they can be partners in their learning, both on and off screen."


However, student-driven learning can also be messy, she says. "So, we looked for something that could support learning for teachers and students," she says. "iPad technology is the great amplifier of our times. We know it doesn’t solve problems, and it certainly introduces new problems. But what technology like the iPad does is open up new possibilities. It helps redefine what’s possible. For inquiry, the iPad gave us access to information and gave students ways to communicate their understanding far beyond what we could do with pen and paper."



The iPad, in particular, has built-in accessibility features, like text-to-speech, that allows kids to read with their ears instead of their eyes, Cordy says. "Kids can tap on text and the iPad reads it aloud," she says. "This way, they can access information that is beyond their reading level. So, the amount of information available to them expands." 


Click through to find out more about Cordy's top Apps for Inquiry learning in the chart on the right.


The team began building their approach to the curriculum delivery by clarifying what inquiry really means in an Ontario context, Cordy says. Researching Ontario Education Ministry curriculum documents was critical to this process, says Cordy, who summarized her findings in a blog post titled Making Sense of Inquiry-Based Learning: An Ontario Perspective.


The team identified three key inquiry learning definitions in their curriculum research:


  1. Inquiry-based learning is an approach to teaching and learning that places students’ questions, ideas and observations at the centre of the learning experience.”
  2. For students, the process often involves open-ended investigations into a question or a problem, requiring them to engage in evidence-based reasoning and creative problem-solving, as well as “problem finding.””
  3. For Educators, the process is about being responsible to the students’ learning needs, and most importantly, knowing when and how to introduce students to ideas that will move them forward in their inquiry.”


In the end, the project had two key components: teacher learning and student learning. "We had a group of nine teachers take on a new pedagogical approach and integrate technology to support that approach," she says. "The teachers in our group had a range of experience with technology and by the end, everyone had moved forward with their confidence and agility and ability to integrate iPad and GAFE meaningfully. We narrowed in on our understanding of inquiry too."


See Cordy's inquiry teaching in action in the video below, left.


As for the students, Cordy reports the level of engagement was very high. "What we saw is that you can allow for student voice and choice and still be on track with the provincial curriculum," she explains. "Students flourished when given the opportunity for inquiry projects at the end of a unit on forces. Students loved the opportunity to research their own topics ranging from airport fire trucks to unicorns. In these wildly diverse topics, we teachers were able to maintain accountability and connect students with common topics to form thought partners."


Beyond this, the teachers were able to connect topics back to the curriculum through reading genres or writing formats. "The students were able to follow their own interests while working in groups towards grade level expectations," says Cordy. "It took a little work, it was messy at times, but the students loved it. The students were engaged and so proud to share their learning at our mini class to class Share Fair at the end of the inquiry cycle."


The level of questioning and collaboration between the students in all the classrooms was also high, Cordy says. "It wasn’t always roses and cupcakes," she laughs. "This kind of student-driven learning asks a lot of students. They have to be willing to follow a passion and then stick to something. A lot of students wanted to switch topics when they found out what other kids were learning about. It was like a candy shop of ideas and the kids wanted to skip around. It took developing discipline on their part and realizing that they could pick another topic next time. Students had to persist and focus which can be challenging. But when it came time for them to share their projects, they were proud of what they were able to share, and they knew they would be able to feast on a brand new topic the next time. The kids really inspired each other. Topics like mythical creatures, black holes and monster trucks went viral. So, the next cycle of inquiry projects began and students could have another go."


Lisa Morris' Grade 6 class also showed terrific progress.

"The last two years have been amazing working with great teachers and technology," says Morris. "My class developed excellent inquiry skills. They became more proficient in their questioning, learning to develop deeper questions. They also became much more independent in their research skills, putting key word search and filtered searches in place to focus resources to meet their needs.

One of the great things to see is how they began to collaborate and share their findings using the social network we had built between the two Grade 6 classes to form a knowledge building centre. These skills and learning technologies were applied in other situations throughout the year, which clearly demonstrated the learning that took place."


The team shared project resources, handouts for teachers, examples of lessons, and examples of student work on their project website “Inquiry TLLP.” Cordy also shares six ideas to get started with inquiry in her Hack the Classroom blog here.


Support from school administration was key to the success of this project and related initiatives, Cordy says. Principals Steve McCombe (2013/14) and Cindy Kissau (2014/15) at Stoney Creek Public School and Principal David Clark from Parkview Public School played critical roles. "They were invested, supportive and involved," she says.

Watch the students share their reflections in a video (above, right)

interview some of the children did with Howard Rheingold

about their inquiry-based projects for Connected Learning TV (CLTV).


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TeachOntario Talks Discussion: Teaching Team Supports Inquiry-based Learning with Tech Tools

IMG_0954.JPGIn this installment of TeachOntario Talks, we are profiling and celebrating the practice of using what we know as evidence-based instruction in literacy to support best practice in numeracy. This Talk features Saint John Paul II Catholic School in Kitchener Ontario.


For the past decade, educators have worked hard to realize improvements in literacy. As a result, Ontario has seen inspiring gains in literacy success rates across the province. How might these lessons learned in literacy be applied to improve instruction and outcomes in numeracy?


Making the Connection between Literacy and Numeracy


Ontario Ministry of Education commissioned a report by the Expert Panel on Literacy called Literacy for Learning that set out a framework promoting a whole-school balanced approach to literacy instruction in the Junior Division.


The report put forward the Four Roles of the Literate Learner as a way “to understand the complex interaction of skills and resources that the literate learner draws upon to make meaning from texts of many types”. Aligned professional learning occurred provincially, in districts, and in schools using these evidence-based practices.


Given declining mathematical results on EQAO for Grades 3 and 6 and a renewed attention on PISA results, there was consensus developed that increasing outcomes in numeracy would be the next step.


The successful approach to literacy instruction led two Ontario educators to conclude that the same gains could be attained if this intentional and focused approach was applied to numeracy instruction.


Instructional Literacy Coordinator, Maria Luisa Lebar, and Learning Forward Director at Large, Mary Fiore, developed an approach to look at mathematics with new eyes by adapting the Ministry's Four Roles of the Literate Learner into the Four Roles of the Numerate Learner.



Literacy Theory Becoming Numeracy Practice


In literacy instruction, strategies like making student thinking visible play an integral role in helping student’s gain rich understanding of the relevant content and skills. These proven strategies are also essential to numeracy instruction.


"If we engage in discourse about using and leveraging literacy practices to make instructional and assessment connections that support numeracy development," espouse Lebar and Fiore, "then students will think more critically about ideas and use reasoning to solve problems and make sense of their world."


Lebar and Fiore believe that teaching numeracy requires a shift in both teacher thinking and teacher practice to help students become "skilled critical thinkers, thoughtful problem solvers and reflective communicators."


Purposeful and intentional teaching that ensures students make connections and see and make sense of relationships ensures students have a deeper understanding of concepts.


Lebar and Fiore provide the following instructional and assessment strategies to support student thinking;


  • Using the gradual release of responsibility framework to support differentiation with a focus on guided practice.
  • Implementing accountable talk strategies to create a learning environment that is safe, inclusive, risk-taking and engaging.
  • Utilizing Assessment For/As Learning strategies (learning goals, success criteria, descriptive feedback, goal setting, self/peer feedback) to respond to student learning needs and make informed instructional decisions.
  • Exploring thinking tools to help make thinking visible such as manipulatives, a variety of texts including math inspired literature, materials that support oral and written expression.
  • Using rich tasks to support integration, cross-curricular connections, higher order thinking and problem solving.
  • Focusing on the components in the Adolescent Literacy Guide – Metacognition, Critical Literacy, Strategy, Questioning, Voice and Identity.
  • Unpacking the Four Roles of the Literate/Numerate Learner to support effective literacy/mathematics instruction and helping students to adopt a critical stance.
  • Examining the thinking routines as presented in Making Thinking Visible by Ron Ritchhart, Mark Church, Karin Morrison.


What Does This Look Like in Classrooms and Schools?



Jessica Weber is a primary teacher at Saint John Paul II Catholic School in Kitchener Ontario, who has adopted Lebar and Fiore's strategies in her classroom.


For Weber, numeracy instruction begins by making the classroom a community where students feel safe and empowered to share their thoughts and perspectives. She holds daily community circles where students can not only articulate their thinking but they also learn how to become effective listeners.


"We share our triumphs and our failures, each equally celebrated knowing that we learn the most through our challenges," says Weber. "Taking the time to talk allows me to better understand my students' unique lived experiences which shape their interactions in the classroom."


Weber applies accountable talk strategies to both her literacy and numeracy instruction.  "In numeracy, this involves solving inquiries with collaborative groups and sharing thinking with classmates," says Weber. "Students learn that it is okay to disagree and question. It is through 'being uncomfortable' that we learn new things." This increases student voice and ownership


IMG_0959.JPGTo make their thinking visible, Weber's Grade 2 class uses D2L and GAFE to create opportunities for reflection and connection. "Students are able to revisit material, share their thinking, and reflect upon their learning," says Weber. Using digital tools promotes home connections and student engagement outside of school.


Another strategy Weber uses is responsive teaching. She has a knack for facilitating meaningful learning while modelling an inquiry stance for her class, and she incorporates effective evidence-based numeracy strategies into "just in time" learning moments. She involves students im making real-world, authentic connections.


For example, while reading a book called "Giants Don't Go Snowboarding" on the carpet with her class, they came to the sentence: "For every step he took [the giant], the kids had to take 3." A student immediately stated, "Wow that seems big. I wonder how big his steps are?"


blogger-image-1865638387.jpg"I knew this was an opportunity to 'go there', to engage in 'just in time' learning based on this passage," says Weber, and she embraced this moment by remembering to stop, think, act and reflect. The following played out.


STOP - The class paused the reading and students shared their ideas and wonderings about what this student said. How big might they be? What do we know about this giant?


THINK - The Grade 2 class worked in groups to think about a strategy to solve this wondering.


ACT- They used a wide variety of tools to help them including carpet squares, counters, rulers, metre sticks. They were engaged and accountable.


REFLECT - The class gathered to share their thinking using a gallery walk approach first then a math circle. Concepts of standard vs non-standard units, estimation, measuring techniques, proportionality, all came out of this learning. The tools they used were diverse, strategies and models varied, but all arrived at 'about' the same solution.


IMG_0961.JPGWeber is not alone in her school when it comes to transferring effective literacy strategies to support student achievement in numeracy. With the instructional leadership of Principal Rodney Eckert, Saint John Paul II promotes a whole-school approach to numeracy instruction.


"With literacy, we are providing kids with realistic rich tasks that get them engaged," says Eckert. "There is no difference in math. The learning needs to be explicit, and purposeful and very specific."


This is Eckert's first year at the school yet he successfully applied this strategy in his previous school and the results were dramatic. Five years ago the Grade 6 EQAO Math scores were at 50%, when he left last year, results had improved to 90%.


A big part of the reason for the success, is that teachers like Weber are working and collaborating  as a school-wide team focused on mathematics. Each staff meeting begins with a math question, teachers go into each other's rooms to give feedback and they deal with problems as a group. Teachers share student work and are moderating their practices. "They are co-learning with each other and a lot of the time it's me learning from them," says Eckert.


“When it comes to math, many kids have difficulty drawing on past learning to solve math problems,” Eckert says. That is why a whole-school approach to numeracy is essential. Breaking down barriers and having conversations about and around numeracy gives students the context of learning.


As with literacy, numeracy success criteria improve students' understanding of what success looks like. This brings clarity to student’s understanding of how to improve the quality of their thinking and their work. "At our school, we have a balanced approach to mathematics, we focus on developing both conceptual and procedural skills, and students are encouraged to solve problems in many different ways.”



This evidence-based balanced approach to mathematics spreads outside the school as well. Eckert is very cognizant of the fact that many parents suffer from math anxiety and this can impact a student’s feelings about math. Eckert makes use of the school newsletter and school council to help alleviate parental math anxiety. To reinforce positive mathematics experiences, students are not sent home with new learning, just the practicing of conceptual and procedural skills learned in class.


When applying literacy strategies to numeracy, Eckert has no doubt kids can succeed. “If we give students the language and give them the modelling, they can do a lot more than we give them credit for.”


Eckert is noticing a huge change in the students when it comes to math. "I'm hearing kids talking about math in the hallways and talking about strategies they are using," says Eckert. "Now kids are more resilient, they have grit, they are building stamina in mathematics and looking for efficiencies."


Applying lessons learned from literacy to numeracy practice across schools and districts will help drive success in mathematics.


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

TeachOntario Talks Discussion - Applying Lessons from Literacy Success to Drive Success in Mathematics

SLLW- Mother and Son.jpg

In this installment of TeachOntario Talks, we are profiling and celebrating the practice of the Student-Led Learning Walk featured at Precious Blood Catholic School in Toronto.


Student voice and the ability to express ourselves creatively and critically has never been as important as it is for today’s students as they journey toward a future spurred by innovation and constant change. One way to nurture these skills, amplify and make learning visible, and nurture school-wide engagement is through the practice of the Student-Led Learning Walk.


What are Student-Led Learning Walks?


The Student-Led Learning Walk is an innovative, collaborative community-based leadership practice that documents learning and makes it visible and intentional for all. These walks provide authentic opportunities for students to share their learning with their peers, their parents and their community. This in turn boosts student ownership of learning, enhances student achievement and nurtures parental support and understanding of the children’s learning.


What are the Benefits of Student-Led Learning Walks?


Research and experience reveal the following as benefits of student-led learning walks:


  • girls.jpggreater accountability in students for their own learning
  • increased pride in achievement among students
  • increased confidence by students to take on leadership roles
  • increased learning independence in students
  • more positive student-teacher relationships
  • increased parental participation in school life
  • improved communication with parents, resulting in deeper understanding of and confidence in what happens at school


Source: Kinney, Patti. (2005) Letting Students Take the Lead. Principal Leadership, p.35.




How it All Began:


When Mirella Rossi started her role as principal of Precious Blood Catholic School in Toronto, she was looking for a way to get to know her staff. "I was new to the staff, they were new to me, so how do we get to know each other better? Through our shared work," she explained.


tangible learning quote.jpgWith a strong school understanding of the importance of making learning visible to all, the Precious Blood Catholic School staff saw the benefits of the Student-Led Learning Walk.


bees and tees example.jpgThe focus of the first Student-Led Learning Walk was on Visual Arts and, with that one big idea in mind, the entire school from Kindergarten to Grade 8 created a showcase of their learning in the school gym. "What an awesome sight," says Rossi. "To walk into a gymnasium and see displays of two and three-dimensional works of art come alive!"


Educators, parents and community partners were invited on a tour guided by the students. Walking through each project, students explained their learning and that of their peers. Parents were able to see the entire curriculum come alive as they watched the learning grow from grade to grade.


"Coming together as a community around student learning, all the while including parents as active participants is an energizing experience," says Rossi.


The success of that first walk inspired the entire staff and student body to continue with this inspiring practice and they have run several Student-Led Learning Walks since. Subsequent walks have focused on Mathematics (Data Management), French and Physical Education.






What Students Are Saying About the Student-Led Learning Walk:


It is evident from observing the Student-Led Learning Walk that students are are reflecting on their learning and their growth. The depth and breadth of the student artifacts, learning stories and genuine level of student engagement is remarkable. The JK-Grade 8 students have been authentically empowered to own their learning.


Students describe what the Student-Led Learning Walks mean to them in the video below.

"The Student-Led Learning Walk has given us as students a chance to take control of our education," says Rebecca, a Grade 8 student at the school.


"(It) really brings the school together as a community," says Alliza, 13. "I've been here since Kindergarten and I can really see how I have developed through the years by seeing the work of the younger grades."


Not only have students made their own learning visible, but the students in the older grades collaborate and mentor the younger students by giving useful descriptive feedback and allowing knowledge and learning to break through the walls of individual classrooms to flow throughout the school as a whole.




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

TeachOntario Talks Discussion - The Student- Led Learning Walk: Making Learning Visible Beyond the Classroom


In this installment of TeachOntario Talks we are profiling and celebrating the “Tap into Teen Minds with iPads” project from teacher Kyle Pearce. Kyle is both a teacher at Tecumseh Vista Academy K-12, and an instructional coach serving the Greater Essex County District School Board in southwestern Ontario.


When Kyle Pearce first began teaching Grade 11 college and workplace Math in 2006, it was clear from the start that the traditional blackboard lesson-practice-and-memorize approach just wasn't going to engage his students.


“When teaching any course where students have typically struggled with the subject throughout their lives, it doesn't take long before you realize the conventional approach to teaching that subject will not be effective,” says Pearce, who is now secondary Department Head of Mathematics at Tecumseh Vista Academy K-12, and an Instructional Coach in southwestern Ontario. "It is common to encounter behavioural issues, inconsistent attendance habits, and an unwillingness to complete tasks if efforts are not made to make Math more engaging."


So Pearce found himself a data projector and PowerPoint software -- and later SMART Board Notebook technologies -- and began his journey toward captivating teen minds.



How Kyle Turned Teens onto Math


Pearce's aim was to make Math tasks contextual, visual and concrete, while intentionally modeling the interconnectedness of Mathematics. “The key is to help kids visualize Math so they can develop a deeper understanding and improve their Math retention,” he says. The students responded well to the digital approach, prompting Pearce to take the use of technology in his classroom to the next level.


In 2010 he applied for an Ontario TLLP (Teacher Learning and Leadership Program) grant to develop his project “Tap into Teen Minds with iPads.” The goal of the project was to determine if the use of iPad technology would:


  • increase engagement and student perception of learning Mathematics;
  • improve student achievement in Mathematics; and
  • cost less than the digital interactive whiteboards that were currently in his Mathematics classrooms.

TITM_chart_525x393.jpgAfter just one five-month semester using iPads to support learning in Mathematics during the 2011-2012 school year, Pearce noted marked increases in student engagement, perception and overall success in Math.


Using a survey conducted with Google Forms, which students took before and after taking the class that focused on student perceptions of Math,  and that was based on the questions found in the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO)’s  province-wide standardized student assessment questionnaire, the percentage of students who agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “I am good at Math” rose from 62.5% to 78.6%--a remarkable 16.1%. The percentage of kids reporting they “understand most of the Mathematics I am taught” rose more than 16% (from 75% to 91.1% of students), the percentage saying that “Math is easy” rose 12.5% (from 42.9% to 55.4%) and the percentage saying they are able to answer difficult Math questions rose almost 20% (from 44.6% to 63.4%).


Equally remarkable, after one year of the digital Math classes, 47% of Grade 9 academic and applied Math students who did not meet the standard in the Grade 47%_new_box.jpg6 EQAO provincial standardized assessment rose to meet the provincial standard. An additional 37% of students who did meet the provincial standard in the Grade 6 EQAO assessment also continued to meet the standard in Grade 9.


“These students performed extremely well in comparison with our school district and the rest of the province,” he says.


"It feels great to see your students finally building confidence in a subject area that has caused them so much grief in the past," he says. "More importantly, what it tells me is that learning Math is less about the technology and more about finding ways to empower students to break down the belief they cannot be successful learning Mathematics. If students change their mindset from a fixed mindset that believes they cannot learn Math, to a growth mindset with the true belief that everyone can develop a deep understanding of Math, then the job becomes easy."


Meanwhile, the paperless approach of the digital classes also proved to be more cost-effective than purchasing the many additional tools that had been bought to enhance classrooms with interactive whiteboards, Pearce says.


Taking Math FurtherDoritosRoulette_208x328.jpg


Tapping into Teen Minds isn’t just about taking Math into the digital domain. Pearce is also passionate about creating Dan Meyer-style three-act Math tasks to further engage students through curiosity. “I’m exploring new ways to harness student creativity, gamifying the assessment process, and publishing student work to a global audience to promote student ownership of their learning,” he says.


Pearce’s Doritos Roulette: Hot or Not? three-act Math task is one such example of gamifying, digitalizing and visualizing the learning. It’s based on the Doritos brand of chip that contains a ‘hot to not’ chip ratio of 1:6 or 1:7. Students learn about probability, expected value, ratios, fractions and proportions as they try to figure out how many of the chips in the bag are super-hot. Pearce plays students a video about the ‘game’ in the first act, and the fun – and the learning – continues from there. While Pearce didn't actually have bags of the chips in class for the kids to eat, this real-world, fun and relatable task was enough to engage the students.


Some of the many iPad apps he’s used in the Math classroom include Dragonbox Algebra, an engaging game that introduces the concepts of solving equations intuitively, Desmos, a free online graphing calculator and interactive Mathematics learning tool, and Algebra Touch, which teaches rules of Algebra in a fun, interactive way. Pearce also uses Google Apps for Education (GAFE) in his classroom.


His current work is dedicated to transforming Math education by making tasks contextual, visual and concrete while using a spiraled approach to addressing curriculum content through a four-part Math lesson framework, he says. His four-part approach is an expansion on John A. Van de Walle’s three-part lesson, adding an inquiry/discovery step after the first step Minds On (getting learners mentally ready to learn) and before steps 3 and 4, which are Making Connections and Consolidation.


Through this work Pearce has also expanded his digital teaching knowledge, leading to certifications, including Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE), Apple Education Trainer (APD) and Google Certified Teacher (GCT), following his attendance at the Google Teacher Academy (GTA) in Austin, Texas. In addition to serving on the Apple Distinguished Educator Advisory Board, Pearce also works as a professional development keynote speaker, doing workshops and presentations in effective teaching practices in Math and transformative uses of technology across North America. Within his school, Pearce teaches Grade 9 applied Math and learns with Grade 7-10 Math teachers in his role as the Middle Years Collaborative Inquiry (MYCI) Instructional Coach across his district.


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


TeachOntario Talks Discussion: Tap into Teen Minds with iPads Helps Students Excel in Math