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In Numeracy iCreate, iInnovate, iEducate

Monday, June 29, 8:30–11:30 a.m. Register now! Seats are still available.

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One Best Thing

Discover how to keep parents informed, connect globally and link to your curriculum. This One Best Thing leads your primary classroom students through the creation of a learning network on Twitter.

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Connect, Collaborate and Create with Twitter in the Classroom

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2014 issue of ETFO Voice.

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One Best Thing

Discover how to keep parents informed, connect globally and link to your curriculum. This One Best Thing leads your primary classroom students through the creation of a learning network on Twitter.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Using Scratch Jr. as a Stepping Stone for Coding

As my students and I continue on our journey exploring coding in our classroom I wanted to find an app that would help my students build a foundation on how to code in a simple and creative way.   I took a look at several apps and chose the Scratch Jr. App for several reasons:

  1. It is free.
  2. The app is a content creation app where students are able to create and express themselves, try new things, take risks and experiment.
  3. Students that cannot read, can still use this app successfully.
  4. There are some fabulous resources for teachers.
When I first opened the app, I wasn't really sure what to do, there are many buttons and options.  I wanted to let my students "tinker" with it but I also wanted it to be purposeful and not too frustrating.  I went to the Scratch Jr. website and clicked on the activities tab.  It brought me to an introductory video that I shared with my students and 9 different activity cards that could be printed out or shown on a screen in your classroom ranging in difficulty.  

One of the Scratch Jr. Activity Task Cards from their website

I loved how even my struggling readers could follow the simple instructions and that at the end of each task card was two challenges to try.  Each of the nine activities demonstrates a different skill or action that children can do to create a program.  I decided that I wanted my students to go through the nine task cards so they had a solid foundation of how to use the app and all of the options that were provided.  I printed out all nine activity cards and created a checklist for my students to keep track of the activities they had completed.  

My students were so excited for this activity.  We worked on the activities for about forty minutes. Most students got two or three of the activity sheets done.  We worked on the activities  again today and my students are so excited to see all of the different things they can do with this app.  They are already asking me when we are going to continue with the activities.  I have other students that can't wait to code stories they have written during writer's workshop.  I was thinking of eventually using the app to code number stories that the children have written in math.  Instead of just reading their number story, they could code it!  There are so many possibilities with this app, I can't wait to see what my students come up with!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Teaching Coding without a Computer

It was our second lesson on coding without a computer.  If you would like to see our first lesson check it out here.
Today, I had the learning carpet (a square carpet with a grid on it) out in the middle of the classroom.  I told the students that we were going to write a simple algorithm using the following language to move a stuffed whale to a predetermined spot on the carpet using the following commands:
·      FW – forward
·      BW – backward
·      LT90 – left turn 90 degrees
·      RT – right turn 90 degrees
We were then going to test the algorithm to see if the program ran the way we intended it too and if it didn’t, we would debug the algorithm.

We started very easy with only having to write a few lines of code to get the whale where we wanted it to go.  I then added little math counters as obstacles so it wouldn’t be a straight shot from point A to point B.  After doing this activity several times together, it was time for them to try it on their own.  We placed the whale on the carpet and then I placed a pink sticky note to where I wanted the whale to end up.  I also added the math manipulatives as roadblocks that the whale would have to maneuver around. 

 Like most programmers, my students’ first attempts were not completely successful.  This is when I introduced the word “debugging”.  The kids loved coming up to the carpet with their lines of code and trying out what they had written.  Out of 15 tries, we did not have a single student get it completely correct the first try.  It was music to my ears when each child tried their code and realized that it was incorrect and replied with, “I need to go debug my code and try again.”  This activity was challenging enough that my students had to debug their program, but not too challenging that they couldn’t debug it themselves.

My students learned key skills today in writing and debugging code without a computer or device.  Students worked on problem solving, independent work and resilience.  My students also felt a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction when they figured out how to get the whale to the pink sticky note.  When the period came to an end, there was a lot of moaning and asking, “When are we going to play this again?”  Little did they know that they were learning key skills in problem solving, directional language and being able to describe movement from one location to another using a grid map, which are all math curriculum expectations.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Introducing Seven Year Olds to Coding

A little over a month ago, I was invited to be on a team of writers for the ministry of Ontario to create a document for teachers about coding.  Luckily, I did not need to have any previous experience in coding.  My students have participated in the Hour of Code each year and we have skyped with a few programmers, but that is the extent of my coding experience.  

I had no idea really where to begin with my class.  With over 30 iPads in my room, my second and third graders are quite tech savvy for their age.  They love technology, but they don't really know how it works.  

I started with finding out their background knowledge on the topic.  I asked the simple question, "What do you think coding is?"
Some of the responses were:

  • How the iPads read the QR codes
  • How we moved the flappy bird on that code website
  • When we got to play that fun game to move the angry bird
This lead to a conversation about what algorithms are and how they are implemented as programs on our iPads, computers etc.  We discussed how computers don't read the same language as we do.  I showed them this blog as the way we see it and then I hit the HTML button to show them how the computer reads it.

We then watched a great 5 minute video on Brainpop about computer programming.  Tim and Moby explain how programming is just like giving instructions. They explain how people write commands in computer languages called code, and how code is broken down into step-by-step procedures called algorithms. They also show  how patience, attention to detail, and the ability to foresee different circumstances and outcomes can turn a lines of text into useful programs and activities.

We went over a few simple commands, when I realized that some of my students did not know their right from their left hands.  I gave out little counters from our math kit and had each child hold it in their right hand to help them with the upcoming directions I was going to give them.

I found a great post by Dr. Techniko where he made a Robot Language Dictionary.  I used his same commands for my students.

We only had a few commands to begin with:

We moved all of the desks out of the way and I wrote a few lines of code on the board using the
symbols above.  We practiced this many times before I gave each of my students a lined sticky note.  Their instructions were to write up to 8 lines of code with the commands above.  I then put them in partners.  One students was the programmer and the other student was the robot.  They took turns trying out their code.  After they had practiced, they took a picture of their written code and took a video of themselves acting out the code.

At the end of the day, I could hear the kids talking about how much fun they had and telling their parents that they were learning about coding in class.  My plan for the next lesson is to have them complete some sort of obstacle course by programming their robot (partner) to complete it.  We will then get into debugging (the process of fixing errors in a program) and I will eventually get them onto ScratchJr on the iPads.  

Are you programming in your class?  I would love to hear about it!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Using Brainpop, iPads and Padlet to learn about the Water Cycle

Last week Sarah (my teaching partner) and I introduced the water cycle to our students.
On Tuesday we started with a Padlet wall to see what our students schema was about the water cycle.  From the Padlet we were able to determine that our students did not have a lot of background knowledge on the topic.  Sarah then read the story All the Water in the World  and made another padlet with all the ways that we use water.
On Wednesday I played the beginning of the Brainpopjr video about the water cycle  I modeled the comprehension strategy "Notes/Thinking T-chart"  I wrote the question I was focusing on at the top, then wrote down the notes from the Brainpop video on the right hand side and then
the students helped me write down their thoughts, questions and connections on the right hand side of the chart.  I then handed out a task sheet with the questions I wanted answered from watching the water cycle video on Brainpopjr.  After the students made their notes on each question,  they were asked to create an artifact showing their learning from their research.  We talked about how they could show their learning.  Some of the responses were to use Explain Everything, Sonic Pics, iMovie, a poster, act it out, etc.

How do I keep track of all the different projects, you ask?  While the students are working, I circulate the room and jot down their choice on how they want to share their project.  I also placed a QR code on the task sheet.  The QR code takes them to a Padlet wall where they can upload their work.  If they create a poster or something that is not digital, they take a picture of their work and upload that to the Padlet wall.  Therefore, all of their work is stored in one place where I as their teacher can assess it and where their peers and parents can see it and offer feedback.  

As I write this post, my students are still working on their projects, but here is the Padlet wall where you will see their projects appear as they finish them.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Join The Global Project #kidscancreatechange

We (my teaching partner and I) are embarking on an inquiry that we hope will promote innovation, empowerment, risk taking, commitment, and skilled problem solving in our students. 
Using Fullan’s six elements of character as our framework we are attempting to measure the impact of focusing work on social and global issues on students’ ability to demonstrate the 6 C’s.

The six C’s are:

  • Character education: building resilience, empathy, confidence and wellbeing.
  • Citizenship: referencing global knowledge, cultural respect, environmental awareness.
  • Communication: getting students to apply their oral work, listening, writing and reading in varied contexts.
  • Critical-thinking: designing and managing projects which address specific problems and arrive at solutions using appropriate and diverse tools.
  •  Collaboration: working in teams so students can learn with/from others.
  •  Creativity and imagination: to develop qualities like enterprise, leadership, innovation.         

In developing this inquiry, we wanted to keep to a theme “Make something in the world better.”  This could be:

  • In the school
  • In the community
  • In the world

We wanted the children to identify a need, to create a plan and then reflect on the outcome.

 It was December when we began this project, so it was the perfect season to embark in this journey.  There was a food drive at our school for local families and we also had a Christmas tree in our front hallway that students and teachers decorated with hats and mittens for children in need.  This was our first step in building empathy in our students.

We then started introducing our students to issues that many of them had no schema about.  We explored the following questions through the LivingOnOne Change Series:
·      What is it really like to live on just $1 a day?
·      How big of an effect could not having clean water nearby have on your life?
·      What kind of food can you afford on $1 a day and what does it really mean to be malnourished?
·      What options do the poor have to get back on their feet after a natural disaster?
·      What barriers do the poor face in finding work and how do they make a living?

·      How is it possible to budget just $1 a day for immediate costs like food and shelter and still save for long term items like your kids’ education and emergencies?
·      What prevents kids from going to school and how can education respect traditional culture while also teaching modern skills?

We noticed that the students were very engaged in the content and were hungry for more.  We invited  Emily Hime has a non profit organization called Hime For Help.  Emily opened and runs Maison Ke Kontan Children's Home in Port Au Prince where seventeen children currently reside. As well as running the Children's Home she also sponsors over ten children and families who are living in extreme poverty and gives these children an opportunity to attend school.   She also supports a tent city consisting of 76 people where she provides clothing, food, and medical treatment as well as a remote village in the mountains of Montrouis where she personally sponsors a family of nine and provides care packages, medical care, clothing, and food for other Haitians in the village.  Twenty two year old Emily Hime was gracious enough to come and talk to our class about her journey, her passion and why she is moving to Haiti indefinitely this February. 
someone from our local community to come in to speak to our students.

Emily and the background knowledge we provided our students through read alouds, video and pictures ignited a spark in our students that was contagious.  Students began bringing in spare change to send to Emily.  They began brainstorming ways they could help Emily and her organization. 

This is where #kidscancreatechange came from.  Our students want the world to know that even though they are young, they can create a huge impact.  An impact, that can change the world. 

We want you to join us.  We want you to prove that you don’t have to be rich, or famous, or old to make a difference.  We want the world to know that #kidscancreatechange. 

We are asking that you identify a need in your school, community or in the world that you want to make better.  Then let us know by filling in the google doc and documenting your journey with audio, text, pictures and or video.  If you have an iPad, create a page using the book creator app with all of your documentation and send it to us so we can create a global collaboration book on how #kidscancreatechange.  If you don’t have an iPad, we still want you to participate!  Send us your documentation through email and we will create the page for you!

We know that this project will take some time, we would like your documentation by April 13th so we can create the collaborative book and get it back to you before the end of the school year.

If you are asking the question, “Where do I start?”  We have created a google doc with some resources to get you started.

When you are ready to show and tell us your journey on how #kidscancreatechange check out the following information for easy instructions on how to send us your book creator pages.

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask!  Email me at

Let’s empower our students and show the world that #kidscancreatechange

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Show Me The Money!

The past few weeks we have been working on money.  My second graders are expected to be able to estimate and count money amounts to one dollar.  Funny that our math program only has one lesson covering money.  As my good friend Erin Mastin says, it was time to "Wideen" it and go off course and do my own thing.

My students were ranging from little or no knowledge of what the names of the coins are to being able to count money to around a dollar.  Here are a few activities that we did and a few ways I differentiated the activities:

Get your kids moving with Frozen People Coin Tag!

  1. Label your students with a coin amount, either 1,5,10 or 25 cents.
  2. Have children run around the playing area.  
  3. Yell out an amount of money.
  4. Children work together to find the total value represented by the coin labels on their bodies.

I have shared the following activity before, but I needed to differentiate the activity for some of my students so instead of everyone showing me a dollar 4 different ways, I had some students sorting coins, and others were showing smaller amounts different ways.  Students would then use Draw and Tell or today they used Explain Everything to take a picture and record their thinking. All the following activities are available on my website, just click the tab that says iPad Stations, then choose the math option.

A student example of the activity

As you know, Explain Everything is one of my favourite apps and you will love what I am going to show you next.  I came across a file that was created to use with Explain Everything.  This file was created by Tim Pelton.  He made a project that I saved to my dropbox (dropbox is on all of my class iPads)  Students go to dropbox, choose the file and choose to open it in Explain Everything.  Presto! You have a screen with movable coins that students can use to show their learning.  Here is the link for the file.
We used this application in many different ways:
  • I would call out an amount and they would make it on their screens then tweet it.

  • They would show a certain amount different ways on different screens. 

I also created another activity called Trading Up!

Believe it or not, all of the above actives were going on at the same time in my room, except for tag of course.  The students were engaged, busy and excited to do the activities and it gave me some time to work with a group that needed extra help.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Changing the World by EMPOWERING my Students

I have been reading other blogs tonight and seeing the pattern of choosing "one word" to really focus on this year.  This couldn't have come at a better time as I wrestle with getting my big Global Project ready to launch.  My "word" has everything to do with my students, the teachers near and far that I connect with each day and my own children.  My "word" this year is to empower.  

I have been encouraging my students to create positive change not only in our local community, but on a global scale too.  Before the break, I began showing my students a documentary titled Living On One.  It is about four college students that flew to Guatemala to see what it would be like to live on just one dollar a day, for 56 days.  There are six 5-10 minute episodes on the most pressing issues Guatemalan people face everyday.  My students were enthralled with these videos and asked me every morning if we were going to watch another episode.

Emily with my class.
I then invited an amazing young woman into our classroom that lives near us who is running Maison Ke Kontan Children's Home in Port Au Prince where seventeen children currently reside. As well as running the Children's Home she also sponsors over ten children and families who are living in extreme poverty and gives these children an opportunity to attend school.   She also supports a tent city consisting of 76 people where she provides clothing, food, and medical treatment as well as a remote village in the mountains of Montrouis where she personally sponsors a family of nine and provides care packages, medical care, clothing, and food for other Haitians in the village.  Twenty two year old Emily Hime was gracious enough to come and talk to my class about her journey, her passion and why she is moving to Haiti indefinitely this February.  

I am so proud of my students for wanting to create change.  We have decided as
Two children who are in Emily's care wearing our
school t-shirts.
a class to support Emily and her non profit organization Hime For Help.  Before the break my students were brainstorming ways to raise money and how to share and ignite other children to "Be the Change" using social media.  Now this is empowerment.  When my students are showing commitment to act for the common good and problem solving for a better future.

I am going back to school tomorrow with an arm full of mentor texts to share with my students about empowerment and changing the world, one person at a time. 

I can't wait to continue this journey and to invite you to also encourage passion and possibility in your students.  Stay tuned for a Global Project that will empower your students to create, innovate and problem solve in the service of a better future.