Favourite Holiday Memories on #105theHive

As part of an oral and written language arts assignment, the grade 8B Mustangs made their premiere on #105theHive. While they were nervous, they all presented their favourite holiday memory, and they soon realized sharing over the airwaves isn’t that bad. Stay tuned for more shows from the 8B Mustangs at FE Madill.

You can listen to the students in the following order by clicking the link below. Order of presenters:

Bianca, Kendall, Craig, Niah, Logan, Brittany, Jacob C, Savannah, William, Melissa, Ryan, Nicole, Preston, Guin, Brayden, Nicole, Karissa, Jacob P, Shelby H., Amy, Dylan, Shelby A. and Emily .


Pop Art Shoes

One of my favourite go-to blogs for grade 8 art lesson ideas is Mrs. Art Teacher! Recently I came across an art teaching community, The Smart Teacher, and found an activity I knew my students would love where they Create their own dream shoes at Converse, Nike, Vans or Adidas sites. I combined the later lesson with the Pop Art Shoe lesson as listed below.


-students created their own dream shoe online (45 min.)
-drew the enlarged version using contour lines, colour with tool of choice (90 min.)
-created a background using lines and patterns as described in the Pop Art Shoe lesson
painted their background using tints and shades (1 ½ – 2 hrs.)






















I am not an “artist”, but in spite of my ability, I think my students did a great job.

Experiencing the Realities of War Through Life In the Trenches

In today’s world, when asked about technology, we think of hardware like smart phones and tablets or web 2.0 tools. Back in the early 1900’s, technology advancement led to the end of trench warfare.  As part of our WW 1 history unit, my gr. 7/8 students learned first-hand how soldiers used technology as they experienced life in the trenches.

Students traveled on a 2.5 hour bus ride to the Outdoor Trench Warfare and Living History Site in rural Tillsonburg to experience the hardships faced by Canadian WW I soldiers in the trenches.  They were guided by award-winning history teacher Robin Barker-James in the strategies used by soldiers as they struggled to survive and defend what they believed in.

As my student, Brad P., described it, “Robin Barker-James has a farm just outside of Tillsonburg where he and his Gr.10 history class dug replica trenches from WWI to host schools and teach them about trench warfare.  The trenches at Mr. Barker-James’ farm are very real, in fact so real that the Canadian military has trained there before heading to Afghanistan. There was even a movie shot there.”

During the morning session, students learned how to fight using bayonets and grenades, and Robin shared his collection of authentic WW 1 artifacts with the class.

In the afternoon, my girls played the role of the Canadians, and attacked the German-held trenches (my male students), “armed” with replica grenades, Ross rifles and the coveted Lewis machine gun. While the reenactment was without danger, students clearly began to feel the fear, chaos and discomfort that was reality for the generations before them.

Robin has guided over 70 000 students in the past decade through his site.  He specializes in providing a common sense, hands-on and concrete learning experience for students studying war.  The following day, I asked students to write about the experience, including a monologue and the lessons they had learned.

From the “Canadian” girls….

Nataja:  I learned that we need to work together as a team to survive.

Alyssa: The helmets were very hard to keep on your head, especially when you had to crawl.  And, they often dug into the back of your neck, which was very uncomfortable. I was tired and I was getting frustrated with  my team, but in a way that is a good thing.  It made us see some of what the soldiers had to go through in a daily basis.

Kori ‘s monologue:  The waiting is unbearable, because I don’t know what exactly am I waiting for. Am I waiting for excitement, or am I just waiting for this to be over? I think the most clear message was that war is not a game. What we did in the field at Robin’s farm may not have been real, but turning the corners in the trenches was still nerve wracking. I can’t begin to imagine what that would be like in a real war.

And from the “German” boys…

Iain’s monologue:  I feel sick, my stomachs churning due to the nerve racking moments about to happen. The enemy is almost here, I can hear them. I’m really scared, even though I have my best friend Isaac a few metres from me.  

Jason: I learned that war causes just as much psychological damage as physical damage. I learned about the hardships the men had to endure in and outside of the trench line. The saddest part was when Robin told me how many men had died for our freedom.  It was the most interesting field trip that involved learning I have ever been on.

Tyler: The experience of that day will never leave me….. Like Mr. Barker-James said, “If you are asked to send yourself or your kids into warfare, you better have a pretty darn good reason to.” I don’t think it could have been said better.

Can you feel it? These students, who 24 hrs. earlier saw trench warfare as a game, now have a more realistic understanding as they question the validity of war – exactly what Robin intended. My gr. 7 students are keen to travel back to Tillsonburg next year to participate in Robin’s re-enactments of the War of 1812 and WW II. There’s even a few gr. 8’s, who will no longer be at my school, begging to return with us. Powerful and authentic learning.

Flickr slideshow

“Real-life” Literacy with an Author Visit via Skype: Gr. 7/8 Students’ Reflections

Our classroom was buzzing today as my students waited for the 9:30 Skype call from author, Natasha Friend.  They were organized and raring to go.  What’s most amazing is the fact that one of my grade 7 students contacted the author of young adult novels, on her own, to tell her how much she enjoyed the book, Lush. Natasha Friend graciously offered to Skype with our class. After refining interview questions into categories to ensure they didn’t repeat themselves, students voluntarily signed up for “Skype roles” as inspired by @langwitches.  A few students greeted Natasha, shared some brief information about our class, and then each student presented their questions.  While this was happening, other students blogged and backchanneled during the call.  At the end of the call, we added the location to our class Skype Google Map.  The kids were thrilled, inspired and it took only a suggestion from me for them to instantly want to blog about their experience.  Hear their voice


Today, Natasha Friend, author of the famous books Perfect, Lush, and Bounce, and also the book For Keeps Skyped with our class. How did this all come about you may ask? Well a student in our class e-mailed Natasha via her Facebook site and Natasha was kind enough to e-mail back and offer to have a skype session with our class. The day before the call, our class brainstormed several awesome questions that we asked one by one today. Today during the call, I kind of felt bad for Natasha because we were firing questions at her non-stop for what seemed like half an hour, but she seemed fine answering each and every question. She also shared her secret plans for an upcoming book, which I can’t share with you guys because then it won’t be a secret! But trust me, you’re going to want to check this book out once it hits your local library. We concluded the session with a hearty thank-you and with a click of a button, we were disconnected. Today I found out that Natasha Friend is not only an awesome writer, but also an all-around good person too. If we’re lucky, maybe another successful author like Natasha will offer to skype with us in the near future! Hey, I can dream, right?


What I think surprised me most was the answer she gave when asked, “How did you decide to become an author?”  Natasha replied by saying as soon as she read her first book, she started writing little stories and knew that she wanted to become an author. This surprised me as I have thought that authors would only figure this out in their older ages.


Natasha thought our classmate Justin, looked like Justin Bieber, causing enormous laughter throughout the class. She told us about her upcoming book and bids us farewell, saying we can e-mail her with writing ideas and questions.


Our Skype call with Natasha Friend was really motivating, not just as a student, but as an author as well. I would like to someday have at least one book published since it has been a life-long dream to see my name on the cover of a novel. Natasha gave good pointers on how I could reach that dream.   One thing that really stood out to me was her passion for writing. I get that.   Every time I think of an idea about a story, I’m writing.  Natasha told us that she’ll be writing until she runs out of ideas, which she hopes never happens.

Natasha was very open with what she told us. Not everyone can say to complete strangers, that her books have pieces of her in them. The way I think of books, is that they are like children and the author is their mother. If the mother doesn’t care to write them, and make sure they are well cleaned up, (edited) then they will never make it in the world. Natasha Friend may be a mother of three kids, but she is also the mother of her books. If each of her books has a piece of her in it, maybe they are guideposts for her. Maybe, deep down, she writes them with pieces of herself in them, so she can live in the future and the past as well.


Natasha Friend was so open to our whole class. She shared stories about her life and how they relate to her own books. She had also told us what her upcoming book is about and why she decided to write about those topics. She inspired me to go after what I want to be when I grow up by saying that if we really enjoyed doing something, we should go after it as a living. To her credit, Natasha has a great personality.  She made me feel like I could talk to her about anything and she would give not only me, but the whole class, honest feedback to our questions. It will be a memory that will last forever for me! 🙂


Natasha is an amazing author, who takes the time to acknowledge her fans.  Thank-you Natasha!

Surprisingly, half of these post were written by my boys, one of whom had asked if Natasha would consider writing a story about a boy who joined the army.  Natasha went on to share her attempts at writing from a boy’s perspective with the student.

Sincere, transparent, generous:  these character traits found in Natasha Friend have inspired my  grade 7 and 8 students, regardless of gender, to read a book with a pink cover and write about her impact on them.  Contact Natasha at her website or other authors at the Skype and Author Network.  Connect your classroom to real world learning through collaboration.  Engage your students in critical thinking via Skype.

Social Media Supports Student Initiative

Over the past year as my grade 7/8 students have been building their digital literacy skills, they are clearly showing that they are also becoming responsible digital citizens.  They understand the importance of “think before you submit” and “Creative Commons”.  Recently as they prepared to post comments on other students’ online projects, they edited their writing, working towards being concise, relevant and respectful.  We studied and compared the quality of various comments found online, including examples of my own, and they practiced their responses using various news stories discussed in class.  Their first big leap into the digital world was in response to an invitation from @charbeck, a teacher in Winnipeg, to view and post comments on his students’ social justice videos.  They loved the opportunity and the videos.

Some of the videos created by the Winnipeg students included recordings from an “expert” contacted by the students.  This component of the video inspired some of my students to venture further on their own.  This past week, using various social networking tools such as wikis and Facebook, some my students have independently contacted the authors of the books they are currently reading in their book club groups (Natasha Friend, Michael Harmon).  I had not asked them to do this, or even suggested it, yet these students chose to write on their own, outside of school hours, to an authentic audience.  I am grateful for the responses back from the authors and proud of my students for their initiative.  We will follow-up with an offer from one of the authors to Skype with our class.  My students’ emerging skills in social networking has helped them develop self-confidence in their role as writers.  Surprisingly, these students are not my strongest readers or writers.  They are however, students with a voice.

Leading the Way

As my classroom walls flatten, my students are taking their learning outside.  I am the teacher, yet I am proud to step aside as they lead the way out the door into a digital world I know they are prepared for.  They have taken far more from my lessons than what I had hoped for.  They have safely and responsibly adopted social media as a valuable educational tool.

Postscript:  Natasha Friend is skyping with our class June 8.  The students are so excited!

2010/365 photos and Blogging with your iPhone

Today many of us joined the 2010/365photos project.  With that commitment made, I wanted to find a fast, efficient way to upload photos to my blog, using my iPhone (see the link under Blogroll).  Read on if you’re trying to do the same.  It’s so easy!  Install Flickit and Flickr (free apps) on your iPhone.  You can also install Photoshop, another free app, to edit pics before you upload. 

In Flickr, set up your blog under “Your Accounts”, “Add a Blog”.  Flickr walks you through each step.  Watch for the extension you need to add if you’re a WordPress user.  I missed this the first time (still sleepy from New Year’s Eve?). You can add as many blogs as you want. 

Now you’re ready to go.  Back in Flickit, upload a photo from your library or a photo you’ve just taken.  After you’ve selected your picture, tap it for the details menu.  Scroll to the bottom, where you will see the link to your blog.  Tap, and voila, you’re done.  So tomorrow, when I take my daily shot, I open Flickit, find the pic, tap it, tap my blog name, done!  Only 364 more to go…..

Day 1: 90 yr. old Bert fiddlin’ with his teenage buddies. 

Be Kind, Please Rewind: Creativity and Finding a Place for Teaching Internet Safety

In our jam-packed curriculum, where I teach all subjects, except French, in a Grade 7/8 class, I struggle to fit in the thousand plus expectations we are to address. So, as good teachers are to do, I take the “integrate, cross-curricular” approach as much as possible. It’s still an impossible task. However, my participation in the Powerful Learning Practices: Leadership in Schools project has brought focus onto an area where I have been lax. I know, we’re suppose to be kind to ourselves, not beat ourselves up about what we haven’t done right, as we grow professionally.

Yes, I have grown!  I’ve learned a new language full of new vocabulary such as social networking, PLN, and retweets, all in an effort to increase my digital footprint. I have shared this growth process with my students (Gr. 7/8 students always want to know what you’ve been doing when you’re away). But… gulp…. in doing so, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve done a lousy job teaching them about online safety. I mean, they know this stuff – don’t they? They text, email, chat, share on Gdocs, Facebook and recently, tweet. They are tech-savvy. But this week, as I shared my digital growth stories with them, their facial expressions (shock’n awe) showed they are naïve when it comes to the shape and size of their own digital footprint – footprints that are showing up where they don’t want them seen.

This week, as they sat at their desks with their notebook computers, I googled myself on the Smartboard and showed them the various results that popped up, including my recent twitter comments. Then I had them do the same to themselves and people they know. The room erupted. Following the many, “OMG’s”, the discussion turned to story sharing ranging from a friend’s sister who didn’t get a job because of pictures found online, to the benefits of Facebook for planning grade 8 grad. So, as the saying goes, (funny… it relates to old technology), “be kind, please rewind”. I am going to do just that. After the Christmas break, in addition to the already packed term two, with its mandatory PLC writing, math units, book clubs, etc., I am going to slow down and back up. Using the somewhat creative approach, I’ll link my online safety lessons to the Personal Safety and Injury strand in Health. After all, what could be more important right now, as we focus on 21st Century Learning, than our students’ online personal safety?

Text Versus Handwriting? Don’t Forget Grandma’s Christmas Card.

Recently, in the Ontario PLP forums, the question was raised whether or not handwriting is dead.  As a teacher who admits to having terrible penmanship, I embrace the opportunity my students have to type any and all assignments.  But as I posted these words in the forum, I felt guilty for some reason, thinking of the last piece of written material I have from my grandmother.  It’s a 15 year old Christmas card that I keep in my bedside table.  At the time, I couldn’t really understand why I felt this guilt.  Last night, I got my answer. 

This weekend, two different schools of thought appeared in the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail newspapers on the issue of students texting versus handwriting.  The Globe & Mail’s Erin Andressons, reported on the improvement in spelling and essay length from students who text, based on a Stanford University study.  (Text appeal, GR8 news: We’re entering a new era of literacy.  http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/technology/gr8-news-were-entering-a-new-era-of-literacy/article1397742/)  Best of all, for those of us who can’t stand to read a u, i or lol in an essay, the students know by university age to drop the text-speak in their essays.  Good news, right?

Interestingly, this weekend, the Toronto Star reporter, Andrea Gordon, posted a similar article but with a different slant and a very enlightening view!  (The Death of Handwriting.  http://www.parentcentral.ca/parent/education/schoolsandresources/article/736263–the-death-of-handwriting)   Her article starts off similarly enough with my favourite lines: “Kids can text in the dark. Their fingers fly over keyboards like Rachmaninoff at the piano. But give them a pen and most resort to printing. Asking them to write a thank-you note in cursive is the equivalent of handing them a slide ruler.”  However, she clears a new path as she refers to the work of Dr. Jason Barton, a neurologist and Canada Research Chair at the University of British Columbia. 

According to Dr. Barton, when we recognize someone’s handwriting, it’s like seeing their face.  His groundbreaking research points to the fact that while the left side of the brain decodes written language (text), it’s the right side that allows us to identify and connect with the writer, just like we would when we recognize someone’s face.  Instantly, we set off a series of sensory triggers which bring up emotions and connections to that person.  Texting does not to the same extent.  That’s exactly why I keep Grandma’s Christmas card.  Her right slanted, elderly penmanship takes me right back to being with her on the farm. 

Like me, the Star reporter has kept her Grandmother’s letters.  So while there’s still emotion transferred through texting, Andrea’s last line sums up what I felt uneasy about.  “We are more connected than ever before but it’s a connection that threatens to leave no trace.”  I will make sure I leave something written (neatly!) for my kids and grandchildren.

Why Blog?

I never saw a need to blog, nor really understood the why.  Reading another teacher’s blog is great when you need to learn something, but why post my thoughts?  Who would care?  But after becoming involved with the Ontario PLP community this fall, I am beginning to get it. These folks air their beefs, discuss what’s worked in the classroom and where they want to go next.  Makes sense!  My students and I have stumbled and conquered together on a number of cool projects.  So yes, reflecting and celebrating are good reasons to blog.  But for me, most importantly, I want to remember this journey, and with a memory like mine, that means writing it all down and… well….blogging.   So now I get it.   Blogging for me is my permanent travel log as I paddle through these somewhat murky and sometimes clear waters.

Paddling with my son, Dunlop Lake/09