QR Codes in the Primary Classroom

I introduced QR codes into the classroom a year ago. I was frustrated with students not being able to access appropriate sites on their mobile devices, in order to listen to reading. 5 minutes later our problem was solved. A QR linked to a Google Doc allowed students to scan and then select a site from a list, eliminating frustrations and building independence.

Fast forward a year and QR codes have made their way into every aspect of our learning environment.

Linking a QR to Google Drive has allowed young students to access relevant information with ease. During a Social Studies inquiry around Land Use I was able to create a working document for each topic and then add a variety of articles, videos and images that are at the students level. Young students are able to develop research skills, using technology in a safe environment.

Listen to Read QR

Listen to Read QR

During math class students love using QR codes to check the answers to problems. Our NASA QR is well used by those that are interested in Space and the bins in our classroom library have codes that link to author websites.

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One of our most powerful experiences with using QR codes was a result of coupling the use of a QR with Google Forms during our data management unit. Students created their surveys using Forms and then independently created a QR. Their task was to survey as many people as possible; students went out into our school community, took the codes home to their families and posted them to our class Twitter account. By the following day some students had over 300 responses. We followed up by using QR codes and Forms to measure the impact of PSAs we shared through social media and received data from over 150 people.

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Videos created are shared with QRs, which are posted around the room. They have become commonplace in our classroom; they are a tool that is accessed and utilized more frequently than pencils in our little corner of the world.

QR codes provide another way to share digital work with parents.

QR codes provide another way to share digital work with parents.

The Kids Are Alright

There is no doubt that I have a non-traditional approach to education. I don’t see a lot of value in worksheets, ‘telling’ and compartmentalizing subjects. I believe in hands-on, cross-curricular exploration centred around student interest. A focus on community, mindset and developing skills that will enable to be successful later in life. Most importantly, I believe that EVERY, SINGLE STUDENT has the ability to succeed. All of them. Even the ones that are disengaged or that have less than desirable behaviours. It might not be easy, but it really is possible.

I had a few interesting conversations in the past few weeks, with various educators. The highlights of these chats include

  • My students can’t handle hands on activities. They’ll just misbehave.
  • My students are too weak, I can’t waste time on inquiry.
  • Inquiry doesn’t work for my students, they don’t care or wonder about anything
  • I teach grade 6, we can’t waste time on that, we have EQAO
  • You’re crazy
  • What about next year? What if they have a traditional teacher?

So, some valid concerns and comments. It can be scary to step away from the ‘norm’. For years we have been told that we don’t need to recreate the wheel; but we do! The wheel is broken! It may not be easy; particularly if you do teach in a school where students don’t have a lot of home support. I have spent countless hours modelling what a ‘conversation’ looks like. I understand that not every student comes equipped with the skills needed to jump into rich conversations and to utilize technology appropriately. Isn’t that even more of a reason to teach them? Students learn through doing. Having an academically weak, disengaged class is even more reason to get them moving, inspired and learning!

I teach grade 3. I understand the pressure of standardized testing. I also recognize the value of providing ample opportunity for students to engage in rich conversations using math vocabulary and sharing strategies through activities such as Number Talks. They are able to develop skills in one format and then transfer them to another. Believe in them. They can do it.

I also have faced a classroom of 7 year olds that had no interest in the provocations I was presenting to them. They had no wonders. How is that possible? Turns out, they just thought what I was sharing was lame. Go figure. Easy fix; I set up a wonder table and had students bring in items that they were curious about and then I found ways to incorporate curriculum into these topics. This group has evolved into a team of scientists that are curious about everything; they question so much of their world and have developed research skills to find the answers to their wonders.

We talk a lot about student mindset. I would like to suggest that teacher mindset is even more important. If you believe in your students, set the bar high and guide them in the right direction they will amaze you.

I leave you with one image. The 15 year old, high-school drop out version of me. The couch-surfing punk rocker. The girl that didn’t understand traditional math, that was pulled out for regular resource help and that was too scared to ask a question because she didn’t want to look any more stupid than she already felt. The kid that almost failed grade 8, the one that really, really just wanted to succeed. Don’t write off kids like me. Give them all a chance. They deserve it and they can do it.

Engage them! Inspire them! They can handle it!

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Gardening, Cooking and Community

We began cooking in the classroom early in the school year; from Amish bread to pizza to salad dressing, the students enjoying experimenting with recipes and flavours in the kitchen. Through the process they were able to discover the importance of precise measurements, how to work with fractions (how many 1/2 cups would we need, in order to make 2 1/2 cups of flour?) and capacity. Student researched and pinned recipes on Pinterest and procedural writing happening naturally, as students recorded recipes that they created. Along with this, they were developing practical skills that they can carry forward with them.

Early in the spring, they were eager to begin planting seeds. They were excited to try to grow some of the foods that they had either read about while navigating Pinterest for recipes, or that they had experimented with in class. We had some success with indoor gardening the previous year and it was a perfect fit with our Grade 3 Science Unit (Growth and Changes in Plants) and I was just as excited to begin as the students were.

Every student selected a plant they wanted to grow and began researching to determine if their plant would grow before the end of the school year. Once all 22 plant varieties were selected we went to the local nursery to purchase seeds. We decided to add a few extra varieties into the mix and couldn’t wait to see how our plants would grow.

IMG_0912Each student planted seeds in 5 cells, in our greenhouse kits. They downloaded a compass on an iPad and set out to find the south sun, so that their seeds would receive adequate sun. Each morning they would rush to the Learning Commons to check on their seeds and see if they had any sprouts. As soon as their plants started to grow they would bring rulers with them to measure growth each day and write about their plants on their SeeSaw blog.

Within a few weeks it became apparent that our plants required more space. They had outgrown their tiny cells and were started to look less lively. We went back to the nursery and purchased potting soil and dug out some pots. Students transplanted their plants into bigger homes and were pretty excited to see if rehoming their plants would help them out.

Around this time we decided that the garden beds out front of our school probably were not the best place for our plants. We had used them the previous year and hadn’t had much luck. Our grade 4 students applied their knowledge of Habitats and Communities (Science) to determine that the large tree planted out front of the school prevented our plants from growing as well as they should, as it blocked the sun.

Screen Shot 2016-05-19 at 8.53.30 PMThey surveyed our school yard and found a more suitable location for our gardens. Armed with 5 shovels, a wheelbarrow and a LOT of motivation they began the long task of moving soil from the current location to the new spot. Some of the most remarkable learning occurred during this process; students worked together to determine how to use a shovel, how to maneuver a wheelbarrow, relocating insects and worms that they discovered and to ensure that the workload with shared equally (everyone wanted to shovel). The number of conversations that I overhead around math (how many shovelfuls do you estimate it will take to fill the wheelbarrow?) and science (bugs, simple machines, habitats and plants) were countless.

Conversation began to spring up around how to organize our plants in the garden. Many students had discovered that their plants had companions and that there were also threats to their plants. We decided to experiment with square foot gardening. Students researched to find out how many square feet they would need in the garden; Jayden could fit all of her radishes in one square foot while Elle would need 5 square feet for her dill. It was still chilly and rainy outdoors, so in order to plan we create a replica of our garden indoors using painters tape. The students found the perimeter of the garden beds and taped it out on the floor. We then created models of our plants and used these to organize the space in our “pretend” garden.


The mathematical thinking that emerged during the process of planning our garden was amazing. As a group, they decided to organize their plants from tallest to shortest, to ensure that the taller plants wouldn’t block the sun from the shorter ones. Then they divided themselves into two groups. Once organized in terms of height, they began to place their square feet to ensure that they were as close to companion plants as possible. It was during this process that Mariah decided to plant her zucchini in a pot, in the garden, so that it wouldn’t spread and take over the surrounded plots.

Being the tech savvy group they are, they used Augmented Realty (Aurasma) to link their blog posts and pictures to their models, allowing people to scan their models to see their digital work. We also decided to use Scratch Jr to code multiple choice games about each plant. Students provided an intro slide with information about their plant and then 4 questions about the plant.

Spring finally arrived and we combined our ability to read graphs and our probability skills to make a decision about whether or not we should move our plants outside, based on information on The Weather Network. Some students thought it was time, and others opted to take their plants out just for the day, brining the pots back in each night.

We headed outside, armed with a metre stick, twine, nails and a hammer and began to construct our square foot garden. The importance of accuracy when measuring quickly became apparent and students took the time necessary to ensure that their squares would be a true square foot.

Some students decided to plant; our kale, zucchini and radishes found their permanent homes while they decided that it was too early for our corn and tomatoes. The level of collaboration that emerged once again was remarkable, as students worked together to ensure that their plants were carefully planted and cared for. Students that generally don’t work together were laughing as they planted together, and ones that are self-conscious were seen singing to their plants. It was a rare moment were every single student was happily engaged in learning.

During the process of growing and cooking food, conversation occurred around how we could share our learning with others. We had done work already with CK Table and the students had built a relationship with Paul Spence. It wasn’t a big surprise that they wanted to replicate one of his events and have a community meal. They asked him if he would help them out, and the idea of a CK Table Jr meal was born.

We determined what jobs would be required for the event to occur and students began filling out application forms and interviewing for the jobs of photographer, advertising, decorating team, public relations, social media and webmaster. Once in their teams they started to plan our meal.

Our advertising and public relation team created a video to persuade local CKSY radio hosts; Chris McLeod and Sam East to MC our meal which resulted in their request being the CKSY Question of the Day and a trip to be on air both with them and on CFCO!

The Social Media team and Webmaster used material from our photographers to promote our event online while our decorators determined what artwork we would need for the meal and how to set up our tables.

We also decided we needed some sponsors and so the students created a presentation for potential sponsors and started to send out emails. This led our Public Relation and Adverting team to the United Way board office to present to the Women’s Leadership Council. They were beyond excited to walk away with a $1000.00 Visionary Sponsorship! Their excitement grew when we returned to school to learn that Dowler-Karn was signing on as our Cornerstone partner. That along with Professional Party Planners commitment to be our Affiliate Partner for the event set us up in a good position to be able to run the meal.

We still had the large task of planning and cooking a meal for our guests. A community partnership with Eat What’s Good chef Emily Meko and Chef Russell Colebrook was exactly what we needed to ensure that our meal would be a success. We determined that they would be responsible for leading the event and planning the main (beef) dish and desert. The students would plan the soup and salad, along with the help from Growing Chefs.

Andrew, from the Growing Chefs came in and worked with the students to develop an incredibly delicious asparagus soup, made using local ingredients. His next visit found students divided into three teams. Each team received a box with different ingredients. Their task; in 15 minutes they had to create a salad using a leaf, stem, root and fruit and create a salad dressing. Each salad would be judged and the winning salad design would be used for the meal. The excitement around the competition had been building for months and the students rose to the occasion; creating three delicious salads that made it hard to select just one!

With a week to go until the meal, we are set to prepare and serve a wonderful 4 course meal, made with local foods. The students have been the driving force every step of the way. This event is more than just a meal; it is an opportunity for a group of passionate students to showcase their learning and their commitment to their community with others. It combines their love of cooking, growing and community and that really is what they are serving up.

The learning through that has occurred though this project has been much larger than curriculum expectations, as important and relevant as those connections have been. It has been about collaboration, initiative, responsibility, organization, community and believing in the ability to make a vision come alive. These 22 little people have continually surprised me, motivated me and made me proud every step along the way. Some days I am not sure who has learned more; them or I.








Coding Christmas: A holiday door challenge

I love a good challenge, so when a staff email was sent out announcing a school wide holiday door decorating contest I was excited to have my students start planning. During our initial brainstorming meeting a student suggested that we find ways to incorporate technology into our door. He referenced the interactive bulletin board  that Brian Aspinalls class had created earlier in the year and suggested that we could use the same technology. Two other classmates quickly added the use of Augmented Reality and Green Screen to the list. I decided to let them loose and see what they could come up with.

Touching blue snowflakes to play various Christmas songs

They immediately decided to cover the door in aluminum foil; a material they recognized as a conductor. A small group searched the library on Scratch and found the MaKey MaKey Christmas Songs  program and decided it was a perfect fit for our door. They hid the Makey Makey circuit board under some foil and ran alligator clips from it to the parts on our door that they wanted to play music, when touched.

Over the next two weeks students wrote, revised and carried out short skits using the Do Ink Green Screen app.

Using our school’s Green Screen and Do Ink to create short skits

Then they used Aurasma to link their digital content to the pictures on the door; bringing our door to life. They used small, jeweled stickers to mark all of the trigger points. Several student skits, a Tellagami weather report and an animated snow storm were just some of the videos that would launch when scanned. 

The students decided to personalize the door when they printed off pictures of themselves and added them to the door. 

The end result was a piece of work that not only showcased their understanding of how to use technology, but their ability to work collaboratively, problem solve and to be innovative.

Enjoying our prize! Treats and a movie.

The competition was stiff, but their hard work paid off with a win in our division!

The finished product in action. 

Butterflies, Bread and Watermelon

Today was one of those that remind me why I love what I do. It was full of excitement, discovery, wonder and problem solving. It was noisy, it was messy and it was busy.

The day began with a tweet from Steve Parr @parr_mr, who knew of our interest in Monarchs from yesterdays tweet, asking if we wanted to take in 2 of his chrysalis for the day to observe. We knew the monarchs would be emerging soon, as the chrysalis was transparent and so we set up an iPad to record the event.

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Add to the mix 3 plants, 2 soil samples and countless snails and the end result was a morning full of science research and discussion.

OScreen Shot 2015-09-23 at 4.55.37 PMn top of this, our Amish Cinnamon Bread had reached day 10 and it was ready to be baked. Every student had an opportunity to assist in adding ingredients, figuring out what 2/3 meant and how to add 1 1/2 cups when we only had a 1c measuring cup. Authentic discussion arose around the importance of accuracy when measuring out ingredients and students encouraged each other to take their time. Conversation and learning that I could’t have planned.

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When our bread was ready we had a problem. I had no idea how to slice it. The students decided to do a quick survey to determine who wanted a piece and based on that total we had to figure out how many slices we needed to cut out of each loaf. 3 students went to get a Rekenrek, one grabbed snap cubes, there were diagrams, models and number sentences on their workspaces and they were engaged.

We needed 24 slices and had two loaves; some students thought we needed 14 out of each loaf, others 12. Work was double checked and errors corrected. The entire time, I sat back and watched. When the problem was solved, I sliced the bread and everyone enjoyed a piece while watching our monarchs and determining (thanks to our Twitter chat with Mr. Parr) that we had one male and one female. Check out our time lapse of the monarchs emerging here
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During the last 5 minutes of the day, a post from @mraspinall come up on Twitter and caught my students attention. The students had lots of questions and one suggested recording them to look at tomorrow. With bus students being called, 24 students were rushing to document their questions on sticky notes.

How much do they weigh? How many people could they feed? What is the total cost? And my favourite; Why would someone want 60 watermelons?

How much do they weigh? How many people could they feed? What is the total cost? And my favourite; Why would someone want 60 watermelons?

We don’t have much “paperwork” for the day but I would suspect that the learning that occurred today was deeper, more meaningful and will last longer than any worksheets. The best part for me though; the natural strengthening of relationships and building of a supportive learning community that came out of the day.

Flipping things around.

In a perfect world, I would be teaching a straight grade where all of my students had similar abilities. In the real world, I have a 3/4 split where my students needs range from number recognition to understanding multiplication and fractions. It quickly became apparent to me that focusing on the big ideas and then working with small groups to clarify any misconceptions was not going to work, as I had hoped.

So, how could I reach every student, every day?

I decided to take a good look at the strengths and weaknesses in my students, and the learning environment. Yes, I have some students that struggle with a sense of number and problem solving which is compounded by language disabilities and/or deficits. Yes, some of students have low attention spans and struggle with socially acceptable behaviour. What we also have is an entire group of students that are willing to take risks, that recognize the importance of making mistakes in order to learn and that are becoming comfortable with using technology to access curriculum,  demonstrate their understanding of concepts and document their learning.

I have integrated the use of technology into my teaching practice, but I decided to look at other ways of supporting my unique learning community with tech. I decided to give the flipped classroom approach a try. As access to technology and internet is not something that everyone has the luxury of at home, I decided to build it into our classroom routine. I hopped on Touchcast, recorded a math lesson; using the interactive features to ensure that it wasn’t just a lecture, and posted it to Google Classroom.

I love trying new things, and about 50 percent of the time they don’t work. I was curious to see how this approach would pan out. I sent my Grade 3 students off to access their lesson on their individual devices while I sat down to work with my Grade 4 group. I expected some bumps in the road, but was pleasantly surprised to find that it went off without a glitch! Students that required clarification went back and replayed the parts of the video they needed to review, instructions were clearly laid out for the in class task and everyone began working promptly. All of my 3’s were on task, focused and completed their assigned work.

The best part; when I was done with my grade 4 group I was able to actually sit down and support students from both grades that needed assistance! I am looking forward to trying this approach with both grades at the same time, and having even more available time to provide individual and small group support and provide immediate feedback to students.

I had never paid much attention to the “flipped classroom” approach as I thought it was more relevant for older students and that it had to occur outside of the classroom to be effective. I am not sure that I am doing it “right” but I do love that using a free app along with our Google Classroom allows me to give every student what they need! Even the ones that are struggling the most and need a modified lesson. It does require a bit of work upfront and a small investment of time, but there is no other way that I could see providing differentiated lessons to so many students during one class.


I Don’t Even Know How To Cook

This past school year has been remarkable, to say the least. What began as a desire to help our local food bank led our class on a journey I had no intention of taking. We worked with local artists to make the food bank more welcoming; we created PSAs that received airtime, were featured on Treehugger, presented to the Lambton Kent District School Board of Trustees, spoke at Tedx Chatham-Kent, donated food from our indoor organic vegetable garden, worked on a photo project with The Chatham Daily News photojournalist Diana Martin, held an art auction and a community corn roast.

All around the issue of food security.

Who would have thought that a group of 20 grade 2 and 3 students would care so much about food. Certainly not me. Yet, they were the most passionate group of students that I have ever had the opportunity to teach.

Along the way I somehow got confused as someone that was on expert on the topic of food security; who happened to share my passion with my students. This is not at all the case. I barely know how to cook. My 13 year old daughter jokes that our stove is an art piece and my 10 year old son recently gave me a high five for FINALLY making sunny side up eggs without destroying them. And, while I was writing this, I burnt the bacon.

What I am passionate about is listening and responding to student voice. Shaping curriculum delivery and integrating topics and activities that students care about undeniably engage student and result in greater success. These little game changers are completely responsible for the successes in our learning community this year. Every time myself or our principal thought that their interest would fizzle out they would surprise us and lead us in a new direction. I looked for opportunities to tie their interests, projects and learning into curriculum and ensured that their work was purposeful. Curriculum was covered, students were engaged and the learning was meaningful. That to me, is the greatest achievement of the year.

Someone recently asked me how I would top last year. I won’t. I don’t expect to. Each group of students is unique and so each school year is different. I do however look forward to a new year of adventures and learning!

Over half of the students and their families prepared and served food at a community corn roast, with community parters CK Table and the Portuguese Canadian Club, during summer vacation.

Over half of the students and their families prepared and served food at a community corn roast, with community parters CK Table and the Portuguese Canadian Club, during summer vacation.

Parents have became as engaged as their children. One stated that her sons commitment to making healthy food choices has led their whole family to make better choices.

Parents have became as engaged as their children. One stated that her sons commitment to making healthy food choices has led their whole family to make better choices.