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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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.

Building a Math Community 

It was early in September when I discovered I was in serious trouble with my students and Mathematics. Not only were the majority of students lacking a concrete sense of number; their mindset was problematic. It became my mission to strive to create a rich math community where all students were engaged and growing as learners.Screen Shot 2015-03-31 at 1.12.47 PM

My first task was to try to change the mindset of my students around math. We looked at one of my favourite Prezi’s; Mindset Theory for Students and discussed taking ownership over our own learning. Students really seemed to understand that they are responsible for their learning, and that challenges meant growth was happening!IMG_0948

Next I decided to create life size models of familiar math materials. I grabbed my rolls of tape and set to work. Our classroom carpet has a giant place value mat where we explore numbers using base ten materials as a whole group. We also have a 5 foot by 5 foot hundred square grid taped onto the floor. I printed off numbers 0-100 in red and black and laminated the two sided cards.


We spent much of September exploring math materials and develop a sense of ‘howmuchness’ in number. Lessons are set around one of our floor models and students use white board versions to follow along. We refer to this seating format as our knowledge building circle; as co-learners we share our knowledge and build an understanding in a supportive setting. What I really like about this format is that everyone is included and I am able to see misconceptions and provide immediate feedback. Initially I did much of the leading however as students have gained more confidence I have become more of a facilitator.

Students were still resistant to taking risks when it came to written work. There is something incredibly intimidating about putting pencil to paper for many students. White board markers on table tops provided an easy solution to this problem! Students loved the idea of writing on desks and the large workspace lends itself nicely to collaboration. Creating student folders in Google Drive allows me to store documentation of digital work with ease. Recently, we have begun to use SeeSaw. This app allows students to upload digital content and assign it to their own portfolio. As an added feature, they can add audio or text to discuss their content.

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I still found students were not as engaged as I would like. I also found this particular group of students really wanted a great deal of reassurance and attention. I decided to harness the power of social media in order to access an audience for them. Early in the year I had students consolidate our learning about patterning by creating a math questions with a partner, that we would tweet out. As soon as we had our first response (and I did some messaging in advance to ensure we would have an active and immediate audience) they were HOOKED! Almost every week we send out math questions to fellow students across the world, administrators, parents and community members. We have a set of criteria established prior to tweeting out our questions and their understanding of concepts is assessed during these tasks.


Problem solving is centred around authentic problems in our classroom. We wanted to determine if the public service announcements we planned to create about our local food bank would have an impact and so we used Google Forms to survey over 150 people via social media. We used our Twitter analytics to determine when the best time to tweet out our PSAs would be. When planting seeds to grow food for our local food bank we needed to determine how much soil would be required for the 96 plants and which soil was the best value based on price.

A Number Talk is displayed when the trigger point is scanned with Aurasma

A Number Talk is displayed when the trigger point is scanned with Aurasma

Number Talks have provided an opportunity for students to develop their math vocabulary while strengthening their mental math skills. Twenty minutes a day is devoted to solving 3-4 questions. Students use math language to explain their strategies while I record thinking on our SmartBoard. Often, a student will discover their own errors as they explain their thinking. Mistakes are celebrated as “AHA” moments and a group of students that was once reluctant to answer based on fear now recognizes the value of errors. Scanning our Math Wall with Aurasma you can watch video of our Number Talks.

Using Plickers allows me to assess student understanding quickly and tracks the data for me. Four questions a day; from multiple strands are displayed on our smart board. We answer quickly and students justify their decisions for their peers. Using the cards allows me to ensure all students have a voice in every single math class.

Students answer math questions based on individual needs

Students answer math questions based on individual needs on our Math Minute wall

My students have become confident is selecting efficient materials to solve math tasks and share their work. Rekenreks, ten frames, Explain Everything and table tops are routinely used to show work. Conversations are rich and meaningful and students engage in math talk when I least expect it. They have evolved into risk takers, problem solvers and they recognize that not knowing the answer is okay. What is important is understanding how to access and use the tools to solve problems. They have become incredibly supportive of their peers; when Cameron moved from decomposing numbers to twos to add to making tens his classmates all cheered for him, recognizing his step towards a more efficient strategy in addition!

We have very little paper evidence of our work, but the work we do is engaging and authentic. Our math class is built around talk, exploration, collaboration and sharing. When we have free time they usually ask for mat Some of my students still struggle with concepts however all of my students enjoy math; as all students should.

Measuring the length of our plants

Measuring the length of our plants

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