As Told by Photos…

It’s the end of June so as with any parent, student, or teacher… I’m busy and exhausted! Here is a sneak peak into my class over the past month or so as told by photos:

My Favourite "L-Shaped" Desk Arrangement: Good for group work, small group lessons, and easy viewing of the board.

My Favourite “L-Shaped” Desk Arrangement: Good for group work, small group lessons, and easy viewing of the board.

Becoming Pompeii in Social Studies - Using drama to create an Ancient Roman world

Becoming Pompeii in Social Studies – Using drama to create an Ancient Roman world

Post-it Note Timelines

Post-it Note Timelines

Genius Hour for June - A great way to wrap up the school year!

Genius Hour for June – A great way to wrap up the school year!

Outdoor reading for our Human Rights Literature Circles

Outdoor reading for our Human Rights Literature Circles

Exploring for our final project for Human Rights - Student engagement in June!

Exploring for our final project for Human Rights – Student engagement in June!

Enjoy your last week of school fellow teachers – You can do it!


Teach it Tuesday: Genius Hour

Well this has been a post I’ve been meaning to write for a few months now… But it’s appropriate to put it up today as we just started our second round of Genius Hour this morning! It’s going to be our project as students finish up their work for the year they can move onto Genius Hour projects.


Do you like my lightbulb? Ha!

So for starters, in case you haven’t heard of Genius Hour it is based off the Google policy of 20% time, where their employees get to work on their own projects for 20% of their work time. It is also very in line with the philosophy in the book “The Spark” in which children need time to work with their own passions in order to do the things they aren’t as passionate about.

The Introduction

This is a crucial part of your first Genius Hour with any age group! I was working with one of the other grade 7 teachers at my school for this and we planned the introduction together and ran it for both classes at the same time. We used the Kid President video to introduce the topic of passions and then also showed the video from the Genius Hour site to further explain it. After, we each shared an example of a project that we would be working on – Mine was to create an effective half marathon training program that fit with my lifestyle. We also shared a list of project ideas other kids have done but I’m not sure if I would do this again as I ended up having a whole group of students who did the same project and as much as it was a cool idea, I think it would have been better to see what they came up with on their own.

Most of the resources that we used came from Runde’s Room – If you have not seen this blog yet then you must go take a look!

The Research

This is the piece that everyone handles differently… I know a lot of people who go heavy on the research component for the kids Genius Hour projects. I am a bit more relaxed about this with my group. Everyone had to do some research but I also encouraged them to use their time to create something or practice a skill. We spent about 4-5 weeks on the research component as we ran into Spring Break. It was a good amount of time though because I don’t think the kids would have stayed focused that much longer and they are so excited to do another Genius Hour so I know it was a good experience overall.

The Presentation

I kept the presentations very informal for my class which worked well for our group. Each student talked for about a minute and then there were lots of questions. I think it would be cool for the kids to get to try each others skills, etc. next time – But we will see if we have any time!

Have you ever tried Genius Hour or Passion Projects with your class?


To Reward or Not?

Classroom rewards are often a point of contention… What is best for kids? And for the things you do want to reward what do you give as a prize? It has taken me a little while in my teaching practice to figure out what exactly I believe in here – when is it okay to give rewards and when does it undermine the values I am trying to instill?

Personally, I do not believe in rewarding behaviour on a regular basis. I think that being ready for class is an expectation. As is being a good classmate or helping clean up the class. My students do not expect to be rewarded for these behaviours, it is the expectation that this is how they act.

Having said that there are times when I do offer rewards in class. When we forget to clean up at the end of the day and I need incentive for a few to stay after and help with the cleanup. Occasionally during math (right after recess) I offer a reward for those that are ready to go and started on the warm-up without being asked, because even in May we still struggle with this transition. Prizes for classroom games we play every so often. And, although I haven’t done it this year, I believe that offering rewards to speak French in class is useful because speaking in another language is scary, students need practice, and often there isn’t a ton of intrinsic motivation for this one.

So then the second question – What do you give as rewards? This has always been a tough one because, especially in middle school, what can you give that students will actually like? I do not believe in giving any kind of food reward like candy but often find that it is the only thing students really seem to want as a prize so I cave and buy it anyways. This year, besides the odd holiday treat, I have not given out any candy or food prizes. I found the next best thing…


Scholastic Mustache Pencils! And no, this post is not sponsored, I honestly just love these pencils so much! The kids get excited about them, they are relatively inexpensive (especially if you have Scholastic bonus coupons!), they aren’t made of sugar, and kids are less likely to lose them.

I also have a bunch of other fun pencils and colourful erasers as prizes, as well as glowsticks from the dollar store. I think if I offered a choice of candy or these then candy would still win but since they only get the choice of which pencil colour they still get pretty excited.

Added teacher bonus – the more pencils you give out the less kids say “I don’t have a pencil”! But yes, I still here it a few times a day.

I think students can get excited about whatever you give out if you do it in a fun way too! I had a really tough grade 8 class last year who were definitely in that “too cool” for anything phase, but we did Friday stickers after class cleanup and I just played it off as a big joke – in a mock preschool teacher voice saying “Okay class you did such a wonderful job cleaning up that I have a sticker for you!” Then they would roll their eyes at me… but 75% of the class would be lined up for their sticker at the end of the day!

So all in all, for me classroom rewards are meant for fun and to show students that you care but they do not reward for expected behaviours.

What do you use for classroom rewards?


Fascinating Learning

Hi everyone! I do exist! I honestly sat at my open computer for five whole minutes before I started typing this post – staring at my screen wondering if this piece was even worth documenting. Here we go.

Things are going well over here in maternity leave land.  Our baby girl is now 6.5 months old, we’ve been to Europe and back with her, and there is never a dull moment in any day.

I haven’t been posting here on Tale of Two Teachers very much because being “out of the field” (ie. realm of education) leaves me little to say or share on that topic.  I’ve only recently starting thinking about teaching again…why does maternity leave fly by so, so quickly?  I’m getting excited to be back in the classroom part-time, but I still have a handful of months before I become a working mama.  Interestingly, the opportunity to apply for jobs is just around the corner and I think it’s weird to be applying for contracts that I won’t even work in right away (my maternity leave ends in November). Moving on.

The thing about having a baby is that they change literally every. single. day.  This fascinates me to no end.  There is almost no space or time to celebrate a newly learned skill or discovery because the next day will find you marveling at something else.  Two days ago Charlee didn’t know she could roll off the rug to the bamboo floor, of course she had the rolling skills available to her, but she didn’t know how to access them, or what kind of fun was available beyond the rug.  Yesterday morning Charlee made her big escape to the hardwood floor…and today she figured out how to use her hands to push herself (like a seal, if you need a visual) to spin around on her tummy.

I'm so happy I captured the escapee in mid-roll!

I’m so happy I captured the escapee in mid-roll!

During all this exploration I just lounge on the floor with my coffee because it’s 8am and I’m still waking up (maternity leave, you guys). I usually don’t “help” Charlee out when she’s in full on discovery mode like she was this morning.  Of course if she’s going to bump her head or eat the cat’s toy I stop her, but for the most part it is all her…without me.  I love it.  The teacher in me just sits back and watches the tiny human figure out the world through trial and error, inquiry and sensory based learning.  It’s during these morning play times where I reflect the most on my teaching practice.  This morning’s particular thoughts involved the concept of enabling constraints.  Today Charlee didn’t have any toys on the floor with her – it was just her and the brightly coloured quilt.  In case you need a quick refresher on what exactly enabling constraints means, it has to do with limiting (or constraining) choice in order to open up the learning possibilities.  Not a lot of choice when it came to play things this morning, but opportunity for deep learning and exploration anyhow (because we can roll around on the floor! Yeah!)

The best part of all the learning Charlee has been doing is how she celebrates her successes.  I can praise my girl to the moon and back because she swallowed a mouthful of mashed peas, and while that is a big deal (you mamas know!), it’s the coolest when Charlee knows and feels the value of her newly learned skill and celebrates on her own with giggles, smiles, and an attempt to try again…and again…and again.  Some of you might think babies don’t know what they’re doing most of the time; therefore, making celebrations of their own learning impossible.  I (politely) disagree. That’s all I’m going to say about that for now.

Ohhh the things this teacher-mama is learning about learning while on maternity leave! My future students have no idea what’s coming their way when I jump back into teacher land!

And just because she is cute, I'll include a photo of Charlee learning how to plant carrots.

And just because she is cute, I’ll include a photo of Charlee learning how to plant carrots.


Meaningful Connections: iPads and Buddies

A few weeks ago, my friend Lindsay (her guest post is here) and I got our classes together for a buddy afternoon. We started talking about getting our classes together as soon as I got my job, since our schools are within walking distance. Before Spring Break we started planning what we would do together and since we both have been incorporating technology through iPads into our classrooms we decided to have our students use iMovie together to create a video.

I had a small group of my students create an example video on “How to be a middle school student” that we showed at the beginning of our afternoon together. Then, with a buddy they had to make a four shot iMovie under the “How to…” model. We gave them about 45 minutes to create their videos outside and then we came back inside and watched them.

Some video topics:

  • How to make a daisy chain
  • How to play tag
  • How to score a goal (soccer)

What went well?

IMG_3516I absolutely loved watching my students work with the younger students to create their videos. It is always so interesting to watch them in a leadership role and to see who takes charge or not. Leaving the instructions broad allowed for a lot of creativity and it became a good conversation starter between the students – “What do you like to do?” etc. Some of the videos turned out really well and the different experiences both classes have had with iMovie really allowed for some teachable moments to happen between the grades.

What would I change?

Initially we had paired them in groups of two, many students joined together to make a bigger group. I think I would just pair them in groups of 4-5 students from the beginning because it really seemed to help them with the ideas and the filming as well. Another thing I would change is the example video that we showed didn’t really end up being a great example and I think it led students off in a bit of a different direction. Now that we have some good examples to show I think this part will work better next time.

Where to next?

After our buddy day, Lindsay let me know that her students were now doing “How to” videos for their Social Studies projects and I thought I would incorporate that as well. My class ended up making “How to be an Ancient Greek” videos for their final projects on our Ancient Greece unit. They turned out really well and it was interesting to see how they turned their research into videos in a similar format to what they had worked on with their buddies.

In the long run the iPad is just a tool and what we need to do is make meaningful, engaging experiences for our students with this tool. The communication skills and leadership that were needed with the buddies was a great experience for all of my students! And the skills to make the “How to” video helped them to summarize their knowledge in a content area later on.

Do you have buddy classes at your school?

How do you use technology to enhance your lessons?


A Little Spark

“Wow, I’m going to leave early today,” I say as I pack up at the end of a 9 hour day of work. Then I realize I am putting another 1-2 hours of work in my bag to do at home and that really is the only reason I’m leaving on time. But, hey, at least I actually took a 30 minute lunch break today!

How did this happen? Remember when I mentioned here my schedule of when to leave each day and how I don’t bring work home with me? Well I lost it… and I haven’t got it back. I think it got lost somewhere between that pile of marking, the resources from all the amazing pro d activities I’ve been doing, and the extracurricular volunteer work. Yup, that must be where the balance went!

And along with the balance I seemed to have lost some of my passion, enthusiasm and drive. Yes, yes, I know it is normal to get a bit tired and stressed at this time of year but the past few weeks I’ve been in a bit of a negativity rut that I just can’t seem to shake. It’s been frustrating because it just isn’t who I am as a teacher or a person.

A Little Spark

What did I need to snap out of this funk? A little spark of inspiration! I’m planning my next social studies unit (Ancient Rome) and was feeling stuck. So I asked around, and, as usual, I got lots of great ideas that started the ball rolling!

Finally getting to visit Pompeii after reading a book about it when I was 12 years old...

Finally getting to visit Pompeii after reading a book about it when I was 12 years old…

I’ve been to Italy and Rome twice and I was trying to remember all the things I would most want to share with my students – then I remembered the complete awe I felt wandering through Pompeii. And with a little research I’ve been able to come up with an exciting idea (I will blog about it later – promise!) that also requires some collaboration.

In the long run it didn’t really matter what the lesson was, I needed the reminder of my own passion and the opportunity to collaborate with someone new. That’s what I love about this teaching thing – You can’t do it on your own! It’s like a team sport, if you don’t receive a pass sometimes you aren’t really in the game…

I don’t know how long this spark will last but I really feel revitalized and excited again… Maybe even enough to tackle that stack of marking on my desk in the morning…

What is the “spark” that keeps you going when your feeling stressed or negative?


Teach it Tuesday: Quote and Note

The “Quote and Note” strategy is a very common one with read alouds, novel studies, and literature circles. We just finished a novel study in class and I felt for the first time that I really had a good system going for the quote and notes that we were doing. We did Quote and Notes about once a week for this novel study.

Note: A lot of these suggestions come from my friend Jess and Faye Brownlie’s Grand Conversations but I have also gathered lots of suggestions from other people and sources over the years, so thank you to everyone that has helped along the way!


Quote and Note Day 1:

Together we brainstormed what makes for a good, strong quote to choose. With this list in mind I read aloud a chapter and they all chose one or two quotes to write down and then they did the same with one more chapter one their own (three quotes total). I gave the instruction that a note needed to give more than just a description of the quote but also needed to tell why it seems important (What does it allude to? What does it make you think of? What connections/predictions can you make?)

When they handed in their Q&N sheets that day I noticed some good quotes chosen but a lack of meaning and depth in their responses. When I marked them I wrote suggestions for how to elaborate their notes and I also highlighted any powerful writing I noticed in student’s work.

Quote and Note Day 2:

I started the class by handing back the first Q&N’s and had any students with highlighted (powerful writing) examples who were comfortable sharing to read theirs aloud. I then did an example Q&N with the class based on one powerful quote from the novel but instead of just doing the one note I did three notes on the same quote: Good, Better, Wow! For the “Good” level I wrote something very similar to what most have them had done – I answered with an “I think this quote is important because…” For the “Better” note we brainstormed things we could add, like predictions or connections. And then for the “Wow!” level we talked about meaning and referred to our “What powerful writers do…” anchor chart. After the class example they had to choose one quote and do their own “Good, Better, Wow!” examples of notes.

The responses were much better this time and I did the same thing – marking, adding suggestions, and highlighting powerful writing.

Quote and Note Day 3:

We started the class with the same process of handing back the last Q&N’s and having students who were comfortable read out their examples of powerful writing. This time students were expected to do three quotes on their own (back like on day 1 except a lot more prepared).

I originally felt like I had failed with the Day 1 flop of not good writing but looking back I realize how much more powerful it was for them to revise their work from their own writing. Also, reading the students’ examples of powerful writing aloud before we moved onto the next Q&N was a great way to solidify their learning. It was also a great way for me to highlight different students – I tried to find powerful writing examples in my less confident students and I could see the surge of confidence they got with reading their work aloud.

Do you do Quote and Notes with your class?

How do you help students become stronger readers/responders during novel study?


Get Outside

It has been ridiculously beautiful in Victoria the past while so I thought it would be a perfect time to talk about how to get your class outside – and not just for a run around or free play!


On Friday we started our review at the beginning of our integers unit so I was trying to think of ways to keep the review fun, engaging, and meaningful. We were going to start with number lines so I thought we would grab some sidewalk chalk and take our number lines outside.


After they drew out their number lines (-10 to +10), in groups they walked    he lines to answer some mental math questions. It was a great way for me to see their confidence with integers – some kids were taking the lead, some were following, and some were asking questions. We had a lot of fun with this one and it was great to get outside and be active for some math.

Language Arts

Here are some of the times I have taken classes out in the past for Language Arts:

  • Silent Reading
  • Discussion groups
  • Readers’ Theatre practice
  • Writing poetry (especially Haiku’s)

Social Studies

For our most recent Social Studies project we were making videos (I will post more about this soon) and that meant that we were outside for a whole double block while they were filming “How to be an Ancient Greek” video. I love to see how kids use the environment around them to set the stage for the projects they are working on. It’s amazing how the slightly rolling hills become a battlefield and the trees become the perfect stage for their performance.


I haven’t done this one in a long time but it was a lot of fun the first time (original post here).

French Corners: For this game, I use four different verbs that they know how to conjugate (usually avoir, être, faire, aller) and put each verb in a different corner. With everyone in the middle I yell out a conjugated form of one of the verbs and they have to run to the corner with that name (e.g. “Je suis” and they run to être). If we are outside, after a couple of rounds for practice I have it become a race and the last one to the corner has to shout out the next conjugated verb from the middle (with help if needed).

Daily Physical Activity (DPA)

On the day we don’t have a PE block in our schedule we always do have a DPA time. Sometimes we do the weight room or yoga but lately with the great weather we have been getting outside for some games!

One of my favourite (originally from summer camp) games to play with them is called “Aces.” For this game you need 2-3 decks of cards shuffled and mixed together. Each team gets half the deck and each player gets a card. Your team’s goal is to have the most cards at the end of the game. You need to run and tag the other team and then you show your card to them, like the card game “War” the higher number keeps both cards and takes them back to their group leader. If you run lose your card or have two cards from winning you must head back to your leader to get a new card. The trick is if you get an ace (the lowest card) then you will lose to anyone BUT if you make it all the way to the other leader without getting tagged then you get half of their deck of cards to take back with you. This game usually lasts about 30-45 minutes in middle school I find and most kids are running the whole time!

What ways have you been getting your class outside lately?


Teach it Tuesday: Drawing Circles

A main part of the new curriculum in BC are the core competencies: communication, thinking, and personal/social. I have been trying to be a little more deliberate to incorporate these into my planning. Here is one activity that I tried the day before Spring Break, and considering the timing it went really well!


Each group needs:

  • Large paper
  • String
  • Pencil
  • Compass or geotool
  • Meter stick
  • Instruction sheet

Instructions: I took some of the bonus questions from a different resource that I can’t seem to find again. If anyone knows the source please let me know and I will update to include the link.

Document: Drawing Circles Challenge

Front – On one side of your groups paper you need to draw the following circles:
A. Circle with a diameter of 80 cm.

B. Circle with a radius of 10 cm.

C. Circle with a diameter of 5 cm.

D. Circle with a radius of 0.5 cm.

Back – Try as many of these challenges as you can:
A. How big does a circle need to be to fit two smaller circles with 4 cm diameter inside? Draw it!

B. Draw a quadrilateral (rectangle, square, parallelogram) and see if you can draw a circle inside that touches all four sides of the quadrilateral.

C. Using only circles, can you create a familiar shape (star, heart, etc.)?

How it worked for us:

Hard at work

Hard at work

For my class I gave very minimal instructions for this assignment. We reviewed briefly how to use the geotool to draw circles (slightly more complicated then a compass for some) and then I gave them the materials and sent them on there way. I really wanted this to be a collaborative problem solving activity and it became just that! It was very interesting to see how students worked together and came up with solutions.

Drawing the large circle with the string took longer than I expected but I absolutely LOVED the conversations about radius and diameter that came from the activity. Communication and creative thinking came out in full force for this activity! I also loved that the creative part of it allowed for different students to take leadership roles than normally occurs with math group work.

We used almost a full double block to complete this (two 43 minutes periods) but keep in mind that it was the Friday before Spring Break so focus was not the easiest… If I were to do it again I would definitely keep it in a double block and I would follow up with some meaningful reflection/discussion.

How do you bring the core competencies into the math classroom?

If you use this activity, I would LOVE to hear how it goes!


Let’s Make Reading Irresistible

As a follow up to Karley’s post on raising a reader, I thought I would follow up with some of the things I have been trying this year to help my students stumble into the can’t put the book down frame of mind.


Choose Books That Matter

This one is a given but I think it’s still worth mentioning… When you pick a book for novel study, lit circles, or read aloud make sure that its a book that is irresistible! One of my favourite books from when I was in grade 7 is “The Giver” and even though its a bit old and a very common choice, I was so excited to share this one with my students this year. It was a great choice! Plus one of the best moments was after showing the movie in class and having the whole class say, “Whoa! The book was so much better than the movie!”

Some other favourite books: “The One and Only Ivan,” “Uglies” and a new favourite, “Rain Reign” (this one will make your heart melt). Our own enthusiasm for books definitely shines through to our students.

The Book Draw

I’ve already talked about this one and there are definitely some drawbacks to this (namely the cost of buying books) but it has inspired a lot of excitement around new books. So far I have used a gift certificate for some majorly on sale books and a free gift from Scholastic orders. A favourite comment I overheard from a book draw winner was, “Hey I think I’ll actually read this book! It looks cool!” And that’s a win in my books!

Book Bins

This is an idea from one of my courses in university that I thought I would try out this year. We haven’t started yet but they are all set to go and I’m so excited! Through Scholastic orders this year I managed to get a bunch of novels with my bonus dollars. I am very fortunate to be in a classroom with a huge classroom library this year so that gave me the opportunity to plan out this Book Bin idea. I put together two boxes of 25 books that are all labeled with a sign out sheet. One box will stay in my classroom and one will go to my partner teacher’s room for a month. These books will be used for silent reading time, take home books, kids who are finished early – Whichever! After about 5 weeks we will switch bins so the class gets a new set of books. I am really excited to add the new books into the class mix and I think that my students will be really excited. I think the mix of the timeline and knowing the books will be shared with another class in the same grade will help to make reading irresistible for my students! We have also talked about turning it into a friendly competition between classes and writing book recommendations before we switch. I think there are so many possibilities with these bins.

Since I already have lots of books saved up from over the years I’ve made it so that these two book bins are reusable as is, and each year I can bring them in at some point.