Immigration Simulation in Grade 9 Humanities

During our immigration unit, to have students fully understand and apply the knowledge we have been working with about Canada’s immigration policy, we had our students participate in an immigration simulation. But before we get to the simulation, I will explain how we scaffolded leading up to the task.

First, we had students engage in a flipped learning task where they had to watch the video below, visit the interactive website referred to at the end of the video and complete an entrance ticket.

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Students were given three days to view the video and complete an entrance ticket summarizing the content. Upon the day of this task, completed entrance tickets were collected at the class door prior to student entry. Students who had not completed the activity were provided with a laptop and an alternate space to view the videos and complete their task. Once finished, students were invited to join class and participate. The barn door between two classrooms was opened, but students could not work with different classes, as they had not earn the right to immigrate yet. In class, students were organized into small groups of 3-4. Using erasable tabletop whiteboards made of opaque plexiglass, students were asked to collaboratively recall, organize and define the five factors influencing immigration, and provide one example of a push and pull factor for each. During this process, the teacher acted as a guide, encouraging students to think deeply and posing questions they should be asking themselves. Once finished, students completed an exit ticket, ranking the five factors in order of personal importance and providing a rationale for their ranking. Please see the slide show below for the photo documentation.

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The next lesson involved students learning about the point system and how there are different categories that an applicant can earn points in for qualification.

From here, we asked students to come up with what categories of points are important, which are not important and what is missing.  For each class, we then voted and determined what the top five categories are when determining eligibility. Then students were grouped according to these categories and asked to determine the criteria, in realistic terms for a person their age.  Here are some samples of what was generated:


From here, students had to create an immigration form to give to those wanting to try to immigrate into their classroom.  We used Google Docs for this task and provided them with a template to follow.  Man, did this test their formatting skills!! To see a sample, please click on the below the photo.

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Once the forms met our standards – yes this took a bit of time and patience – when then engaged in our immigration test where students were given the forms to complete to see if they qualified to enter other classrooms.  We had an immigration counter where you took your completed forms for verification, a customer service centre for questions, and border security to watch for people trying to sneak across.

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In the end, the students engaged in an active and authentic learning experienced where they had to apply their knowledge to a new context.  Students learnt just how tough it is to immigrate under the economic class, and gained a greater appreciation to being born in Canada.

Clarifying Misconceptions: First Nations Collective Rights – To What Extent Have We Affirmed These in Canada?

Recently, I began the conversation with my grade 9 students about collective rights in Canada – what they are, who receives them, why collective rights exist and to what extent have we, Canadians, affirmed these rights in society.

One of the significant learning outcomes surrounds understanding the collective rights of First Nations. While I have taught this topic numerous times, I felt it was time to do a better job, and I needed to know more in order to be a better teacher for my kids. This is such an important topic in our collective identities and histories, and, unfortunately, full of many common misconceptions in our daily lives. Thus, I revised my lesson. However, resources on this topic a difficult to find, even more so that provide a concrete understanding of who, what, when, where and why. In the spirit of strengthening the conversation for all Canadians and continuing the journey of reconciliation, here is an overview of my lesson.

After some vocabulary work, I explained to my students that aboriginal people in Canada receive collective rights, which are inherent, or are passed down from generation to generation.  I explained that these rights were negotiated through the Numbered Treaties and Indian Act.  A map of Numbered Treaty territories in Canada is below (from the Issues for Canadians textbook).



The Charter grants First Nations groups the following rights (also from the Issues for Canadians textbook). We looked at Treaties 6-8 because these treaties apply to land in the province of Alberta. However, examples I include, cover various parts of Canada:


At this point, I provided my students with a form of a KWL chart and asked them to thinking independently of what they think rights in each of these categories include. I asked students to fill out the first two columns.  Not surprisingly, they did not have much prior knowledge.


After thinking and discussing in table groups, I led a conversation and had students fill in their third column based on information I provided.

Health Care Rights

  • It has been the long time position of First Nations that all health care and medicines are pre-paid and are to be provided to Treaty First Nations as promised in the Numbered Treaties.
  • Inherent Rights include a traditional health system of: Medicine Women and Men; ceremonies and practices for healing and prevention; and medicines from minerals, animals, plants and water, traditional lands and resources.

We then watched the following video so students could gain a better understanding of a traditional health approach:

screen-shot-2017-02-18-at-8-35-37-pmAnishnawbe health: where western medicine meets tradition

Education Rights

  • The Government of Canada funds elementary and secondary education for First Nation students ordinarily resident on-reserve, provides post-secondary education financial support for First Nation and eligible Inuit students, and provides support to Canadian post-secondary institutions for the design and delivery of university and college level courses that respond to the education needs of First Nation and Inuit students.
  • This lead to the creation of residential schooling

We then watched the following clip:



Fishing & Hunting Rights

  • Affirmed as part of the Constitution of Canada by Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, Indian people “have the right, which the Province hereby assures to them, of hunting, trapping and fishing game and fish for food at all seasons of the year on all unoccupied Crown lands and on any other lands to which (they) may have a right of access.”
  • We then had a discussion surrounding these three questions:
    • What does this mean?
    • How is this different from people who are not First Nations?
    • Why do they get this right?

Then, we watched the following news clip and reflected:



  • An Indian Reserve is a tract of land set aside under the Indian Act and treaty agreements for the exclusive use of an Indian band. Band members possess the right to live on reserve lands, and band administrative and political structures are frequently located there.
  • Reserves today continue to be important land bases for First Nations across Canada, often contained within their ancestral and spiritual homelands. Yet, on average, reserves present some of the most alarming conditions in Canada. They are typically isolated communities with high instances of poverty, substance abuse, suicide, unemployment, and mortality.

To give students a clear picture of what conditions on some reserves are, we analyzed the following photograph:


We then had a conversation about Attawapiskat and the recent events that have happened in that community. In 2011, What in the World by Les Plan provided a current event on this topic.  This was also provided to students who wanted to extend their understanding:


Farming Assistance

  • In signing treaties with the First Nations, the government promised to provide them with a way of life through farming. Agriculture was not only the government’s plan to develop an agricultural based economy in the west but it was a means to assimilate the First Nations into the rest of society.
  • Some First Nations farmers did have success in farming and had commercially viable operations. It became apparent in some cases the First Nations were more successful than non-First Nations farmers, which caused the government to implement policies to benefit the interests of the non-First Nations farmers. The government wanted the non-First Nations farmers to be prosperous in the hopes of attracting more settlers to the prairie provinces in pursuit of agriculture.  


  • Intended to be a revenue stream, a share of the wealth generated by revenues from territory.
  • Indigenous nations agreed to share their resources and territories with European settlers, in exchange for a number of benefits, including annual payments.

We then read the following news article as a class on annuities:


Needless to say, students were quite shocked. With their third column now full and brains a bit saturated, we ended our discussion there for the day.  The next class, students were given another current event from 2013 in What in the World. After reading the article in groups of 4-5 as a read aloud, groups examined the photo and editorial cartoon, and, using tabletop whiteboards, answered the questions:

  • To what extent have we affirmed collective rights of First Nations?
  • What, if any, are the next steps in affirming these collective rights?

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Overall, students replied with a sense that while intentions outlined in the Numbered Treaties (many believe the Indian was very racist) are “good”, as a society, we need to make sure that the rights are provided for.

  • One group used education as an example – why are schools on reserves not as good as MidSun?
  • Another group spoke of the need to do a better job with housing and basic needs.
  • Last, a group spoke of how excellent of a job First Nations are doing at educating and involving aboriginal youth, and hopefully this will now continue into the rest of Canadian society.

Overall, I know this lesson still has a long way to go. It does only highlight the issues and not what has been successful. This lesson will continue to evolve – please add revise, adapt as you see fit.  If you would like a copy of the Google Presentation or other resources, please contact me and I will gladly share. As well, if you find resources that would make this better, please share!!


Comic Book Creation & Personalization in Humanities 9

This fall, students in grade 9 humanities set out to  create their own comic book.  To accomplish this, and help them understand comic book/graphic novel techniques, a comprehensive unit of study was created.  Below are the steps and stages completed, with the attempt of personalizing learning for all students.

Step 1: Introduction

The following comic that a student teacher had found was placed on the SmartBoard:screen-shot-2016-12-23-at-12-05-02-pm

Students were given several minutes in their table group to talk about what they see.  Response varied, but included:

  • different reactions to getting out of bed
  • a boy excited for summer vacation, but not for school
  • mom has to “bug” the boy to get out of bed
  • fun versus school

Then, the following script was added to the slide, and the students were asked to revise their responses to what they saw:


Responses improved, with students becoming more critical of their examination:

  • We know it is summer in the first frame because the trees have leaves. It is not summer in the second because the trees do not have leaves.
  • We know the sun is brighter in the first frame because its rays go farther into the sky
  • We see baseball clothing on the chair in the first frame.
  • The lines around the boy and his smile in the first frame show excitement to get out of bed. The boy has a from in the second slide.
  • The thought bubbles are dreams the boy is having.
  • The message is that the boy is more motivated to get out of bed in the summer than for school

Step 2: Elements of a Comic Book

Lesson two involved students learning the various elements of a comic book including:

  • Script
  • Word balloons
  • Thought balloons
  • Panel
  • Open panel
  • Narratory block
  • Splash page
  • Close-up
  • Longshot
  • Sound effect
  • Gutter
  • Bleed

Examples of each of these were placed on the SmartBoard to provide a visual, much like the example below.


Step 3: Applying New Knowledge

To reinforce the learning in step two, I pulled a variety of comics and graphic novels from the learning commons and had students work in partners to identify all the comic elements. I reviewed the resources in advance to ensure they all include the elements address, and varied the reading level of the choices. Students worked in partners, and I circulated to check in with each group.  If students finished quickly, I had them swap with another group.

Step 4: Digging Deeper

To provide a framework for examining cartoons, the following framework was generated and provided to students. If you would like a copy of this, please contact me:


Using this guideline, we examined the following comic from a previous ELA 9 PAT exam, and then, as a class, answered the corresponding PAT questions:

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Once this was complete, students were required to go through the process with a second sample from a PAT exam. They wrote their answers on tabletop whiteboards with a partner. I circulated and checked for understanding.


Again, the corresponding questions were placed on the SmartBoard for students to answer. Students reported getting more answers correct the second time.

Step 5: Need to Know Vocabulary

As a must, we reviewed our key literary vocabulary. We did this as a jigsaw.


A sample of the jigsaw is illustrated below:


Step 6: SEXC Paragraph

At this point, it was time to ask students for a writing sample.  What better way to do this than to ask students to write about their favourite superhero power? First, they were taught the “SEXC” paragraph structure.

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Students were then given the following Hero/Villain paragraph task that corresponded with three ELA9 curricular outcomes:

  • 3.1.1 Synthesize ideas and info from a variety of sources to develop own opinions and general impressions
  • 3.3.3 Develop coherence by relating all key ideas to the overall purpose of the print text
  • 3.3.6 Choose specific vocabulary and use conventions accurately and effectively to enhance credibility

 Step 1: Fill out the following chart for three super heroes or villains by using the links below for research. You should have 3 pros and 3 cons for each power. (Complete in Word or use separate paper; your choice).


Step 2: Choose the power you think would be the best to have from your selections above (either to fight crime, create crime, or just in general with your everyday life).

Step 3: Use the paragraph planner – or a different planning method of your choosing to create your outline with a topic sentence. You must show this pre-planning before your begin writing your paragraph.


Step 4: Write a fabulously well-written and well-constructed paragraph (not an essay) below that follows the SEXC structure explaining why the power you chose would be awesome.

Step 7: Captain Canuck

For this task, students were assigned to reading groups and tasked with reading aloud the comic “Captain Canuck: Enter the Crime Stopper”. Once finished, on tabletop whiteboards, students had to identify the comic book elements used in the book and provide a page number so we know where you have found it. I checked this when complete. Then, with a partner, students were given a plot diagram and asked to plot out the storyline of the comic. This was to show they understand to the key elements required in a story.



Step 8: Creating the Comic

We finally have reached making our comics! Here, I provided a handout of the stages to making a comic, which I received from . Then, students were given the following summative assessment:


Students were assessed using the following rubric:


Below are some screen shot exemplars from completed work.  To personalize learning, I gave comic teams a myriad of options, including:

  • complete all by hand, with or without the provided storyboard frames.
  • Hand draw and then use Comic Life on either iPads or PC computers to upload & organize
  • Stop motion photography – photos can be uploaded into Comic Life
  • Tutorial links to Adobe Elements for photo editing
  • One student completed a detailed script with no illustrations as he worked on his own.

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Student results exceeded my expectations.  Because this was their first time, the intent is to turn this into an interdisciplinary project in the spring, connecting to Science/Math/Social Studies.  The same rubric would be used, as students are familiar with it.  However, criteria directly related to content in the added disciplines cold be added.


Mobile Learning: Pic Collage, Elements of Governance and Collective Groups

As part of the introduction to grade 9 Social Studies, I have my students identify five collective groups they belong to in order for them to understand how their collective identities also shape their individualism – we all ma have groups in common, but none of us have the exact same list of collective groups. This is what makes us an individual. Students are given the following instructions:

  • Everyone belongs to collective groups, whether they be family, teams, or other community groups.
  • Make a list of 5 collective groups you belong to.
  • For each group indicate the purpose of the group, what their traditions or expectations are, and how you are included.
  • Explain how belonging to a group contributes to your individual identity.
  • Be prepared to share you ideas with the class.

Once students have completes this task, they submit this as a writing sample for me.

The next class, I introduce the 5 elements of governance.


  1. Rules of Conduct are rules that are created  to govern the lives of the country or a group’s members. They are designed to encourage positive behaviour and discourage other kinds of behaviours.
  2. Authority is the means by which the people are governed (a supreme power or authority), with the ability to use force within its boundaries.
  3. No system of government can exist unless it is accepted by the people.The people give the government the right to exercise power.
  4. Jurisdiction refers to the area over which the government has the power to make and enforce rules or laws.
  5. Someone must be responsible for enforcing the rules and laws. If members were allowed to ignore or disobey rules or laws, there would be no order and society could not operate efficiently.

To have students apply this new knowledge, I had them choose one of their collective groups and identify these five elements within the group.  I also gave them an option to apply these to a different culture or make-believe culture. To give them an option to not draw, I showed the how to use the free app Pic Collage.  Below are some of the collages my students created:

gabe9e            joey       maddy9e           emily9bede9e         courtney9b        betty9e



Disciplinary Literacy: Developing a Common Language

With a school focus on joyful literacy and building a love of reading,  MidSun School is working to build staff capacity in everyone teaching literacy.  To “guide the first steps” (Heath & Heath, 2010), my literacy team created the following Close Reading Strategies Key and lead 4 discipline-targeted PL sessions on how to use this key in their classroom.  We broke the school in to the following for disciplines:

  • Humanities
  • Math/Science
  • Complimentary Courses
  • Phys Ed

Designing PL in this form enabled the teachers leading the sessions to specifically target how to integrate the Close Reading Strategies Key in their classroom. Feel free to use this as you wish.



Heath, C. & Heath, D. (2010) Switch: How to change things when change is hard. New York: Broadway.

Residential Schooling – The Road to Reconciliation

This past week, in honour of Phylis’ Story, my grade 9 students took a week-long inquiry into residential schooling and what the term reconciliation means. Beginning with the following question, Should people be held accountable for past actions? Why?, we investigated what residential school was and the impact this legal mandate has made on Canadian history, culture and heritage.

A Brief History

For over 100 years many native children were taken away from their families and forced to stay at residential schools. Over 150,000 students attended these schools, the majority of which were run by churches. Some children attended these schools for a short time while others attended for their childhood (until 16 years of age).

In 2008, Stephen Harper, on behalf of  the Canadian government, apologized for the suffering and abuse many experienced.


A Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was created, in the hopes of promoting healing of those affected. With a five-year mandate to uncover and share with all Canadians information about what happened to aboriginal children in Canada’s residential schools, its mandate was to collect a historical record and to promote the understanding of this historical record for future generations. One of the main ways of creating this record was through official documentation of survivor stories. The commission hosted seven national events and dozens of smaller community forums in an effort to hear the truth.

Our Journey at MidSun School

Our journey into understanding residential schooling and reconciliation began with students on Monday being introduced to Phylis’ Story, a story every child can relate to – the excitement of going to school in your new school clothing.

Students were than asked what they knew, if anything of rsidential schooling. Not surprising, only a few students had even heard of these schools, with the only student having information to share in two classes was a first nations teenager.

After introducing what residential schooling was and briefly talking about what residential school was and introducing the work of the TRC, I posed the following questions to my two classes:


The discussion that ensued highlighted the importance of educating students on residential schooling as mostly, responses focused on question 1 and students feeling frustrated that they are being made to apologize for things they did not do. While classes agreed that victims should be helped by those who wronged them, students felt this what not them.  Facilitating this conversation was truly moving for me as well, as I worked with my students to understand that while “us” as “individuals” may not have been the people who participated in this racism and abuse, “us” as a “collective Canadian society” are, and “we” are responsible for ensuring the legacy and side effects these school have left on society are remembered and never repeated – this is what reconciliation is.

My students began to understand.

Our journey continued by informing students of the truth and impact of residential schooling through videos supplied by CBC News in Review. Then, on Tuesday, all MidSun students welcomed Elder Gus Mini Bears to speak of his experiences of board school and to share his aboriginal heritage. With 700 students in attendance, we could begin to see that our message of reconciliation was beginning to resonate with our community. Thank-you to the Aboriginal Friendship Centre of Calgary for arranging such a meaningful conversation.

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As our week continued, students engaged in poetry analysis, class discussions and media clips to deepen our understanding. The poem we unpacked is below:


We even looked at a quote from our very first Prime Minister:


Finally, we finished our scaffolding by looking at positions that challenged whether or not residential schools were all bad. We did this by reading an article published in the National Post and listening to a radio clip conversation on the topic. We then engaged in small group discussions of the validity of the two arguments.


The radio clip can be found here: In Defense of Residential Schools

Our week closed on Friday, with all students participating in Orange Shirt Day. A First Nations staff member helped us champion this day by suggesting students tie ribbon on their clothing and in their hair, a tradition in First Nation culture. We chose orange ribbon for the day.


Then, students engaged in reflection through a final blog post, ultimately circling back to the questions and topics posed at the beginning of the week.


While responses are still being generated, I have recorded sections of student reflections below:

“This week we learned what it is to reconcile with the first nations, many people may not feel like it was their fault and that it happened before they where even born. Truth is it doesn’t matter who it was. We need to hear their stories and help them recover from the abuse they suffered in residential schools, that’s what reconciling is. take a step into their shoes. They where taken from their families for 10 months of the year and where physically and sexually abused, we cant just “move on from this” we need to make sure nothing like this happens again” – Sam

“Through the conversations we’ve had this week on residential schooling, I have learned about how your childhood can affect you for the rest of your life and sometimes future generations.  I also learned about how young children were when they had to go these schools.  I have a younger sister and I remember how she was when she was five and I can’t imagine her going through that.” – Alyssa

“I’ve learned that many stereotypes about Aboriginal people are very biased and uninformed.  There are always sides of the story that are unheard, so we shouldn’t make assumptions based on others’ opinions.” – Max

“It has been made clear to me that residential schools are not that far buried into history and are still very much a topic today that still requires reconciliation and thought.” – Kelly

I am thankful that the work we did with our students at MidSun this year was effective and educational for our students. Do I think this is enough? No.  This is an ongoing conversation and education for our students, community and society.


Interdisciplinary Work in Grade 8 – Saltwater Systems

At the heart of the learning commons are the values of collaborative planning and inquiry in a responsive space that deepens learning and ensures students have access to quality learning opportunities. To cultivate this environment, my leadership at MidSun began with fostering effective relationships by creating a highly visible and easily accessible presence and seeking out meaningful interactions. I build relational trust by treating everyone with integrity.

In November 2015, a grade 8 Math/Science teacher approached me looking to collaborate on an upcoming water systems project for approximately 250 grade 8 students. The teacher wanted students to create a news clip on a global water issue. Immediately, I recognized the cross-curricular connections to humanities and asked if he would consider an interdisciplinary approach, an approach new to MidSun School. Working through the idea, he agreed, and we approached the humanities team. As a group, we developed the task, arranged a guest speaker and collaborated on assessment.

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An overview of the task is below:

Oceans, Water and Climate

Using a selected news article from the website Newslea, apply your knowledge from our Fresh and Saltwater Systems Unit, form a team of three to demonstrate an in-depth understanding of one concept within the unit and how it applies to a current issue.


  • Your task is to become and expert and communicate information about a world issue related to the Fresh and Salt Water Systems unit and climate.
  • Your basic goal is to effectively build background knowledge, research, link this topic to a concept from the Fresh and Salt Water Systems Science Unit, and report on the chosen global issue.
  • The challenge is to script, film and edit a news report communicating this issue including actual interviews
  • Work in a group of three to generate a news report to communicate the issue being researched


  • You are journalist with a firm deadline; your boss is expecting you to participate in an investigative journalism piece.
  • In teams of three, you have been asked to create a news clip – audio and/or video – on a chosen topic.
  • Your job is to…
    • Learn about the topic
    • Research the topic – create a reference list
    • Write a script for the broadcast
    • Film the broadcast and use other video clips and still images to support your topic
    • Edit your film and present to your audience
  • One obstacle to overcome will be to identify the cause of the global issue and what is being done to solve this issue.


  • Your target audience is the general public.


  • The setting you find yourself in is a broadcasting studio, and you need to meet a firm publication deadline.
  • The challenge involves dealing with connecting a current global issue on oceans and/or climate to current learning in your Science class and then presenting this in an engaging format.
  • You will showcase your news piece in class for your journalism colleagues to view.


Project Progression – Each stage must be signed off by your teacher

Product, Performance & Purpose:

Task 1 – Level 1 – Build your background knowledge (Knowledge Building)

  • You will complete a pre-planning stage to show your understanding of the global issue and science concept. This pre-planning stage involves:
    • Completing a reading comprehension task and graphic organizer in humanities.
    • Create a web of the information with questions for further research
    • List Vocabulary that is particular to this topic

 Task 2 – Level 2 A – Build detailed knowledge of the topic (Investigating)

  • Develop a plan for your research
    • List the questions you have about the topic
    • List resources you could use (work from general to specific)
    • Start the research with general information first (ie. Online Encyclopedias, Wikipedia, Online dictionary, …)
    • Refine your vocabulary list and add to your web (use a different colour to show new information)
    • Researching further information about the topic

Task 3 – Level 2 B – Create a plan for your communication of your knowledge (Planning)

  • You will planning stage to communicate your understanding of the global issue and science concept. This planning stage involves:
    • Complete the graphic organizer showing the main idea and subtopics of your Issue.
    • Sketching out a draft storyboard to plan your broadcast structure.
    • Write script for Introduction, body (3 parts) and conclusion
    • Collect more supporting information –
      • data,
      • interviews,
      • images

Task 4 – Level 3 – Film and edit your news broadcast (Creating and communicating)

  • You will create a news broadcast on your topic. Be sure to include:
  • An introduction and overview of your topic as well as the problem associated with your topic
  • An interview with an expert in the subject area
  • Data that supports the issue
  • How the problem can be or is being addressed

Task 4 – Level 4 – Share your broadcast with your target audience (Sharing and Demonstrating)

  • You need to present your news clip to your Science class.
  • Broadcasts will be showcased with all of your colleagues (peers).


With the number of teachers involved, we were able to provide students multiple choices for task completion, personalizing learning. For example, initially it was thought that students would create a video. However, green screen and voice recording options were incorporated to provide student choice. Teachers could assist students in multiple classrooms according to their strengths, and I was invited into the process to support.

A positive impact resulted, as evident through high completion rates, student reporting on positive task efficacy, and an increase in students achieving above grade level. Upon project completion, staff engaged in reflection to determine what went well and needed to change for future interdisciplinary projects. Specific feedback was documented and areas for my support – digital citizenship education and iPad workflow professional learning – were identified.

Below is an exemplar of completed work.

Blogging In the Classroom – An Evidence Capture

This year, I have been working with two grade teams with integrating blogging into novel studies to create quality learning tasks and intentional connections to the program of studies. Current research to supports a positive relationship between blogging and the development of communication skills, reading comprehension, critical thinking, writing for an audience, and student motivation and ownership over their writing (Cassidy, 2008; Frye, Trathen & Koppenhaver, 2010; Handsfield, Dean & Cielocha, 2009; Murray & Hourrigan, 2008; Swanson & Legutko, 2008).

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Through a novel study on Freak the Mighty, it was noticed that student achievement increased significantly on a blog post about how to be a good friend. Students were tasked with the following:

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This task required students to engage in thoughtful questioning to explore their ideas and communicate their connection between their reading and the real world. Some exemplars of our final product of this blog post are captured below.

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While we did notice an increase in communication skills, reading comprehension, writing for an audience, and student motivation and ownership over their writing, by collaboratively analyzing student work through the PLC process, it was also noted one area where many kids could have done better – the explanation of their “how to” before their connection to the text. For example, above, the students identified the “how to” trait and made a connection to the book, but they forgot to explain why this trait means you are being a good friend.

Reflecting on this through conversation, we collaboratively made modifications to that task for next year.

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As well, I suggested we try a second activity on types of conflict where we explained to the kids both the noticed improvement AND area for growth from the “how to” and gave the students an opportunity to show improvement through types of conflict – they were provided with actionable feedback and a second opportunity to demonstrate learning, thus experience responsive instruction driven by formative feedback. For example, as a class, we talked about what information was missing from the first task – the why – and I explained to the students this with types of conflict, they needed to define the conflict of choice before giving the book exemplar.


Here are the responses from the same two authors above:

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When introducing the second blog post, students were provided with meaningful communication where they were told about how we met as a group of teachers, noticed an area of weakness and are now responding to this so students can have an opportunity to demonstrate their learning, which will be reflected in the informative grading of progression up the 4-point scale. Upon assessing the second post, it was noted that only 2 students received a “1”, with most of the class achieving either a “3” or “4”.


Cassidy, K. (2008). To blog or not to blog. Connect Magazine21(4), 1-3.

Frye, E. M., Trathen, W., & Koppenhaver, D. A. (2010). Internet workshop and blog publishing: Meeting student (and teacher) learning needs to achieve best practice in the twenty-first-century Social Studies classroom. Social Studies101(2), 46-53.

Handsfield, L., Dean, T., & Cielocha, K. (2009). Becoming critical consumers and producers of text: Teaching literacy with web 1.0 and web 2.0. Reading Teacher63(1), 40-50.


Murray, L., & Hourigan, T. (2008). Blogs for specific purposes: Expressivist or socio-cognitivist approach? ReCALL20(1), 82-97.

Swanson, K., & Legutko, R. (2008). The effect of book blogging on the motivation of 3rd-grade students. Online Submission, 1-8.


Fostering Creativity in the Classroom: A Morning with Dr. Keith Sawyer

This past week, I attended the Ideas 2016 Conference at the University of Calgary. This year’s keynote speaker was Dr. Keith Sawyer, a champion and expert in the field of creativity and innovation in teaching and learning.


Sawyer spoke in depth about how to teach and promote student learning through creativity. He said that what restricts creativity is the instructionist approach to teaching and learning.

With instructionism, learning occurs through the dissemination of knowledge – it is procedural.

As a result, the knowledge acquired is superficial, retention is low and transferability is weak. Further, the ability to integrate knowledge across curriculums and adapt knowledge to new information is limited.

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Creative learning, on the other hand, results in a deeper conceptual understanding of knowledge. In this approach, curriculum is integrated and contextualized, with formative and authentic assessment woven into task design. Teachers scaffolds and facilitate collaborative knowledge building, preparing students to build new knowledge. The learning is a form of active learning, where students work with facts, skills and concepts in collaborative teams to solve complex real-world problems. Tasks are demanding and challenging enough that one child alone cannot complete.

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Key components to this approach include:

  • Start with a problem, or a design challenge – the problem must be open-ended with possible solutions that even the teacher may not have seen before.
  • Have students work to find solutions.
  • The process is guided by the teacher.
  • Students must create tangible products that address the problem.
    • They must create something (such as an artifact), so as to externalize learning.
  • Prototypes and sub-tasks are presented frequently for critique.


Sawyer spoke to how with this instruction, comes its challenges for instructors:

  1. Identifying a good problem
  2. Helping students learn actively
  3. Fostering effective collaboration
  4. Supporting the creation of shared artifacts and effective techniques


So, how do we get to this? Well, not though a flash of insight or one lone genius. Instead creativity emerges over time with students encountering multiple dead ends, and gaining small ideas from many people. Students must be situated in environments where they are continually learning, working in collaboration, and engaging in mutual tinkering where small ideas spark bigger ones.

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So, how do we foster creativity in our classrooms? Sawyer, had a few suggestions:

  • Collaborative conversation must be valued.
  • Classroom flow should be improvisational, not structured.
  • Teachers and students should build knowledge together so unexpected insights can emerge.
  • Alternate work into chunks of solitude and group situations.
  • Change teaching team, assignments and school organization frequently.


How do you foster creativity in your classroom, school or organization? What has worked for you? What hasn’t?

Hero or Villan? A Levelled Writing Task in Grade 7 Humanities

Early this year in grade 7 humanities, I worked in a team of four teachers to created a levelled explorer’s task to personalize and meet the needs of our varying learners. To begin the task, we opened the barn doors of our classrooms and explained to students we would be dividing classes into three groups according to how each person self-assessed where they were currently working in regards to their wiring ability. To engage students in this process, we used the connection to a ski hill:

  • Green – working on perfecting our sentence structure.
  • Blue – working on creating a well-strutured paragraph with a topic sentence and supporting details
  • Double Black Diamond – working on writing multi-paragraph responses that connect and flow together

We explained to students they had to provide a rationale as to why they were selecting the level they did, and provide a work example – from any class – to support their choice.

After sorting students, classes were then inter-mixed and students were directed to one particular teacher/location. The vast majority of our learners chose “blue”, so two teachers and one student teacher working with these learners in the learning commons. This resulted in the lower students having a smaller teacher-to-student ratio, with an educational assistant supporting this group. As well, our higher students were able to be challenged.

The task was quite similar for all students, with one significant difference. The following “I can” statements were given to all learners:

  • I can identify the social and economic factors of European imperialism.
  • I can identify the key figures in the French and British exploration and settlement of North America.
  • I can explain three ways in which European imperialism had an impact on Aboriginal societies.

Task criteria was as listed below:


  1. Choose an explorer (Cartier/Cabot/Champlain)
  2. Decide which perspective you are presenting:
    • British/French/Native
  3. Provide a rationale that explains why you support or condemn the actions of this explorer (think imperialistic values)

Where the task differed was in the final product of the work each group was tasked to produce:

  • Green – Create a visual representation that supports the perspective you are presenting and the position you have towards that person’s action (wanted poster, advertisement, welcome home sign, party invite, picket sign, trading card). Write a 1-2 sentence caption that encompasses your perspective and position.
  • Blue – Write a paragraph using a topic sentence, 2 – 3 concise supporting details and a concluding sentence. This paragraph should explain why you feel that the figure you chose is a hero or villain.
  • Double Back Diamond – Write a multi-paragraph response explaining why you feel that the figure you chose is a hero or villain. Each paragraph should include a topic sentence, 2 – 3 concise supporting details and a concluding sentence. 

Design of the task was well-received by both students and staff. Because students were grouped – albeit outside of class rosters – teachers perceived it as a good opportunity to connect with learners and work specifically on areas of improvement in writing. Students felt both comfortable and challenged in the task, knowing that the work they were assigned was attainable.  As well, teachers clearly outlined from the beginning that depending on the ski run they were working on, there was a maximum attainable score on the 4-point grading level:

  • Green – 2, or at grade level
  • Blue – 3, or above grade level
  • Double Back Diamond – 4, or well above grade level

If your timetable allows, this is definitely worth a try! It is a great way to personalize learning while also getting to know your learners!