Monday, 24 February 2014

mRLC Backwards by Design PD

  Today was a division-wide PD day for TRSD and each school was responsible for holding their own unique PD opportunity for their staff based on their school goals. At "S-School" we attended a session on Understanding by Design, sometimes referred to as "backwards planning", "Universal Design for Learning" or "Planning with the end in mind".

mRLC backwards by design planning, barb galessiere, greg schettler, understanding by design, backwards planning, planning with the end in mind
Design. (2011). Uploaded to Tach @ Riverdale by Meg Krause.
Available online at: 
     The session was divided into two half-day sessions, with the morning organized in a lecture-style format regarding the ins and outs of the planning strategy, while the afternoon allowed for a work-period to apply our learning while the presenters were still present to answer questions.

     Our presenters were actually from the Manitoba Rural Learning Consortium (mRLC) and are leading the Understanding by Design front in Manitoba. In early June, I blogged about the awesome resources that their website has available (check it out here). Our primary presenter, BarbGalessiere, not only works through the mRLC but is also a classroom and curriculum support teacher in the Hanover School Division. Not only was she very well-informed, but she was also an engaging presenter that brought humour into her content. Our secondary presenter, Greg Schettler, is a senior-years social studies teacher from Lord Selkirk School. Greg's adventure with Understanding by Design actually began in Saskatoon when he had an opportunity to attend a PD by Wiggins, McTighe, and Tomlinson!

     As a first-year teacher, U.B.D is the only concept I was taught while I completed by Education Degree. As such, some of the information seemed quite repetitive but it was helpful to hear information explained in different contexts. There was also a lot of helpful handouts and resources that I was able to collect for future use! If the idea of U.B.D is brand-new to you, check out the video below:

     The following is a random assortment of my notes and reflections from this session. I've tried to organize it to the best of my ability but I apologize if it seems a bit abstract!

- Jennifer Katz from U of M
- Universal Design for Learning
- "Cadiallic model" of Backwards-By-Design but a hard place
   to start from (multiple intelligences, differentiated instruction, etc)

- McTighe, Wiggins, Tomlinson
- Understanding by Design
- Backwards planning
- Used by the mRLC


Staff Questions from "S-School"
1) How is backwards by design different or better than what I currently do?
Traditional Planning:
     - No Target or Unclear Final Target
     - Didn't know where they are heading
     - Assessment at the end
     - Clear goals
     - Continual assessment
     - Three Levels of Learning
          - Acquire: first stage CUT & PASTE
          - Meaning: how do I use this knowledge
          - Transfer: students take the knowledge and
            transfer it to authentic situations outside of the classroom
            (Big Idea, Compelling Why) CRITICAL THINKING
     - Where do you want them to be as a thinker and a learner when
        they are done; how will you know?
     - Is your evidence GOOD evidence?

2) How is enduring understandings different than G.L.Os?
- Enduring understanding is a phrase the encompasses the majority of the
   learning in a unit. All of the learning that occurs in the unit S.L.O's can
   branch off of that enduring understanding
- A G.L.O is often smaller
- 40/40/40/40
     - minutes, days, months, years
     - enduring understandings should move to the right ALL the time
     - don't focus on the "dessert", focus on the "meat" of the lesson

3) Variety of templates to coincide with teaching/learning styles?
- Use whatever format/template you want
- No right or wrong
- It is the stages that are important, not the look of it

*Can you answer, "Where will my son/daughter be at the end of this year?"

- Compelling "Whys", Essential Questions, and Enduring Understandings
  ALL provide a context for learning

*Start units with projects, even if it is just the planning stage, students are
  guaranteed to come back with lots of questions: they develop their own
  compelling whys

- Largest, bottom-tier focused on meta-cognition
- Medium, middle-tier focused on formative assessment
- Smallest, top-tier focused on summative assessment

Things Teachers Want/Need when Discussing U.B.D
- Time
- Collaborative Opportunities
- Support
- Recognizing That These Are Working Documents - There are no U.B.D police


STAGE ONE of Planning:
Identify Desired Learning
- What aspect of the curriculum are you focusing on in this plan?
- Where do you want students to be at the end of the unit?

 Enduring Understanding/Big Idea/Purpose
- Enduring Understandings
     - Usually one Enduring Understanding depending on subject/grade
     - What are the big ideas?
     - What specific understandings about them are desired?
     - What misunderstandings are predictable?
     - Goes beyond facts & focuses on big-picture concepts
     - Can be applied to new situations in the subject or outside
- Essential Questions
     - 2-5 Questions depending on the subject/grade
     - Provides focus for the lesson
     - Students will keep considering these questions...
     - Leads to more questions
     - Not yes or no answers
     - Give meaning
- Acquisition
     - Students will know...
     - Students will be able to...
     - What key knowledge (facts) will students acquire during this unit
        in order to develop skills that can be transferred to outside situations?

STAGE TWO of Planning:
Determine Acceptable Evidence
- Performance Tasks
     - What are the students going to do that allow you to assess a large
        number of outcomes
     - Summative Tasks
     - What tasks will students complete to demonstrate the desired
     - Students should have a role, a criteria, and an outcome
     - Not outcome-by-outcome assessment
     - High Level Blooms
     (ex) Grade 8 Social Studies: Why do we study civilizations?
     - The product is just the vehicle that helps drive assessment towards
        conversations and observations
- Other Evidence 
     - Often Formative Tasks
     - Can be outcome-by-outcome
     - Exit slips, quizzes, journals
     - Low Level Blooms

Incorporating Differentiated Instruction into Understanding by Design (U.B.D)
- Enduring Understandings and Essential Questions ARE NOT
  changed unless a student is actually modified through your resource
- When planning evidence in Stage Two, build in:
     - Different reading levels
     - Assessment varieties
     - Resource-program supports

Check out this cute video I found while doing a YouTube search on U.B.D!

Does your school/division utilize Understanding by Design (U.B.D)?

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Classroom Blog & the Development Of Our PLN

     This past week marked a milestone for my Grade 8 class: the completion of their third round of blogging. Each science class, my students take turns being the "Class Scribe" or "Blog Author" using these guidelines:

- Our first class scribe of the year volunteered
- Only the current scribe has the power to appoint the next scribe
- Everyone must have a turn before someone can post again
*This is a system I modified from a friend, Darren Kuropatwa, who has a lot of experience blogging in the classroom.

Now there are some exceptions to these guidelines:

- If a student wants to post an extra post (on a non-science day or in
  addition to the daily post), they may
     - I've had a few students blog about projects that they are working
       on or to ask questions
     - If you visit their blog, you'll notice that some students on the author
        list have posted up to six times already
- My students wanted to implement a weekly Mathlete Friday post
  where they post about anything they want (Math-related) during
  Friday's math class
     - Since this was their development, they take turns volunteering for
        this post and they blog about everything from reviews of math
        class to math cartoons and brain-teasers
     * Unfortunately, this weekly posting isn't as regular as we often
        miss Fridays due to holidays, PD days, and extra-curricular


     Since we have been blogging for almost six months, however, I wanted to help my students take their blog to the next level. Having started in September with many students not even knowing what a blog was, we spent our first term getting familiar with Blogger, formatting, referencing, publishing, etc. Now that the majority of my students are comfortable with those aspects, this image came to mind:
purposeful use of technology in the classroom, PLNs for students, developing your students personal learning networks, PLN in high school, PLC in high school
What Do You Want Kids To Do With Technology? (Accessed 2014). Uploaded by Bill Ferriter.
Available online at:
     I shared this image with my students and we began talking about the idea of Personal Learning Networks (PLNs), an idea that was COMPLETELY new to them. After a lot of group discussion and a look at my PLN, we began to move from the idea of the classroom blog being used to share/document their learning  to the idea that they could use the classroom blog as a means to expand their learning beyond just our classroom.

     *Now an important thing about this whole thing is that this is EXACTLY what I knew we were doing the whole time, yet many of my students had never thought about this concept before. I thought this was interesting because it was an area of disconnect between us prior to this. I am happy I decided to formally bring this up.

     My students started talking about how they could use their blog post to:
- share ideas that they thought of during class
- learn more about a related topic that we don't necessarily talk about in class
- find answers from experts in their fields
- do research with people in other environments

     We also decided to create a living documentation of our PLN in the classroom. We started by adding in all of the elements of their current PLN and have been adding to it as the days go on. For example: students have been sharing their blog posts through their Twitter accounts and have added specific hashtags to their PLN poster so other students can follow them! I'm loving how students are taking accountability for their learning and recognizing that the tools that they are already utilizing can help them explore their educational interests.
purposeful use of technology in the classroom, PLNs for students, developing your students personal learning networks, PLN in high school, PLC in high school

     Here is one post my student made about our PLN plans, including his favourite PLN tool (hint: it is my favourite too)!


     Have you brought up the idea of PLNs with your students?
 Do you know of any student-friendly resources about PLNs (all I can find is more geared towards teachers and other professionals).

Monday, 17 February 2014

2 Year Blogiversary Celebration Winner!

In January I celebrated my 2-Year Blogiversary with another Mystery Prize Package giveaway, specifically tailored to the winner's likes and interests!

I've wanted to share the prize package for a while now and here it is!

blogiversary giveaway, blogiversary celebration, blog giveaway, manitoba teaching blog

After emailing back and forth with this year's winner, Lori, I went shopping!
The first time I put together this prize, I incorporated a lot of smaller items for the winner's classroom but this year a larger item caught my eye and I knew I HAD to put in this year's package :)

This year's package included:
- A 48-piece decorative wall sticker set
    - Lori's classroom has a polka-dot & owl theme so when I saw 
      this I knew it would be the perfect fit for her!
- A blue decorative sandal tape dispenser
     - Lori's favourite colour is blue and there is nothing like a
       summer-time reminder (especially with all this snow lately)
- A $25 gift card to Starbucks
     - Self-explanatory, what teacher does not need coffee!?

Congrats again to Lori; I am happy to have a new friend in Ohio!
Thank you again to everyone who entered and supported me through my 2 Year Blogiversary celebration.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Exploring Mitosis & Meiosis

     Term Two is beginning to settle into a routine and my Grade 9s are hard at work on their unit on Reproduction. The first things we discuss are both Mitosis & Meiosis. With mitosis being the process in which cells divide into equal clones of themselves to produce body cells and meiosis being the process in which cells divide into haploid cells to produce sex cells (sperm and eggs).
     In addition to textual notes on both of these topics, I really wanted to incorporate activities for my students who may learn best through music and hands-on activities. Absent the resources to build in labs activities with microscopes, I decided to create hands-on activities that allowed my students to familiarize themselves with the stages of Mitosis & Meiosis in regards to name, appearance, and function.

    Here are some of the activities we did!
mitosis lesson plans, stages of mitosis grade 9, activities to learn about the stages of mitosis, biology lesson ideas
Stages of Mitosis out of modeling clay.
We plan to paint main features once the clay dries!
meiosis lesson plans, stages of meiosis grade 9, activities to learn about the stages of meiosis, biology lesson ideas, meiosis out of cookies
Stages of Meiosis out of sugar cookies& modeling clay!
Students baked and decorated the cookies all in class.
A BIG thanks to our home-ec teacher for lending us her room :)

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Twitter... 2 Years Later

     Shortly after I began this blog in 2012 I decided to join Twitter as well. Prior to this, my only social media tool was Facebook, which I only utilized with my close friends and family. I can't remember what exactly prompted me to try Twitter but, two years later, I am still very happy that I made the plunge!

     Compared to what I had been used to with Facebook, Twitter seemed chaotic and unorganized; I felt completely lost. After some exploring and trial-and-error, however, I quickly got used to the format and became a big fan of Twitter lists. If you are interested in how Twitter lists can help keep your Twitter feed organized and specific, check out my post, Twitter... 1 Year Later from February 2013.
twitter for educators, twitter in education, twitter chats

      I am now following 833 accounts that vary from other education students, educators, educational resources, education companies, and anything related to material I am using in the classroom. While I share quite regularly through Twitter, the majority of my interactions with other educators comes through Twitter Chats. A Twitter Chat is when a group of people meet online at a pre-arranged time to discuss specific questions/topics/issues. They are usually moderated by an individual or group who keep the conversation on track. To learn more about chats in general, check out this video:

     Whether I am actively participating in a Twitter Chat (responding to questions, commenting on responses) or simply viewing the chat, I find that Twitter Chats are a great way to connect with other educators and learn more about the field of education. I find that Twitter Chats are a great PD opportunity for me as I always find new mentors, learn more about different ideas, and compile new resources. There are many different types of Twitter Chats related to education but my favourites are:

1 ) #MBedchat       
- Manitoba Educators Chat
- Chat Wednesdays at 9pm
- Learn more here

2 ) #edchat
- Education Chat
- Chat Tuesdays at 7pm
- Learn more here

3 ) #ntchat
- New Teacher Chat
- Chat Wednesday at 6pm
- Learn more here

     If you are interested in learning more about Twitter and it's benefits for educators I definitely recommend checking out Twitter for Educators: A Beginners Guide which covers everything you need to know in plain English. It includes the benefits for educators, how to get set up, following people, getting people to follow you, Twitter "lingo" and various other applications that can help you get set up. Even after using Twitter for a year I've found this guide useful, especially the section on Guidelines & Best Practices.

how to use twitter, twitter guide for educators, why should educators use twitter
Image Credit: Twitter for Educators: A Beginner's Guide Cover,

Do you use Twitter?
What is your favourite thing about it?

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Don't Blame The Tool - Blame the Environment

     One thing that I've been thinking about a lot lately is the use of devices in the classroom and how polarized educators seem to be when it comes to managing how students use their personal devices during class time. In fact, on Friday during a lunch out with colleagues I overheard someone say they should be banned all together in the classroom! Another teacher mentioned how they planned on implementing a bargaining system where students could earn a "tech-break" depending on their behavior during certain activities. Regardless of the specific details, a majority of teachers agreed that devices were distracting to students. A quick image search for, "Cellphones in the classroom", brings up images like:

appropriate cellphone use in the classroom, managing cellphone use in the classroom, device use in the classroom
Is It Legal For Schools To Fine Students For Using A Cell Phone? (2010). Uploaded to "Education & Tech" by Milton Ramirez. Available online at:
appropriate cellphone use in the classroom, managing cellphone use in the classroom, device use in the classroom
The Simpsons and Phones In School. (2009). Uploaded to "Learning in Hand with Tony Vincent". Available online at:
appropriate cellphone use in the classroom, managing cellphone use in the classroom, device use in the classroom
Funny School 5. (2013). Uploaded to The Berry by Megan. Available online at:
     Then today I saw this awesome and to-the-point post from George Couros that I totally agreed with: Stating The Obvious. George addresses his viewpoint on the "distracting devices" as:

      My initial thoughts is that in a world where there are so many
      amazing things and easy ways to connect, kids are not always
      simply distracted, but sometimes they are just bored...
      The best “classroom management” is engaging learning
      opportunities no matter if you are 16 or 60.

I love the way George summarizes this statement as I feel like it was what has been floating around in my head for the last little while and I just wasn't able to put it into words. I honestly believe that the level of distracted students is not necessarily higher, it is that they now have a tool to combat boredom that is more obvious to us (and it is a tool that knows a lot more than us too!).

     Before this, students still found ways to distract themselves if they were bored. They would doodle, pass paper notes (anyone remember those?), make paper airplanes, construct "weapons" out of pens and rubber bands, or simply stare out the window and daydream. Regardless of what the "boredom buster" tool students are utilizing, our question as educators should be, "How can I ensure that my lessons are more relevant and meaningful for my students?" instead of, "How can I make sure that my students don't bring (insert boredom buster tool here) into the classroom".

End of Term One Reflections & A Room Revamp

     Thursday marked the last day of semester one in our division and it is pretty crazy to think that I have already completed HALF of my first year of teaching. When I look back at it I feel like I did A LOT but I also feel like it went by really, REALLY quickly.

    Friday was an administration day that we utilized to work on marking exams and completing report cards. Lucky for me, I marked ALL of my exams on the day they were written (Wednesday) so I was able to work on report card comments and giving my room a bit of a facelift for Monday morning.

     Since I am teaching both Junior High and High School I really only have one class that will be brand new to me as I am finished Grade 10 Essential Math and gaining Grade 9 Science. The rest of my classes will continue through to the end of year, but my schedule completely changes. Here is a look at what my day will look like starting Monday:

Turtle River School Division, Manitoba teacher blog, teaching blogs from MAnitoba

     My first semester of teaching can only really be described as a whirlwind. As I prepare for semester two, however, there are a few thoughts that stand out for me:

- I am SO glad that I prepared as much as I did over the summer. I know that
  not all teachers get as much notice as I did in regards to their upcoming
  positions and I am so thankful that I had almost four FULL months to prep
  for my first classroom.
     - I definitely recommend that if you are starting a new position and have
       time to prep, then definitely utilize it! Sometimes the only thing that
       calmed me down during first-term craziness was knowing that I at
       least had full unit plans organized and created already.

- It is WAY better to ask than to try and figure this out all on your own. This
  was especially true for me during my first round of report cards. It actually
  got to the point where I was sitting in our main office with my lap top
  working on report cards because the first time I attempted it on my own I
  missed SO many details that I didn't realize I was responsible for.

- I wish I would have been more of myself with my Grade 10 class. From the
  start I didn't really mesh with this group as a whole and I feel like I wasn't
  as personable with them as some of my other classes. I don't think this
  benefited them or me and it would be something I would try to address
  sooner if I was able to do it again.

- If possible, stay a bit later each evening instead of rushing out with the
  students at 3:30 or 4pm. Trust me, taking the extra 40mins or hour to
  catch up on marking, photocopy with no lineups, and set up for
  tomorrow is way better than rushing the next morning or leaving ALL
  of your prep for the weekend.

     Like I alluded to previously, I gave my room a bit of a face lift on Friday so that Monday could be even more of a fresh start to celebrate semester two! Here are some before and after pictures:

The view from the door at the start of the term.
My desks were moved into table groups (like below) after the
first day, but notice my desk and organization counter

The view from the door now.
I've gotten rid of my desk as I never sat there and it just
collected clutter anyways!
My organization counter (hand-in box, classroom supplies, etc) was
right beside my desk at the far side of the room.
I've now moved the counter across the room, against the interior wall
where our classroom "chill-out" space was.
Our classroom "chill-out" space was against our interior wall
but I've now moved it to the far side of the room.
Our classroom "chill-out" space is now on the far side of room next
to the windows. I wanted to move it towards the natural light but I'm
not sure if it looks as cozy without the bulletin boards behind it....
maybe we need a rug or something.

February Currently

   Not only are we starting a new semester, but it also a new month! If you haven't encountered a "Currently" post before, it is just a fun post at the beginning of each month that serves as a way to share what is Currently going on in your life! You can link up and share your own "Currently" post by visiting the wonderful Farley over at Oh' Boy 4th Grade.
currently, oh boy fourth grade
Guess which one is the fib?!