Day 79 (of 186) awkward…..

Day 79 (of 186) awkward…..

Sometimes my kids like to tease me. They know only too well my opinion of things like homework (I give eye rolls when my youngest hauls her giant textbook out of backpack) and sigh that my oldest likes to do the homework to get her overall percentages into triple digits thanks to “bonus marks”. Even my anxiety boy will use cursive mainly to get a reaction (not often….not often at all, but at just the right time). So occasionally I get a text from one of them to see what my reaction will be. And I have learned to sometimes temper my first reaction (a trait that is always important in a social media era) and knowing my girl I smiled when I got her note:

It’s definitely one of the awkward parts of differentiation. What to do for the faster moving kids? It can’t just be a “reward” of more work…..I remember getting to do the odds AND evens questions – until I learned not to do so much work…. (subtle rules in the “Game of School”). And I know her teacher has a great “bonus” project to work on….and she knows it to….we just know it’s not ready to roll quite yet…but she wants it to be ready!

Always an important step in the differentiation planning – working on personal learning plans for all learners – essentially individualized education plans for all learners – because everyone is on their own trajectory – and I want to support each with appropriate work, not just “more” – as I’m likely to say again and again: quality over quantity!!

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Day 78 (of 186) a day of numbers….math stuff all. day. long….

Day 78 (of 186) a day of numbers….math stuff all. day. long….


When I mentioned my “theme days” to my youngest daughter and “day of numbers” came up – she was a first wondering: a whole day on math? but then she realized it wasn’t just going to be worksheet after worksheet….because what’s the fun in those?


And because we were having a “special guest” visit our class, I did not include my usual “recreational mathematics” – though I couldn’t help but put it on my opening slide for the “day at a glance”

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But we started the day finishing off yesterdays “missed activity” – playing ‘battleship’ to look at using grids (connected to our look at maps). We then also did some exploration around probability and statistics through one of my favourites: deal or no deal – which we play as a class – randomly selecting a suitcase and then going around the class eliminating suitcases and discussing when it would be a good point to “cash out” – we did it globally first and then they get their index cards to indicate

a) which suitcase they would’ve chosen & how much it was worth once we open it


b) when they would cash out

It’s a fun way to turn it a tad competitive but also speculative in nature – based on what suitcases are left, how likely is it that the offer will increase or decrease….


After recess our special guest rescheduled (class reasons, not because of the guest) so instead we did some work that our numeracy lead teacher had been working with the class – emphasizing the working memory of basic times tables (and we are getting better at it  – focusing on responding to 1-12x table questions (no time limit) and then leading us to the lab to do some ‘fun work’ (dots [which I modelled for the afternoon numeracy centers] and/or deal or no deal) before we got some time for Mathletics – a program that the school and PAC have used for a number of years…..and I’m still figuring out if I like it or not….need to spend a bit more time to see how I can better use this program)



After lunch we read Jon Scieszka’s Math Curse – a fun one to read in a bit of a manic voice (the librarIAN in me keeps coming out) as it nicely emphasizes how angst-ridden math can become – but also how math is everywhere – and how math can be pretty awesome – and how math can be pretty fun….

(and due to time crunch, I postponed the Rock Paper Scissors challenge – good for looking for patterns!)


And so on to our math centers:

Connect 4

Connect 4 with dice (roll 2 dice and then find that number and claim it)

How close to 100 (2 dice multiplied together)

Battleship (on paper)

Dots (both on paper or online versions)

Soduko (kids groan at this one because it takes thinking + rethinking)

Tangoes (using tangrams to create specific shapes)

Chess (against the computer)

Mancala (against a computer who always seems to win, but building our own in 2 weeks)

Marble Blast Gold (classic game on my old iBook G4)

Ultimate Tic Tac Toe

place value yahtzee (rolling dice to put numbers into specific places – ie 5 in tens position)

real yahtzee

memory (equations/answers)

dice arrays station (filling up a grid)



As my LRT pointed out as the final bell suddenly loomed – we could’ve spent a lot more time doing these centers – which is kind of the point – tempt the group with some of the fun games connected to math and then change some of the unpopular ones (and then use some of these games to reinforce specific skills (place value) or introduce new ones (measurement….soon…..very soon….)


The “day of numbers” went well – and nicely broken up by the mini-recesses that have become a very popular part of the Finnish Bell Schedule.  45 minutes of work and knowing a 15-ish break is coming has helped many find the “rigor” that they struggled with earlier in the school year….. more transitions in the day, but less mind shift transitions subject wise…. it’s keeping me thinking and rethinking (and looking for some others who are better thematic teachers than I am)!

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Day 77 (of 186) I like the thematic days, but…..

Day 77 (of 186) I like the thematic days, but…..



Today was a day of socialized learning….that meant we explored why we have laws and governments…..did a SOLE (Self Organized Learning Environment study to try to work out what some key elements of a variety of government styles were and why they might be so (some higher level thinking that’s for sure – and a reminder to me that I needed to remind the class about the “simple english” option in wikipedia – because some of the government “finds” the students were making had some big words in them! Led to some good discussions though!




Also allowed us to do a reminder map study about why maps are the way they are AND to discuss whether or not we can believe everything on the internet by taking a look at Flat Earth vs Round Earth ‘evidence’ – and again I was very impressed with some of the thinkings of the class that was focusing on why the earth has long been believed to be, and proven over and over to be, round.



But today also made me do some heavy thinking – while the class is handing transitions better and better…..what’s the deal with me keeping some things “daily” like physical activity and movement and silent reading, but not other things (like math – wednesday is our “day of numbers”).


Right now I can keep an element of hypocrisy going – ‘daily story’ is easy because I can link in books to the theme of the day….but what about students who miss a day….really – if you miss a day, you miss a lot! Reminds me of when I was in a copernican secondary school – if you missed a week, you missed SO MUCH that it was almost impossible to play catchup….but the days were rich with lots of deeper learning (or lots of reading and chapter tests…..whichever…..;-)



So I’m asking some ‘outsiders’ (like my LRT and CEA) to give me some tough feedback on what they see from me and from the class – is a concentrated day on a theme “worth it” or are we seeing “loses” by not having “daily: literacy numeracy movement (which I will be keeping no matter what – it is a good start to our day) etc” knowing that if we did what the experts in each field want us to do “each day” our school day would be about 10 hours long…..


Or do the students benefit from ‘a day’ of each subject – knowing there will be a blend of thinking making and doing (but also my own awareness that differentiating this way requires a lot of willingness to ‘make some adjustments’ as the day goes on).


I know I don’t want answers or feedback yet.  We are still early on in the implementation dip (although I’m pretty happy with what the dip looks like so far) – I’m just curious if pushing myself into this ‘uncomfortable’ breaking down of subject barriers/towers is just creating different walls (days rather than blocks) or if we can continue the adjustment to focus on themes but blend in the different “big ideas” from with the smaller pieces “as needed based on students seeing relevance and need to learn them” but have (for example) a “day of numbers” evolve into “birds – why do they fly?”


Curious to see where this leads me over the next few weeks as we reassess if this ideation is a good one….or just a weird-landy one….!

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Day 76 (of 186) continuing a theme (focused day)

Day 76 (of 186) continuing a theme (focused day)


I like to challenge myself when it comes to working with anxiety within schools and classrooms. My previous rant has led me to doing a tedx talk

and talks at a few different districts at event at an upcoming CrossCurrents professional learning session.
But I know that there is still more exploring to do. 

It’s what has kept me coming back to two ideas:

The Finnish schedule (45 minutes of work 15 break)

and also inspired by Finland….

Thematic Days – breaking down the ‘academic walls’ of subjects – or as it’s described by others: “Teaching by Phenomenon”.



I tried this leading into winter break…..

we had our days of Story, Music, Building, Games and Christmas Around the World



This week we are starting off with another day of Story with days of Social Learning, Numbers, Games and Science coming up later on.



And a day of story has some upside – time to start writing and have a variety of times for the authentic writing to actually begin (I hate the concept of: here’s a writing prompt….go! and time’s up!!) I like giving ideas early so that brains have chances to process and think about them well in advance of any creations. Also allowed some easy reading to start the calendar year and the introduction of an upcoming project: readers theatre.

Now I’m debating a couple of things:

Do I want to start a journaling activity that is daily? weekly? – While I blog each day of learning, I am all too aware that this is not a good fit for everybody.

Do I want to continue to have silent reading each and every day…..or do I do assigned readings connected to the daily theme……which takes away student ownership of what they read……

Should some subjects like math be done daily? Or can a full day of numbers make it more engaging and relevant? (we will see….)


and I am only too aware of the implement dip….things may not go great the with the first attempt, but that doesn’t mean “stop”….it may mean ‘trust the process’….



I am planning on continuing our morning rituals: we start each day ‘as a school’ doing morning movements or assembly and then the class stays in the gym for daily physical activity…..which usually leads into our first “mini recess”. and many “transitions” – so for a class that was struggling with transitions, I have actually increased the number of transitions because it feels like “less” because of the commonality of the subject/theme of the day…..


So our first schedule of the day looked like this:

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We did have a discussion about “bans” because of the social media actions of a youtube favourite Logan Paul (and him being banned in Japan…..and until we see how he responds we are doing a temporary? ban in the classroom as well…..but not a forever ban – a just-for-now-ban (leads into our discussion tomorrow about laws and governments and who makes & changes laws)



I know my daughter was jealous because she was already anticipating 8 pages of math homework to start the week (one of the banes that makes math a “not favourite” subject way too often) especially as I have been floating ideas by her about what wednesdays “numbers day” might include…..



I noticed that many of my anxious learners were doing quite well staying on task and completing their work. Some are really connecting to the “mini recess” knowing that there is a break in between breaks. Some are liking the “lack of transitions” as we are staying in the same theme.


I am curious to see how music and library blocks may interfere in the upcoming week as well. Thematic days are great in theory but it is interesting how difficult our school cultures can be to enable this……there are always so many (great) interruptions along the way!

But day one of 2018 ended the way I hoped it would: It’s the end of the day already? was the common comment. Anxious “interruptions” (aka torn worksheets or “breaks”) were significantly reduced to 0.



I know this is a work in progress….and still at a very early start….but so far I am happy with how the students are responding to this approach as they know that I am experimenting and how we are doing things today may be tweaked for tomorrow….and next week…. and we will be thinking about things that have been “every day” (like daily physical activity and silent reading and math) and if they should be “every day” or “not….”.

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Day 75 (of 186) my Pinterest moment

Day 75 (of 186) my Pinterest moment

I’m hard on myself when it comes to art. I know my Pollock art creations and a few others have been well received….but I never really had something that was “mine” – though my daughters remind me that my “Santa’s watching you is creepy-cool…..

But as we got ready for a multi-aged group activity for exploring Christmases around the world I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do at first….then while I was looking at some nesting Starbucks cups that my daughter got at work, I had an inspiration on how I could share my Ukrainian heritage by having the visitors to my classroom make their own nesting dolls…

I started with a shape tracing at various sizes

PDF:  babushkas

Then we cut the outside of the shape – but not where the black lines meet….that is where we fold them

And by cutting and folding each sized shape….

And then the folded and staples babushkas fit inside each other…then you can decorate (though we didn’t have much time to get too elaborate)

But there was time for some to get some creative ideas!

And the even better part is that while I’m not sharing this until right before the winter break….Ukrainian/Russian orthodox Christmas isn’t until January 7 (we don’t take our family tree down until then – it’s not that we are lazy – it’s by design! Really!!) so it’s a great back-to-school activity in January as well!

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Day 74 (of 186) a day of games

Day 74 (of 186) a day of games


I am a strong believer in the power of “Games” to augment learning. I have believed that my early use of PacMan helped me understand that when you “level up” things come at you faster and faster (and making it harder) but there are always opportunities to earn “extra lives” to help find success! Games like Tetris allowed me to see that there are many different ‘right’ answers and ways to solve problems. Carmen SanDiego taught me a lot about Geography and Lemonade Stand taught me about predictions in math and HitchHikersGuide to the Galaxy taught me how to deal with frustration (I could not get out of the house!!) And it helped reinforce that learning takes time (more than just one time) and that it could be fun.



I’ve seen friends and family spend hours (rigorous attitudes) trying to reach the end of Zelda and find every invisible box for Mario. I’ve seen people deal with anger and frustration trying to decide on the rules of Monopoly and cooperate to beat a certain somebody (me) in Risk….and Cataan…and Trivial Pursuit….(the people who think I don’t believe in competition haven’t seen me in action – I just believe competition should be a choice of the learner and not decided that they will compete against each other – be it a science fair, spelling bee, grades, medical school, etc)



So today was set up to be a day of games – gamified learning being my secret agenda! We played some cooperative/competitive math games (connect 4, soduko, “first to 100”, battleship, super tic tac toe, etc) in the morning.


Our music teacher also got in the swing of things and had a collaborative trivia game set for the class to take part in as well!


Our Language Arts games included Fowl Words (one of my favourite spelling games – found on my virtual assignments page: along with hangman and a “making words” challenge – and I’ll add pdfs of all the games on the virtual assignments page as well!


We had planned to end the day with a “make a game” class, but with a few students going home early, we instead focused on a blend of new and old school games – I broke out my sons NES and had the kids enjoy the world of Mario Bros and Duck Hunt (our school has an old CRT TV so the duck hunt game actually works! New TVs are great, but they don’t work with all the old tech that still has a lot of life left in it!



I still believe that games have a lot of potential to help with our curricular focus on core competencies – thinking critically and creatively, communicating and collaborating, and awareness of self (seeking balance and self regulation) all have connections to games – be them virtual or authentic…..though I agree that not all games are created equal….and that they have ratings for a reason and games that are M should not be being played by 9 year olds (whose brains have not developed enough at that point to fully appreciate what they are experiencing – through no fault of their own, it’s just a biological thing). Some games are better than others – and the ones that enable the brain to be creative and critically creating ideations is much better than passively finding targets to shoot (though that can be a fun distraction – but it is a toy, not a tool….which can have a purpose to resettle and self regulate but should not be the only tool being used for this)


I liked seeing how the class worked together on a variety of the games and I’m looking forward to the new year when we have our “unplug and play week” where we will be exploring more non-screen games (and making our own at that point when I hope the whole class will be here!) But for now, I’d rather be having a ‘game break’ than a ‘movie break’ as we approach winter vacation.




Play games. Level up! Let Learners have an ‘extra life’! be okay with pressing the ‘pause’ button (or even resetting)!

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Day 73 (of 186) a day of building and tearing aparts

Day 73 (of 186) a day of building and tearing apart

I’ve heard the phrase “de-constructed” a lot in education. I like how it is used in restaurants to essentially have the pieces of a meal separated (and I know a few who don’t like the foods on their plates to touch each other and contaminate the eating process)

I like it when it is used to break complex actions into smaller, more manageable pieces (so that the sum is greater than what the individual parts may be worth….) and today is a thematic “building” day….and with any construction projects there is always a need to take some things apart. Sometimes metaphorically…sometimes literally.

Today we focused our day around “building and unbuilding”

And to practice the required skill of “delayed gratification” we even tried the marshmallow test (one marshmallow in front of you. If it’s still there in 10 minutes you get another one) and I was pleasantly surprised that only one student did not get a second marshmallow!

After our morning movement and Gym to start the day, we worked on finishing our design thinking project on building restaurants. As what became a common theme….then the bell went.

So after recess we had a rotation of building (keva sticks, lego, mbot, Star Wars mindstorm, construction set) and some take-aparts (opening up an old iBook and G5 desktop) to see what makes them work – and with the condition that we disassemble it in a way that we can put it back together – not just breaking it to get inside (as much as one student REALLY wanted to crack it!)

And then our 45 minutes came to an end – though some chose to continue to work on the centres while I set up their building challenge

The building challenge included the marshmallows earlier (of a few different sizes) with toothpicks to make the biggest tower or bridge that they could. And I think my influence may be rubbing off on some of them…..

And again a student wanted to continue building while we were supposed to be eating lunch…..

But the building Day was moving on….and out – for an outdoor education “break” to build some snowflake art in the snow….

But when time was up, we weren’t done yet, because we still had to build a “something” – of which I planted the seeds of earlier and throughout the day. Adding more and more things to the top of the Maker Cart

So that we could close the day with some free builds – and many chose to make something for their moms and dads (iPhone holders and cases were popular ideas) but exploring the tools was fun too (as one sanded the cane he was using in his “movie trailer”).

A good day where we had to work on collaboration strategies (not just group work where one person does all the work but where “experts” are consulted because they did something pretty cool and others wanted to explore how to do it too!

‘Tis the season when students are getting excited and sometimes have difficulty focusing….and “keeping up”….so I’m trying to keep the days fun…but structured –> and the 45/15 Finnish bell schedule is having a very positive influence very early on!

The calmer our mindsets can be as we practice our learning, (and big projects and daily themes can be very comforting) the easier it will be to focus on Learning at what is a very distracting time of year…..😜

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