Building Community

How might we build community amongst grade 7 students as a way to create spaces where these students can take academic and social risks in any classroom space?

These past few weeks have been exciting with the end of the year (2019, not the academic year) wrap up. We committed to a few events as a class and found success with them. One event was supporting a family in our community through a Christmas basket program. As a class, we donated towards a larger school goal and created cards for our families.

We also held a hot chocolate and candy cane party where students were able to bring in their favourite mugs and tell stories about these mugs as we filled them with hot chocolate and chatted about anticipated plans for the holidays.

Today, we returned and in the spirit of building community we spent a lot of time listening to each other describe highlights, and memorable moments. Fear not, those of you reading who are worried about kids who did not have a great holiday. I sent emails, checked in with kids over the break, and before returning and knew what safe questions we could ask in our space without making it uncomfortable for anyone, but in a way that let everyone share something and be involved.

We then took some time to complete a “more of….less of….. in 2020” and we spent some time independently looking at what we want more of in 2020 and what we want less of in 2020. We then collated the lists and created a class list of 6 “more of….less of” ideas to focus on this year.

When this was done, we spent some time reviewing our agreements from September that hang on our wall regarding class norms and discussed/reviewed what each norm might look like over the next few weeks.

The curriculum can wait a day or two, routines need to be established and students need to know that I’ve missed them and am cheering for their next success.

Project31 and Community

I work at a school that prides itself on community. We do an awesome job investing in our kids. Last year my #cohort21 project took a very academic route. I looked at peer to peer feedback last year. This year I want to take a more social look based on the conversations I’ve had with my students and the survey feedback they have given me. I want to help my homeroom create a cohesive community by offering them a wide variety of learning experiences that help them both grow as individuals, but also as a community.

We’ve started with a few small team-building challenges that looks both at the communication of words and communication without words. Early in October we started planning for “Project 31”, a Halloween event and each and every one of my 19 students dressed up like a chocolate bar for Halloween and we passed out chocolate bars to the whole school.

We’ve got plans to volunteer with BINGO at a seniors complex, and we are going to go watch some basketball games in the coming months to cheer on our classmates who are on the teams (basically, all but 2 students in our class).

I’m not sure if after out meeting this will be the direction of my project this year, or if this will be just something I do to strengthen the community feel in my own homeroom class. Either way, I’m excited to see where we go from here. After all, this is just the beginning.


The cohort21 experience was amazing today. I am always blown away by the experiences and expertise of the people in the room.  There are people there who have done some AMAZING things and everyone is so excited to share their knowledge to help others, but in a really genuine way (read: not in a bragging way).

As I sit in the airport, I’m sort of struck by how the people here are like teachers at school. Everyone is busy, everyone has a destination in mind, there are timelines and sometimes time crunches. Sometimes you have time to eat, sometimes you eat on the run. Occasionally you have time to go to the bathroom and everyone is carrying around way too many bags.

As we look to build our action plans in the next week – don’t be afraid to sit on the airport floor by the nearest charger and just watch.  What the people, their struggles, their successes and ask yourself: What are the issues you see arising? What are the current solutions? Is this something in your sphere of influence? Is there someone in your school working on this issue? Is there someone in #cohort21 alum directory who has looked at this issue?

Once you think you have a handle on what you see, ask! People love to tell their stories, ask them and listen.


How do you keep momentum going into May?

hey pay attention


May in a boarding school is about as long as three minutes. There are activities, exams, trips, special functions, report cards, special one-day projects and drama and of course, a few days of classes between each of these things. Today, I gave an assignment and I want to spend the next class having the kids peer mark their assignments and this got me thinking about how my HMW question will fit into the 6 (!!eek!) classes I will have with my kids before exam reviews start since they are pulled in a bazillion directions for all kinds of really neat opportunities and experiences. I don’t want them to not take part in these special activities, but I am also aware of how little class time is left and how long peer evaluations take.

And this is the point I want to get to…when did me talking *to* the kids to cover that one last thing before exams become more important than letting the kids *do* the thing they need to learn skills that are completely necessary and super transferable between subjects and grade levels.

Really, who doesn’t need more time and space to practice becoming aware of their own shortcomings when completing assignments, and have the time and space they need to implement edits.  I have come to accept that understanding one more thing about tectonic plates probably won’t have that lasting impact I think it should have, but I do know that having the skills they need to think critically about their own work is going to have that impact.

This brings me to my HMW question and the fact that I need to write this blog to remind myself to be purposeful in allowing students the time they need to create, edit, reflect and implement. I need to be intentional in creating space in my last few lessons for students to continue on their learning journey.

How are you using those last few precious moments of class time?

A little video recap to kick off the celebration

It’s time to celebrate! It’s time to look at our own learning, look at our own growth and look at how this has positively impacted our students and possibly even other teachers in our buildings. It’s time to recognize the impact a year can have when we decide we want to make a change. It’s time to pat ourselves on the back, and it’s time to start reflecting on where this growth will lead us to next year. Some of us may choose to continue on the same path as we still have work to do with our HMW questions. Some of us may choose to tackle a question that came up this year, during our work with our 2018 HMW question. The best part – all of this celebrating is just the start of something great and you get to choose just how great it is going to be for HMW 2019.

I won’t be able to attend #cohort21’s final F2F as I am only a part-time attendee. That being said, I’ve created a video for you all so that you can see the journey we went on this year over in NB. The best part, for sure, is the student survey at the end of the video. Numbers don’t lie, and with numbers like these, I can’t wait to see where we go next with peer-to-peer feedback and resiliency. For those of you who want to see the feedback from our third lab a bit closer, I’ve posted the two photos below as they are either too blurry to read, or too far away to read in the video. I opted for too far away so you don’t think there is something wrong with your eyes.

The video link can be found by clicking these blue words.


HMW update from NB

March break is behind us almost two whole weeks now, and late last week I gave my grade 8’s a lab. I was vague about a lot of the lab and encouraged them to think through variables they could manipulate, and to think about what hypothesis could test those variables and then devise their own materials and methods to support the testing of their hypothesis. This is the second lab we have done with this amount of vagueness. It was much smoother since they knew I was not looking for the right answer, but simply their science. Students then conducted their labs, and after some feedback/reminders about the feedback they gave each other last time we did peer feedback on a lab, they completed the feedback portion of their lab.

Today, labs are slowly rolling in and students have been instructed to attach their feedback to their good copy. Here’s an example of the feedback students are now able to give each other – and I love the rich discussions that happened in our last class when students were verbally explaining this feedback to each other. The students were discussing why they gave the scores they did, how to improve their partners work and students were able to defend their decisions in terms of methods and variables and conclusions. Students were paired up and many students asked 2-3 others for feedback, giving feedback to each person themselves. Students kept emotions out of it. There were no tears. Not one student appeared upset by the feedback but took it as an opportunity (personal challenge) to grow. It’s been a long time coming. Students now understand that this feedback is meant to help them improve. Students are being blunt, but effective in their feedback. #alltheteacherfeels

When your cape is in the wash

This week is busy at school, well, really when is an independent school not busy? I’d argue Christmas day. We are 7 school days away from March break and everyone is trying to wrap up units and minimize assessments that need to happen over the holidays.

I feel like I am doing some exciting things in my room, but I have not been great at allowing the process of peer-to-peer feedback this week. #teacherfail

How easy is it for us to get pushed into a time crunch and sacrifice the very thing we have vowed to work towards improving. I know that one week does not mean this is a failed venture, and I know my students are OK not grading each other on appropriate activities this week as I try to increase their resiliency through the giving and receiving of feedback, and some are happy as they see it as one less step before they can submit their own work.

I also know I need to give myself some grace. It’s a new week next week and there is a whole term left once we return from March break. I have big plans for a cell unit where students need to gather clues and prepare a presentation as an end of the unit project. I also have another group using the makeymakey board to create interactive ears and eyes. Both of these projects will need feedback and multiple drafts before students can submit. We can use peer feedback there.

I thought I’d put this out there in the interest of being transparent and as a way to remind each of you, in the crazy lead up to March break to give yourself some grace and kindness. We are all superheroes, but even a superhero needs to wash their cape.


What happens when you just don’t grade it?


This week I had my students present in front of the class and did not grade it – but the students in the audience were required to provide feedback to each other about the presentation. It was amazing. Those kid honestly are starting to get it! #teacherwin

Last week we started our technology unit and as a way to grab their attention, we started with the most common form of handheld technology students use -the phone. #bringbackthepencil

Students had to design a survey by deciding on a population to compare (boys vs girls, day students vs boarders, middle school vs high school etc) and then had to create a few questions to ask them about cell phone use in their lives. This was as varied as using phones before bed, impacts of phones on grades, to the number of hours and the apps students use – all in all not bad for a first attempt at designing our own questions. We discussed being bias and leading questions. We discussed giving people options vs having students openly respond to answers. We then learned how to build Google forms, how to compose an email that was more in-depth than “please fill this out” followed by a link and then we waited.

After a few days we learned about the neat feature to link a google form to a google sheet, we learned how to sort columns and how to create charts in the google sheets. We learned what types of graphs are good for what types of data, how to manipulate the scales on the graph and what that means for the data we are displaying. We reviewed how to properly title our graphs. We then learned how to export graphs to the google slides and then, we started to prepare our presentations.

Students had one slide, in the style of the 3MT (3 minute thesis)This has changed presentations in my classroom. It is not perfect for every presentation, but it was perfect for this one. Students had one slide with one to two graphs on it and 3 minutes to talk to us about what they found out and what they thought it would mean for the bigger population.

Students pushed each other by asking questions about sample size, graph selection (why did you not use this other type), the wording of questions that could have been misleading. My favourite was two back to back presentations that had asked the same questions but had totally different results despite having surveyed the same population. The depth of analysis and discussion was amazing. The students decided, on their own, that it might have to do with when the survey was sent as it was asking students to look at their typical phone use. One was sent on a weekday, early morning and one was sent on a weekend mid-afternoon. We talked a bit about lived experiences and how people answer surveys based on their recent experience and not as much based on their “average” experience. I could not have planned a discussion that rich. It was authentic. It was lived and they understood the limiations of their survey. 

The discussion was rich, the students learned so many valuable skills and the best part, all of the feedback was student-driven and the kids who were presenting towards the end were pointing out their own flaws and how they would fix them should we do this again before opening the floor to the other students to given feedback. I hardly said anything in a feedback way, I mearly moderated to be sure everyone who wanted to voice an idea or suggestion was heard.

The kids all took the feedback graciously, the kids giving feedback were nice, but direct. I wish I had videotaped it so I could share it with you.

My HoD also popped in for a little while and caught up with me later that day and said he could not believe the richness of their discussion and the feedback they were giving each other given that they were grade 8. He was also very excited about how the students could talk about the trends they saw in their graphs.

This has been a long term goal – to use more authentic data and graphs in science and have kids be able to say something about them. It stems from my math teaching days and it was so nice to have that pat on the back that I’m seeing results from my efforts. 

Perhaps you can use the 3MT or only student feedback for your next presentation?


Just keep swimming

Bitmoji Image

January can be a hard time for teachers. You arrive at school before the sun comes up, you leave after the sun has gone down and it’s so very cold because no school has ever in the history of schools managed to perfect the art of heating classrooms.

January can also be a really exciting time for teachers. The students (for the most part) are settled into their routines, there is a large chunk of time before the next major holiday and it’s dreary enough that students are not longingly staring out the window wishing they could frolic outside. This means that MAJOR content can be covered, recovered, challenged, debated, explored and investigated. #teacherhappyplace

In all of the exploring, debating and uncovering that is going to go on between January and March, I want to focus in on my action plan and really get good at using peer to peer feedback. I want to try different times (i.e. morning classes vs afternoon classes), different groupings (friends vs pairs based on needs), different projects (essay vs lab report vs presentation) and different styles (do we use the rubric vs more general feedback).

This is my season to attempt and fail, it is my season to learn and grow and it is my season to dive into peer-to-peer feedback and find ways that it can be incorporated to help the students learn resiliency when it comes to accepting and using feedback.