Cohort 21 does the WCML

April 8, 2015

Hello again!

Forgive me Cohort for I have sinned. It has been 38 days since my last blog post and this one is full of updates. Here’s what has happened:

1) Two weekends ago, I was lucky enough to attend the World Conference of Modern Languages in Niagara Falls. It was absolutely fantastic and I’m extremely grateful that my school let me go! In addition to attending with my fellow French department coworkers, I also got to catch up with some teacher pals from Queen’s, OISE and Cohort 21 (shout outs to Jen and Lisa!) The workshops were informative and helpful – especially the ones about music and authentic tasks – and the food was pretty good, too.

My biggest takeaway from the conference was the opportunity it offered my friend Ramesh and I to present on Memarden, a nifty online lesson-creation and sharing platform. I’ve talked about my work with Memarden in previous blog posts which you can check out here. Alternatively, take a peek at their video here:

This time, I was joining Ramesh in what he was doing last year by showing educators the potential this platform has for engaging students and facilitating 21st-century blended learning. It was an exhilarating experience that involved plenty of audience interaction and I even got to use a dance pad – anybody remember DDR? – to showcase one of the games.


On that note, I’m looking forward to continuing my relationship with Ramesh and Memarden in the future. It was great to work with him in person and hear all about what he’s doing with this company. They’re attracting capital from investors and business from school boards, so I’m excited to see what the future holds for Memarden. There’s talk of a marketplace in which teachers can share their lessons for a price (or for free if they’re feeling generous). I’m also interested in harnessing the power of student-created lessons which I’ll have the ability to approve and make available to the classes.

2) I’m continuing my action research into blended learning, though now I’m focusing more closely on AIM. I invested in the online AIM Student Portal in the hopes that students would be able to learn the plays and gestures at home. I’ve already started the unit to be studied and I’m eager to learn the results. The key will be to motivate the students to use the online portal at home and monitor their use of it as the unit progresses. I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, take care and keep on keepin’ on!


Memarden update

February 27, 2015

Hello again,

Long time, no blog, eh? I suppose I’ve got some catching up to do. However, that can take a backseat to this awesome piece of news I have. For the past year, I’ve been pioneering the use of Memarden, a customizable, game-based lesson creation website, in my French class. I was actually first introduced to it through Cohort 21 at our F2F session at MaRS in 2014, and have been working with its founder Ramesh ever since.

Memarden allows teachers to create lessons that students can review, test themselves on and play games about in the comfort of their own homes. More importantly, all the student results are reported back to the teacher in easy-to-read charts and graphs. Feel free to check out its website using the link below:

The students in my classes really took to the games, especially when we played them as a class on the Smartboard. There are a variety of games to choose from such as the cathartic Cloud Blasters which has players trying to shoot the cloud with the correct answer and the frantic whack-a-mole game Holey Moley. All the games are fun to play and offer a challenge to players of all skill levels and abilities. Some of them are also extremely addictive!

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Holey Moley


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Cloud Blasters
Over the course of the year, I saw Memarden go through many changes. Students can now create lessons which can be made available to the class, pending teacher approval, and Ramesh is constantly developing new games and features. Memarden has been tweaked and refined to the point where Ramesh has started offering licenses to schools. These licenses usually go for $40/year for every 40 students, but Ramesh is offering it to Cohort 21 members for only $20/year for 40 students. I realize that sounds like something out of an infomercial but when you consider all that you get – customizable lessons with text, images, sounds and videos with the ability to see your students’ progress – it’s a pretty sweet deal. Also, I receive absolutely no commission aside from the satisfaction that one more educator is  teaching and assessing their students in an engaging and creative manner.

If you’d like to learn more about it, feel free to contact Ramesh at He’s an awesome guy with plenty of passion and technical experience to match, and he’d be happy to talk to you about the website. You could also tweet me at @sandmang24, leave comments below or send me an e-mail at

Back in the saddle

September 18, 2014

Hello again,

I hope you all had a wonderful summer filled with fun, relaxation, shenanigans, learning, or whatever else you look for in a summer. Mine featured all of the above but since this a blog devoted to my professional development, I’ll focus on the learning:

I started the summer off with a stint in the Ottawa Fringe Festival doing a one-man show titled Portable #3: Not Just another French Class. It documented the trials and tribulations of a ‘fictitious’ first-year french teacher named Mr. Gibson, and featured everything from singing and dancing to slam poetry and impressions of my mom. I consider it professional development because I had to produce it, which gave me a great appreciation for what drama teachers have to do every year with the school play (though I had the additional concern of making back the $750 artist fee required by the Ottawa Fringe Festival). It went very well, though, thanks to the advertising efforts of my friends and family, and it was even an honourable mention for the Critics’ Choice Award. You can learn more at the show’s website.

At the beginning of July, I attended a week-long summer institute hosted by the Jackman Humanities Institute. The theme for the institute was Play, Humour, and Games, so I had high hopes. Though I had signed up to learn about Law and Ancient History, I was placed in the mini-courses for Food and Mount Everest. At first I was hesitant to go – especially since three of the five days were held at U of T Scarborough – but I had already paid so I figured “What the heck? I’ll give it a shot.” Needless to say, I’m very glad I stuck with it. I met some awesome people ranging from kindergarten teachers to history profs, and while the section on Mount Everest wasn’t too hot, the Food course was amazing. The professor was sharp and interesting, and we made a different dish every day while talking about the history and social implications of different types of food. The reading was a bit heavy but I had a blast!

I also took a six week AQ course title Reading Part 1. I kept joking that I was learning to read again – a year of teaching French will do that to you – but I actually learned a great deal about the intricacies of facilitating literacy development in young learners. It was a considerable amount of work so I’m glad I had the free time to do the readings and group work. It certainly got me psyched about doing guided reading with students at school this year.

Lastly, while this might not count as professional learning, I volunteered for a week at Camp Oochigaes as a Canoe Tripper. For those who have never heard of Camp Ooch before, it’s a residential camp near Rosseau Lake for kids with cancer that also runs programs year round in Toronto. It was arguably one of the most fun times I’ve ever had at a camp, and that’s coming from seven summers of camp counselling! The kids were phenomenal and the volunteers and staff blew me away with their energy and enthusiasm. The singing, the paddling, the campfires, the food, the ridiculous moments and the tough times all made the whole experience very memorable and reminded me of why I work with kids. I’d highly recommend it to anyone with one or two free weeks in the summer.

Now I find myself three weeks into the school year and up to my neck in lesson plans, assessments and all the little issues that stem from teaching Core French to boys under the age of 9. Bathroom and water breaks are no longer the issue they once were but my course load has increased and the kids are proving to be every bit as interesting as they were last year. I’m still continuing my partnership with Memarden and I’ve got high hopes for the new interface it features. I’m also thinking that I’ll get the kids involved in lesson creation this year so I’ll let you know how that goes. My primary french class may  never be fully flipped but I’m still stoked about continuing the task I set out for myself last year. Any advice or words of wisdom you could offer would be much appreciated!

To everyone just joining Cohort 21, welcome aboard. It’s a lot of fun and you meet a lot of cool individuals. I encourage you to experiment and try new this, and I hope you all have a great year!

Sharing is caring

June 18, 2014

Hello again!
Long time, no blog! My apologies on the hiatus but things got pretty busy at the end of the year. However, my curriculum director asked me to present about what I’d learned at Cohort 21. Anxious to do the program justice and give back to the communities that have been so supportive of me, here’s what I came up with:


Let me know what you think and have a great summer!



April 25, 2014

Here’s the link to my final presentation on Powtoon.


It was a lot of fun to do, though timing the voiceover and the animations was a bit time-consuming. A huge thanks goes out to Celeste -I’m fairly sure it was Celeste – for hyping up the Powtoon format. I hope you enjoy watching it as much as i enjoyed making it. Let me know what you think!


There’s only one week left to go until the final face-to-face meeting of Cohort 21 and I’m feeling a variety of emotions. On the one hand, I’m excited to see a bunch of people who have inspired me to push myself to try new things and leave my Luddite comfort zone. I’m really looking forward to seeing what others have done with the tools and options we’ve explored over the past six months or so. Similarly, I’m amped to share my successes and struggles in flipping my French classroom, along with some ideas for the future. I’m a little bummed that it’s coming to an end, but as the old adage goes: “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”

I’ve certainly got a lot to smile about. Through Cohort 21, I was put in touch with Ramesh, an entrepreneur who is starting up game-based online teaching and assessment software. I fell in love with his Memarden program at first site and when I tested it with my students, they loved it too. I haven’t had the chance to let them try it on their own but Ramesh just taught me how to input the students into the system so I’ll hopefully have them try it out before the first Cohort meeting. Since the business is just starting, there are a few kinks to be worked out but I’m very optimistic about the direction in which Memarden is going.

I’ve also had the privilege to participate in a couple of Google Hangouts, which are always a fun learning experience and often involve funny hats. From these, I’ve learned about special opportunities such as skyping other French classrooms and recording students oral presentations. They were also good for learning about how the Hangouts worked since I can see many uses for them beyond the classroom If you haven’t sat in on one of the Hangouts, check out this link to a help session to get an idea of what they’re like.

Last but not least are my efforts to flip my French class by recording vocab videos and assessing students with Google forms. You can see one of the videos along with the link to the ‘quiz‘ here:


At first, it was tough to get the students to work on these quizzes but over time, their parents have really bought into it and now I get requests for more videos. I’m trying to churn out one every two weeks and now I’ve got a youtube channel with over ten videos. Many thanks are owed to fellow Cohort 21 member Sara Spencer for her guidance and encouragement on that front. However, I recently learned that the AIM program (gesture-based french teaching) has entered the 21st century and will be introducing a Student Portal with videos, exercises and games of its own in September of 2014. I’m not sure what it will cost but I feel like it would cover all the stuff I’ve been trying to do over the past six months. Yet another avenue to investigate, I suppose!

That’s where I’m at right now. Enjoy the long weekend and I’ll see you on Friday!

What an amazing day! There were so many highlights and new avenues to explore. Once I get through repord card comment writing, I’m itching to start on the new aspects of my action plan . Here are a few things that really stood out for me today:

-I had a great discussion with the Flipped Classroom group. It was pretty cool to see Padlet used as a way to record minutes. More importantly, some key issues arose that really spoke to me. I’ve listed a few here:

  • How often should flipped classroom lessons be released?
  • What should be done about students who didn’t see the video being discussed?
  • Are there other ways to flip a classroom that don’t involve videos?

-I’m really excited to use memarden to gamify French vocabulary and grammar learning. I love how it can be customised to each lesson and used in multiple ways. I’m hoping that the young boys at my school will find it engaging and useful. My biggest concern is implementation and how I’m going to get enough iPads. Perhaps I’ll just have a few iPads in the class and it will be a reward or a station. Alternatively, I’ll make the games match the vocabulary videos that I assign and the kids will play them at home. I’ve given the founder Ramesh my contact information and we’ll see how it goes.

-I chose to relocate to the large atrium for my Ed-venture with Sara Spencer who gave me a wonderful Youtube tutorial. She taught me a considerable amount about building my digital portfolio by starting multiple channels. Check out my Youtube channel Monsieur Gibson and the playlist Songs. It’s not much now but I’m hoping to increase it and start a few new playlists for each grade that I teach.

The lunch with the entrepreneurs was pretty exciting. It was great to see their passion and willingness to listen and answer questions about their product. Thank you very much Garth and Justin for making it happen. I can’t wait for the last session on April 25th!



Hello everyone,

Aside from being super-excited about seeing you all at MaRS on Friday, I’m pretty stoked about starting the second stage of my action plan. Stage 1 was simply recording and releasing one-minute videos of myself saying and gesturing vocabulary words with French and English subtitles. The students could then watch these videos on their own time so that I wouldn’t have to do it all in class. I call it a partially flipped classroom. So far, I’ve heard good things from a few parents but that might be a case of reporting bias so to really find out how it’s going,  I’m going to kick it up into Stage 2.

Stage 2 involves sending out a Google Form with each video. The form will be a multiple choice quiz with the words from the video and certain English translations. Students in Grade 3 should be able to complete these forms by themselves but Grade 1 & 2 students will complete these forms with their parents to help with the reading component (and because I e-mail the video links to the parents anyways.) This information will then go to a master form that will allow me to see who completed the form and how many questions they got right.

At first, completing these forms won’t be mandatory but it will have a significant positive effect on their grades. While some may argue that it may not be the students themselves doing the work, I maintain the important point that a) it shows the students that French has a place outside the classroom, and b) it gets the parents involved, which in my short time of teaching I’ve learned is a powerful motivating factor for students. Furthermore, the parents will feel good because they’re helping their students learn and getting a visible return on their tuition.

I’m not sure what level of participation I’ll get off the bat, but I’m hoping that the keenness of the parents will bring it up to 25% – 50%. I’ll model the completion of these forms in class with all my students and rewarding the completion of these forms with ClassDojo points and other tangible incentives. Most importantly of all, I’m crossing my fingers for no technical glitches!

Speaking of technical stuff, the IT folks let me take out an iPad and use it in French class. I’ve used it mainly for ClassDojo, an online behaviour tracking and reward device. While I welcome advice or comments from any educator, I’m hoping to hear from people who have tried flipping their classes with really young students, or implemented other interesting modified or redefined activities from the SAMR model with young kids in language classes. See you soon!

Meeting them halfway

January 11, 2014

Happy new year everyone!

I’m happy to say that I’ve released 4 vocab videos as of now, and I’m looking forward to releasing many more. It hasn’t been as easy as I thought for the following reasons:

-I can’t control what pops up in the ride sidebar of YouTube (ie Rob Ford on Crack, 7 of the Worst Words, etc.)

– TeacherTube doesn’t always like to upload videos when I ask it to. Sometimes, it only plays the audio without displaying the video

-Some parents want to view the videos on their mobile devices, but the videos won’t always work on these devices

I’m considering switching over entirely to Youtube. I’m hoping that once I’ve got enough videos, I won’t have to worry about what pops up on the side bar. However, that still doesn’t fix the issue of how to get videos to display on mobile devices. Does anyone who uses iMovie have experience with this? Do I need to change the video size?

Ladies and gentlemen, it has begun! My goal is to partially flip my classroom this year and I’ve found the means to do it. I suppose I should have posted my action plan first but I couldn’t help myself so here’s my action plan along with a description of what I’ve done so far:

Since the boys I teach French to only see me for 90-120 minutes in a 6-day, I figured I needed another way to exposure them to oral french. The AIM (Accelerative Integrated Method) program that I use – it’s the one with the French plays and the gestures – sells DVDs that can be sent home but those cost money and can easily be lost. I originally wanted to record these DVDs and post them to YouTube but that would’ve violated a copyright law or two. However, in a course I was taking on AIM delivery, we were told by AIM that we could record ourselves doing the gestures and saying the words and post them. Here’s the end result of that (please excuse the nasty Movember moustache):

Youtube vocab

However, when I first tried that, a colleague pointed out that I couldn’t control the videos that would pop up on the side bar. One of the videos was about swearing while another was about Rob Ford and his “leisure pursuits”. My colleague suggested I try TeacherTube. It’s pretty much like Youtube for teachers since it doesn’t have ads or inappropriate videos that pop up on the side. I haven’t had too many problems with it, though there was one time when I couldn’t get the video to display even though the audio was fine.

TeacherTube vocab video

So far I’ve had decent feedback and some kids have even showed it to their younger siblings. Eventually, I’m hoping to switch back entirely to Youtube once I’ve got enough videos on my channel. I’m hoping to release about one video per week, though eventually I’ll release different videos for each grade I teach. Let me know what you think!