Keeping your Classroom Clean

We are almost mid-way through November and our students are beginning to have their first round of colds, sniffles and flus.  They come in and they sneeze here and there, they touch their desks and the resources we have in our classrooms.  Unfortunately, due to the constraints that families have today, most of these students should be at home recuperating but have no where or no one to be with during the day so they are sent to school.  What can we do?  They are there with us, with everyone else in the classroom and they are spreading their germs.  It is vitally important that we protect ourselves and keep our classrooms as clean as possible.  Many of us take precautions and help students be more aware of their classroom environment.  From disinfecting students desk tops, and seat backs, to door knobs, our desks and classroom materials we attempt to keep the germs at bay.  I ask students to bring in their own hand sanitizer and ask them to use it constantly during class time.  Furthermore, I have each student donate one tissue box for classroom use.  Unfortunately, we are not allowed to bring in store bought disinfectants into the schools.  These disinfectants have toxins that students should not be exposed to and can be harmful to them and us.  So the endeavour began, and through my friends on Pinterest, I have found DIY disinfectants and cleansers that can be used in my classroom. Just click on the picture below and you will find a detail of four wonderful and fantastically easy cleaners that are safe! I have found that I only need two of the four: the antibacterial spray and the all purpose cleaner for my classroom! But I’m sure you will be very impressed with the results! Happy Cleaning & Be Healthy!


Understanding Concept Maps: A Vital Tool to Help Students with Concept Attainment

concept maps

What exactly is a “concept”?  According to Joseph D. Novak (1996), a concept is a “perceived regularity in events or objects designated by a label…[while] concept maps serve to show relationships between concepts, and it is from these relationships that concepts derive meaning” (p. 32). In the 1970s, Novak and his team developed the technique of building concept maps with science students, in order to link ideas, build connections, and represent knowledge. Concept maps help students better understand and organize new ideas, previous knowledge, and connections between the two.

As an elementary school teacher, concept maps are used in various settings and across the curriculum. One of the benefits of being an elementary school teacher is that I teach the same group of students a variety of subjects, so some students who may not do well in science may excel in art, some who may struggle in Language Arts may blossom during science classes; as a result, it is interesting to see a student’s understanding in various subject areas. An activity that demonstrates this beautifully is the concept map. I usually introduce concept mapping as a whole group brainstorming activity; this way, students can build on ideas and make connections together. Teachers can begin by modelling what a concept map looks like and how to connect the various ideas together and then provide students with a template to fill in with words provided. This gradual release of responsibility will allow students both the experience and confidence to begin a concept map of their own from scratch. I like the idea of sharing concept maps in small groups either by having students explain their concepts and connections or by having them merge their ideas into one larger map. This type of rich activity would foster excellent reflection, discussion, and evaluation.

Although concept mapping appears to be a simple activity, it is actually quite complex and difficult for some learners. According to Novak (1996), concept map can be an empowerment tool for both teachers and learners as they can use concept mapping to “facilitate meaning-making and to facilitate a sense of personal control over meaning-making for future citizens” (p. 41). This seems to be a significant benefit to using concept maps in the classroom; however, I believe that it takes a lot of time, practice, and discussion to attain such a benefit. Novak (1996) explains that “students need practice and experience in becoming skilful in concept mapping, and this requires patience on the part of both teachers and students” (p. 40). This could be problematic as teachers are constantly stressed over not having enough time to cover the curriculum expectations in the allotted time, so finding extra time to teach, model, and practice using concepts maps may not always be attainable.

As I mentioned earlier, teachers must use the gradual release of responsibility model with concept mapping as it is a difficult task for students to comprehend. To me, it appears that concept maps may be difficult to students because it is so open-ended that they need some form of structure, which is why some suggest providing students with a list of terms to use in the mapping and students must determine the relationship between the words (Novak, 1996, p. 39). Novak (1996) does state, however, that although the initial experience may be daunting, students who genuinely attempted to produce a hierarchical structured concept map did so with practice (p. 35).

One thing that I find problematic with concept maps is the need for evaluation. I personally do not think that concept maps should be used for evaluation, as they are meant to help a person organize their thoughts, determine their preconceptions, and allow them to make connections. I do not feel that this form of thinking should be evaluated, as it is more of a self-assessment tool to help a students understand their starting point and what they already know. I would prefer to use concepts maps at the beginning of a unit to activate prior knowledge and inform my teaching, to organize ideas learned during lessons, and throughout a unit where students keep returning to a concept map to add on more ideas and connections as they learn.

Work Cited:

Novak, J.D. (1996) Concept mapping: a tool for improving science teaching and learning. In: Treagust, D.F., R. Duit, and B.J. Fraser (Eds.) Improving teaching and learning in science and mathematics. pp. 32 – 43 London, Teachers College Press.

For more info please refer to:

Novak, J. D. & A. J. Cañas, The Theory Underlying Concept Maps and How to Construct Them, Technical Report IHMC CmapTools 2006-01 Rev 01-2008, Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, 2008″, available at:

Plotnik, E. Concept Mapping: A Graphical System for Understanding The Relationship between Concepts. ERIC Digest, 1998.

Saskatoon Public Schools. Instructional Strategies Online. What are Concept Maps?

Vanides, J., Yin, Y., Tomita, M., & Ruiz-Primo, M.A. Using Concept Maps in the Science Classroom.  Science Scope, Vol 28, No. 8, Summer 2005 (p.27- 31).

Check out our Combined Grade 4/5 Science Unit (Habitats and Organ Systems) to Meet Ontario Curriculum Expectations!

It’s always a bit nerve-racking when you find out that you have been assigned a combined grade for the next year.  Combined grade classrooms come with a variety of challenges for teachers, the most prominent being that teachers need to address two complete grade levels of curriculum expectations.  Just thinking about the extensive expectations  to be addressed is daunting and will probably make you feel overwhelmed.  I know that when I taught combined grades in the past, it was a juggling act to ensure that not only were all expectations addressed, but that I was teaching them in a meaningful and engaging manner.

As we mentioned in our article for, one of the most powerful strategies a teacher can learn is how to integrate curriculum in order to create cross-curricular lessons. Not only will you be covering curriculum expectations, but cross-curricular activities tend to be more engaging and creative.

We have been working diligently on a combined grade 4/5 science unit to meet the Ontario curriculum expectations for Understanding Life Systems.  We are really excited to announce that it is completed!

Here’s an overview of the unit:

  • Learning centres: students work in small groups or individually to rotate between three centres over the course of the activity (five types of centre activities: iPad integration, technology, reading/writing activity, creative response, and a fun or hands-on activity);
  • Whole class lesson/discussions followed by either small group activities or whole class activity
  • Cross-curricular integration with other subject areas, including Language Arts (Reading, Writing, Oral Communication, Media Literacy), Drama, Physical Education, Art, and Health
  • A focus on Assessment For and As Learning through student self-assessments and group assessments, KWL charts, exit slips, anticipation guides, and project planning sheets
  • Reading strategies addressed include making connections, inferring, determining important ideas, drawing conclusions, and cause-and-effect
  • Differentiated Instruction is achieved through Learning Centres, choice board for the end of unit project, RAFTS assignment, and a variety of hands-on activities and labs

The entire unit, including lessons, assignments, assessments, printables, and centre activities comes to over 230 pages!

Here’s a preview of the unit!

And click the image below to be taken to the complete unit!

Classroom and School Green Initiatives: A Planning Sheet

I hope you are all enjoying the beautiful summer weather and appreciating your well-deserved time off!  So, isn’t now the perfect time to begin planning for September?! Well, if you’re anything like me, after a few lazy days in the sun, my mind begins to wander back to my classroom and I begin to plan out the upcoming school year. As much as I enjoy the freedom of summer vacation, I love returning to a sparkling clean classroom, neatly arranged desks, and freshly sharpened pencils. One of the best things about a new school year is the ability to begin with a fresh start and now is the perfect time to explore some green initiatives for your classroom and school.

If you haven’t already, check out this week’s installment of The Tuesday 12: 12 Green Initiatives for Your Classroom and School.  The 12 green initiatives are subdivided into three groups:  simple steps, ones that require a bit more time, and finally a few that are much larger projects.  It’s up to you to decide how many and what type of green initiatives you would like to try out, but just remember that every step counts, so even simple steps towards being more eco-friendly  make a big impact!

Here’s a teacher planner to help you organize your green initiatives for the school year!

The Tuesday 12: 12 Green Initiatives for Your Classroom and School!

One of the best things about a new school year is the ability to begin with a fresh start and now is the perfect time to explore some green initiatives for your classroom and school.

Simple steps

1. Take your class outside! My kids love to have Phys Ed outside, but how about taking them outside for other subjects? Oil pastel drawings of the fall foliage, reading in the warm September breeze, or nature-based science activities are all great options! Here are some great websites that have outdoor activities for students of all grade levels:

2. Make an Eco Pledge! On the first day of school, my students and I come up with our code of conduct for the year, so why not add in a promise about respecting the environment and becoming green? If students see this commitment as part of their pledge for the year, then they may begin to make more environmentally conscious choices.

3. Lights off! Appoint a different student each week to turn off all lights and computer screens before recess, after lunch and at the end of the day.

4. Recycle! Make sure that your classroom has an appropriate recycling bin and that students actively use it. Have a discussion with your students regarding the types of materials that are recyclable in your area.

5. Waste-Free Wednesdays! Students are to bring their lunch and snacks to school in a reusable container. Any organic waste can be composted at school (if a program is available) or brought back home for composting or green bin.

Got a bit more time?

6. Start an Environmental Club! Students love to be part of clubs and many kids already have tons of eco-friendly ideas for their class and school.

7. Ban the bottle! Explain to students that plastic water bottles are no longer acceptable in your classroom; instead, encourage them to purchase a reusable water bottle that they can refill throughout the day. A great video to watch with your class is “The Story of Bottled Water.” It makes an awesome media literacy lesson (I love cross-curricular lessons!) and really helps students understand how marketing by companies has drastically altered our perception of drinking water sources.

8. Celebrate Earth Day every day! Although Earth Day festivities usually take place during the week of April 22, why not incorporate small activities on a daily or weekly basis? Assemblies with an environmental focus, eco-conscious tips on the morning announcements, and picking up litter in the school yard are some possible suggestions.

9. Calculate (and then reduce) your EcoFootprint! There are many websites available that guide you through a series of questions to calculate your ecological footprint, while also providing suggestions to reduce your impact on the environment. It is best to visit these sites to ensure choosing a quiz that is appropriate to the grade level you teach. (includes teacher resources!) (includes a teacher’s guide!)

Bigger projects

10. Waste-Free Wednesdays school challenge! We created a month long challenge among our grade 1-8 classes. Each Wednesday after lunch, members of the EcoClub went around weighing the amount of waste produced by each class. The results were recorded and tallied over the course of a month. The class with the lowest total amount of post-lunch waste won a prize!

11. Green schools are Healthy schools! Join up with your school’s health action team to take on greater initiatives to promote diet, exercise, recreation, and green choices related to healthy living.  Check into resources in your city/town/province/state to see what programs are available.  For example,  the Toronto and Region Conservation Schools Programs has a variety of programs, including Sustainable Schools, Watershed on Wheels, field centres, the 20/20 Clean Air partnership, and stewardship programs available. Research programs that are available in your area and sign up early as some programs may have limited spacing!

12. Green your school yard! Some students are lucky to attend schools set on beautifully green landscapes and surrounded by towering trees, but not all students are so lucky! Although school yard greening may seem like an expensive task, there are many organizations that provide grants for school yard greening projects once an application has been submitted.  Over the last few years, we have planted several trees and shrubs around our school yard. We received six trees to plant from Environmental Earth Angels ( after we submitted an online application, while a local nursery provided some more trees and shrubs at a discounted price. Our students had a great time digging, planting, and caring for the trees!