Computer Coding: An Essential Skill

We all wonder what our students and children will face in the future.  How will they be successful, what kind of work will there be for them, what skills are necessary to be able to be successful?  These questions are at the heart of everything we do!  We know that students need to be creative, able to problem solve and think critically.  Also, we know that our curriculum and our classrooms should be inclusive of technology.  But what about understanding where it all stems from?  What are we doing about that?  We need to realize that computer software coding is an essential skill that will be necessary for success. We need to be able to address this in our classrooms.

Here is a link to a wonderful video, where world class athletes, musicians and great business people, discuss the importance to this very skill.

Well, what does that mean for us? Visit the website and find out how students can learn to code in elementary schools, how they can develop their critical thinking skills and problem solving skills. Share with us what you think and what you have tried.  It is never too late for anyone to learn to code!


Farming & Sustainability

Farming and SustainabilityWhile studying Physical Geography, students in grade 7 should be able to “explain the concept of sustainable development and its implications for the health of the environment.” (Ministry of Education, Ontario Curriculum Documents).  Concepts as these sometimes become too difficult to understand because students have not had many life experiences outside their community let alone rural life.  As I program plan, I have found that visuals and videos are helpful tools.  I would like to share two wonderful videos that I have just recently found.  Both videos demonstrate key concepts about farming, sustainability, human factors and activity and the connection to them. I know I will be using these videos to elaborate and start a conversation about these concepts.

The first video is entitled “Pickering Lands”.  This video is a presentation about the Pickering Lands close to Toronto, Ontario.  It delves into how and why the lands were expropriated and the loss it has presented over the years for the farming community and all the communities around it.  Here is the link:

The second video I found on Facebook, it is a fantastic video with great visuals and concise information about importing and exporting food and the farming industry.  Here is this video:

Let us know what you think of these videos and if you have any other ones, do share!



The Tuesday 12: 12 Distinctly Canadian Picture Books!

As I was strolling through Chapters the other day looking for new books for my sons, I came across several picture books that were distinctly Canadian in either content or authorship.  So, here’s a list of 12 excellent picture books that proudly proclaim “our home and native land!”

12 canadian picture books

1. “The Hockey Sweater” by Roch Carrier (Translated by Sheila Fischman and Illustrated by Sheldon Cohen)

I bought this classic “Canadien” story for my sons.  Despite the NHL lockout, hockey is still a big topic of conversation and who can resist this tale of the little boy who receives a Toronto Maple Leafs hockey sweater instead of his beloved #9 Maurice Richard Montreal Canadiens sweater?

2. “Crosby’s Golden Goal” by Mike Leonetti (Illustrated by Gary McLaughlin)

A great story about a boy who abandons hockey, a game he loves so much.  After witnessing Crosby’s golden goal at the Vancouver Olympics, he returns to the ice and the sport he loves. Other famous stories about hockey heroes by the same author include Wendel and The Great One, The Rocket, and The Mighty Tim Horton.

3. “The Salmon Twins” written and illustrated by Carroll Simpson

A visually stunning book that celebrates Canada’s First Nations by looking at the groups of the Pacific Northwest. Although it would be perfect for the grade 6 social studies curriculum, the theme of community values makes this a great addition to any classroom library.

4. “A Promise is a Promise” by Robert Munsch and Michael Kusugak (illustrated by Vladyana Krykorka)

Together, Munsch and Kusugak take you to the Northwest Territories to tell the story of Allashua, a little girl who encounters the qallupilluit, Inuit monsters that live below the ice.  In this book, children learn the importance of listening to their parents, keeping their promises, and Inuit story-telling traditions.

5. “Goodnight, Canada” written and illustrated by Andrea Beck

A wonderful book that takes you through the Canadian provinces and territories, while saying goodnight to children living in these different locations.

6. “M is for Moose: A Charles Pachter Alphabet” by Charles Pachter

This is a beautiful book that is filled with tons of visual information about Canadian history, pop culture, and heritage.  A stunning book! Also, check out “Canada Counts: A Charles Pachter Counting Book”

7.  “Picture a Tree” by Barbara Reid

I still remember reading “Have You Seen Birds?” with my grade three class and making our own plasticine bird pictures in Barbara Reid’s distinctive style. “Picture a Tree” is a great book to use during Earth Week, learning about the environment, and helping students develop respect, appreciation, and stewardship of our Earth.

8. “The Cremation of Sam McGee” by Robert W. Service (Illustrated by Ted Harrison)

I love this poem and teach it to my students each year.  The illustrations are beautiful and remind me of the Group of Seven. It would be great to integrate an art lesson with this poem and book by creating oil pastel drawings of the Northern Lights.

9. “Alligator Pie” by Dennis Lee (Illustrated by Frank Newfeld)


“Someday I’ll go to Winnipeg
To win a peg-leg pig.
But will a peg-leg winner win
The piglet’s ill-got wig?”

What’s not to love?! My son and I love reading these hilarious poems before bed each night!

10. “Wishes” by Jean Little (illustrated by Genevieve Cote)

I’ve been a Jean Little fan since I read “From Anna” in grade 4.  I bought this book for my youngest son for Christmas It would be great to create a collaborative class book where each child writes and illustrates their own wishes.

11. “A Porcupine in a Pine Tree: A Canadian 12 Days of Christmas” by Helaine Becker (illustrated by Werner Zimmermann)

Another Christmas gift for my sons! Can you tell I buy a lot of books? A great twist on the classic Christmas song! My favourite verse? Ten Leafs a-leaping!

12. “M is for Maple: A Canadian Alphabet” by Mike Ulmer and Melanie Rose (illustrated by Melanie Rose)

A beautifully illustrated book that takes you from British Columbia to Prince Edward Island.  Filled with Canadian history, personalities, geography, and pop culture.  If you like this one, check out the province specific ones including “A is for Algonquin: An Ontario Alphabet” and “B is for Bluenose: A Nova Scotia Alphabet.”

Don’t forget to check in next week for another edition of The Tuesday 12!

Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links

The Tuesday 12: 12 Wonderful Resources for Teaching Students about the World’s Water Systems

In this week’s edition of The Tuesday 12, we’ll be looking at resources focusing on the world’s water systems.  I love to teach this unit to my grade 8 students because there are so many interesting and vital aspects to consider; for example, students learn about personal water conservation, the global water crisis, weather and extreme weather events, climate change, pollution, the chemistry of water, and the role water plays in economic, societal, political, and health issues. Just click on the title to be brought to each resource!

1. Operation WellFound. “Water: A Precious Resource.”

The activities in this lesson plan help students to understand how much water they use on a regular basis and how that compares to other people in the world.  I’ve done this activity with my students and it is an eye-opening experience for them.  It really helps to put into perspective how lucky we are.

2. The United Nations. The Global Water Crisis.

This site has excellent resources both for teachers and students.  In addition to the teacher lessons plans, there are many interesting links for students; for instance, there is a water alert game, a quiz, various people tell their stories of water related issues (e.g. there’s a video clip of Jay-Z exploring the water crisis in Africa), and ways to help people around the world gain access to clean and safe drinking water.

3. Strauss, Rochelle. One Well: The Story of Water on Earth. Toronto: Kids Can Press Ltd, 2007.

This is an absolutely gorgeous book and the content is just as good.  One Well: The Story of Water on Earth incorporates information of water statistics, conservation, our reliance on water, and the vital role water plays in our lives; however, the information is conveyed in a captivating manner.  Throughout the book, the theme of how all the water on Earth is connected and how we are all connected to that same water is emphasized.  Excellently written and beautifully illustrated!

4. The Story of Stuff. “The Story of Bottled Water.”

Bottled water is all around us.  Unfortunately, not many people know the implications of drinking bottled water.  After watching this movie, challenge your students to ban the bottle!

5. And of course, our resource to go along with “The Story of Bottled Water”!

A great way to integrate media literacy and science!

6. Water 1st International. Water 1st Curriculum.

During this lesson, students learn about the water cycle, their water usage, water facts, how lack of access to clean water affects people, and how they can make a difference.  It also includes writing assignments, art activities, and science activities to make this lesson cross-curricular.

7. The Water Project. The Water Crisis- Lesson Plans for All Grades.

A great way to bring social justice and activism into your classroom.  After learning about how the global water crisis has a severe impact on many people in the world, students can work together to raise funds and awareness for various water projects.

8. Learn About the Water Crisis.

This website provides complete units on the water crisis and they are divided by grade levels: elementary, middle school, and high school level curriculum.  There is an extensive amount of resources on this site and the activities are great!

9. WWF. Grade 8 Water. Schools for a Living Planet.

You need to sign in to access the units on this site, but I suggest you do so, since signing up is free and the WWF has great science unit plans! This is an excellent unit plan that takes you through the chemical makeup of water, to the difference between salt water and fresh water, climate change, water conservation, and the need to protect water resources.

10. Water Systems Information.

I’ve used this site as an introduction to my water systems unit.  Not only does it provide a good review of concept students have already learned, but it also gives students a great repository of information about oceans, lakes, rivers, currents, the water cycle, climate, and the chemistry of water.

11. 22nd Annual International Children’s Painting Competition on the Environment. This year’s theme is “Water: Where Does it Come From?”

The contest is open to students aged 6 – 14 years old from the United States and Canada.  Submissions are due March 1, 2013. I definitely want to do this with my students!

12. Alaska K-12 Science Curricular Initiative. “Hands-On Lessons”

This site has some great hands-on science lessons on a variety of water topics, including the water cycle, glaciers, water scarcity, streams, and evaporation!

Don’t forget to check back next week for another edition of The Tuesday 12!


Disclosure: This post contains an affiliate link.

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).

Zipping Around the World: A Social Studies Project Where the Sky’s the Limit!

In this Geography/Social Studies activity, students “win” a free trip to any destination in the world! In order to claim their prize, they must provide a detailed geographical assessment of their dream vacation locale!

Each student chooses a different location around the world and provides a detailed analysis of the location’s climate, landforms, vegetation, and other features and compares them to their own home. When students return from their “trip”, they are to bring in their suitcase and provide the class with information about their vacations. Since no two students are allowed to visit the same destination, this ensures that projects and presentations are interesting and fresh. This activity is classroom tested! My students and I had a great time during this unit and they all said that it was lots of fun!

A great lesson to learn about different places in the world in a fun and unique way!

The following items are included in this package:
-Student winning ticket
-Student project information sheets
-Student organization worksheet
-Student sign-up sheet
-Teacher marking scheme (to be shared with students)
-Self– and peer–assessment sheets

Just click on the image below!