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!


To This Day by Shane Koyczan

As we all know, bully prevention month has come and gone.  We talked about how students should not be bystanders, and what immediate steps can be taken.  In this month of Love, we need to not forget that students who are bullied have lasting psychological effects for that experience that may or may not have stopped.   Love them, completely and unconditionally.

We also provided a Tuesday 12 list of books on the subject of bullying, and here today we share with you an amazing new find!

The poet Shane Koyczan, created a poem about bullying but took has taken it a step further.  He enlisted the help of 20 animators to create segments to represent his poem.  The result is absolutely incredible.  The account of his personal experience and of others is at times overwhelming.  The visuals are chilling, a truly amazing short film.  This video is truly beautiful and powerful.

Take the time to watch it, and be the judge about who you share it with.

Helping Students Make Meaningful Connections Using Kelly Gallagher’s Article of the Week Strategy

“Part of the reason my students have such a hard time reading is because they bring little prior knowledge and background to the written page. They can decode the words, but the words remain meaningless without a foundation of knowledge” (Kelly Gallagher)

In one of my previous posts, I explained how I use Kelly Gallagher‘s excellent resource, “Teaching Adolescent Writers” (2006), in order to help my students learn how to write effectively.  In our school, we run TLCP (Teaching-Learning Critical Pathways) cycles focusing on a particular reading strategy throughout the year.  Currently, we are focusing on making connections, where students are to read a text and then respond to it by either making a text-to-self, text-to-text, or text-to-world connection. I often find that students will only skim the surface when making connections and I really want them to work on making a deeper and more meaningful connection to the text. Students have a difficult time making meaningful connections to texts because they lack sufficient experience and background knowledge.

Kelly Gallagher has developed an excellent strategy to assist with this dilemma: the Article of the Week.  The premise may be simple, but the effect is profound. Each Monday, students are given an article to read.  At the top of each article, Gallagher provides the following strategy:  “1. Mark your confusion.  2. Show evidence of a close reading. Mark up the text with questions and/or comments.  3. Write a one-page reflection on your own sheet of paper” (from  At the end of each article, Gallagher provides possible written response topics.  A new article is provided each week with the same framework.

In my opinion, this strategy is perfect in every way:

  1. Students are provided with an article on a high interest topic that will capture their attention and motivate them to read (hopefully!)
  2. Topics can change each week and can reflect current events, student interest, or connect to other curriculum topics
  3. The reading strategy is consistent with each article (the three steps provided at the top of each article)
  4. Students are provided with a consistent task, where they apply their skills on a regular basis
  5. Students and teachers can easily monitor student progress by reviewing weekly responses over a certain time period
  6. Students will be building their knowledge base and be provided with the background to make meaningful connections when reading other texts
  7. This activity can easily be scaffolded with teachers slowly removing direct support when students become much more sufficient in breaking down the text and responding to it
  8. Differentiated instruction is easily attainable, as students can receive different articles on the same topic but at different reading levels or teachers can continue to provide more support to struggling students, while other students are able to work more independently
  9. Assessment for and as learning are addressed on a regular basis, as teachers can keep track of student comprehension, learning, and skill development, while students can use self-assessment to determine how well they are applying their reading comprehension strategies over time.

Kelly Gallagher has provided years worth of archives for the Article of the Week. The Articles of the Week are further subdivided according to the grade level Gallagher taught when that article was used. Since Gallagher teaches high school English, many of the articles are a bit too difficult for my grade 7 and 8 students.  Not a problem, as I have been scouring various sources for interesting articles that I can use in my own classroom.  Even if you do not teach high school English, this approach will work with your students, as the framework is extremely effective and focused on improving student reading comprehension in a regular and methodical manner.

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!



Grade 4/5 Science Unit: Pulleys and Gears & Forces acting Upon Structures and Mechanisms

Gr 4:5 badgeWe have been hard at work!  Here is another great science unit for Grades 4/5.  Our first unit on Habitats and Communities and Human Organ Systems was a great success.  With great feedback from other teachers, we know that you find our products engaging, thorough and distinguished!

This new unit is a cross curricular Gr. 4/5 Science Unit  which allows teachers to meet the Ontario Science curriculum expectations all the while teaching a split grade!  Our science unit: Pulleys and Gears (4) & Forces Acting Upon Structures and Mechanisms(5)  combines the following overall big ideas:

  • Machines, mechanisms, and structures are designed to improve efficiency or simplify tasks
  • Forces act on and within structures and mechanisms
  • Mechanical systems have various impacts on society and the environment

Our Lessons include the following:

  • Learning centres: students work in small groups or individually to rotate between four centres over the course of the activity (four types of centre activities: technology, reading/writing activity, creative response, and a fun or hands-on activity);
  • Whole class lesson/discussion followed by either small group activities or whole class activity

Our unit is cross-curricular and integrates the following subjects:

  • Language Arts (Reading, Writing, Oral Communication, Media Literacy)
  • Math
  • 21st Century Learning
  • Art

We have many activities that are both engaging and active.  Differentiated instruction is also key and diverse assessment methods are incorporated.  We hope you find this unit useful for your classroom.

Here is a preview of our Gr 4/5 Science Unit.  Click on the picture above and you will be taken right to the full product!

The Tuesday 12: 12 Merry and Magical Christmas Movies to Watch with your Students!

12 christmas movies

In this week’s edition of The Tuesday 12, we’re looking at 12 merry and magical Christmas movies to share with your students!

1.  Elf (2003)

Buddy the Elf is one of my all-time favourite Christmas characters! What’s not to love?!

2. Frosty the Snowman (1969)

One of my favourites from childhood! A great way to remind students about the magic of Christmas.

3. The Polar Express (2004)

I love Chris Van Allsburg and this charming movie is at the top of any Christmas viewing list!

4. A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)

We just watched this today! I always tear up a little when Linus recites from the Gospel of Luke.

5. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

I hope that our students are able to appreciate this classic Christmas tale.

6. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)

The classic puppet and stop-motion animation may seem out of date to our students in this age of digital animation, but I hope they can still find the value in this classic.

7. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

A great take on Dickens’ classic Ebenezer Scrooge story starring the lovable Muppets (and Michael Caine)!

8. Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983)

Scrooge McDuck is a great way to introduce A Christmas Carol to your young students.  A touching and heart-warming version that is sure to be a hit with your students!

9. Home Alone (1990)

A hilarious look at how Kevin defends his home against would-be Christmas burglars! A laugh from beginning to end!

10. Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)

I prefer this original Grinch movie to the one starring Jim Carrey.  A great way for kids to discover that Christmas cheer cannot be stolen.

11. The Santa Clause (1994)

Who doesn’t love to watch Tim Allen slowly morph into the man in the red suit?

12. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

In this fantasy, Jack Skellington wants to take over Christmas and redo it in his own Halloweentown way! May be a bit scary for younger kids, so preview to make sure it is okay for your students.