Teaching Kids about Gardening


IMG_2048This summer my daughter and I have started gardening together. We chose some plants together, we got her some gardening gloves and she used money from her piggy bank to buy herself her own gardening tools.

This year she has learned that when seeds are combined with soil, water, sun and TLC they turn into sprouts and then into plants. She learned how to take a plant out of a pot, measure the space needed to plant it into a flower bed and dig a hole the right size in order to add it to our flower beds. She also learned how to tell the difference between a weed and a wanted plant and how to pull weeds out with their roots so that they won’t grow back.

My daughter has started to learn about the importance of bees, the value of trees and about the multiple purposes and uses we have for plants.

Most importantly, she is learning to care for her surroundings, to enjoy being outdoors and making daily discoveries.


4 Lessons I’ve Learned About Motivating My Child to Garden With Me

  1. She loves having her own tools.

She has her own gardening gloves (they’ll probably fit her for the next 5-7 years, they’re so big, but they were the smallest we could find), she has her own small gardening tools, rakes, shovels and buckets. (She even bought them with her own money from her piggy bank, which is a story worth its own blog post).


  1. She loves spending the time outside.

I have cancelled all cartoon television channels (I know, I’m so mean) and head outside right away in the morning to have my coffee, in front of my flower beds. Naturally, Clara finds ways to occupy herself when I am having my coffee and makes all kinds of discoveries.


  1. For my daughter to like gardening with me, she has to garden with me.


“Model the behavior you want to see in your children” and “Set the example”. This is what we are always told but we often forget that it applies to more than just being polite. When we make good choices, our children see us and often want to imitate us. When our children see us enjoying ourselves spending time outside and gardening, our children are more likely to want to find out why we love it so much and want to try it as well.

  1. She reaps what she sows.


This year we started tomatoes, lettuce, peppers, cucumbers and peas from seeds. We planted some zucchini, basil, sage, green beans and yellow beans. We have raspberry bushes and strawberry plants that come back every year. As a family, we picked our basil, made some pesto and enjoyed it together. When we make sandwiches and salads, Clara helps me pick the lettuce from the garden.  When Clara feels like munching, she heads towards the ripe produce in our own garden and enjoys a self-made feast! She understands that there is a purpose, besides it being enjoyable, to gardening.

How Can These Lessons be Translated to the Classroom?

Stay tuned and follow my blog during the next school year to learn more about how I will be incorporating a love for gardening, nature and outdoor exploration with students in my classroom, as well as through the continued growth of the St. Jude Elementary Green School Project.

3 Books You Should Read About the Outdoors and Kids

Vitamin N: The Essential Guide to a Nature-Rich Life
Balanced and Barefoot: How Unrestricted Outdoor Play Makes for Strong, Confident, and Capable Children
Balanced and Barefoot: How Unrestricted Outdoor Play Makes for Strong, Confident, and Capable Children
The Good Garden: How One Family Went from Hunger to Having Enough
The Good Garden: How One Family Went from Hunger to Having Enough


End of the Year Reflection: Top 3 Wins and Losses

I wrapped up my school year nearly a month ago. The school year flew by and I am finally taking the time to reflect on what worked well and what didn’t work so well for me this year (and I don’t mean things I have no control over, like not enough snow days or making sure I don’t have to crawl into the driver’s seat from the passenger side back seat because the school’s parking lot is so tight). I am reflecting on things I tried in the classroom that worked well and what didn’t.

Let’s get the ugly out of the way.

Top 3 Losses

1. I would have paid closer attention to the existing supply list for students.

This year my homeroom group was a fourth grade group and when I taught ELA to my fifth graders, I often asked them to come to my classroom. Something I wish I had done was pay closer attention to the supply list at the beginning of the school year. Because of all of the commuting and moving around, when my fifth graders came to my classroom, someone ALWAYS forgot something in their own homeroom. It was sometimes their grammar duo-tang, it might have been their journals (copybooks) or it could have been their pencils. Either way, without fail, every single time we changed classrooms, someone would have to go back and get something. If I could have a do-over I would ask that students have binders for ELA rather than duo-tangs. This way, all student work would have been in the same place. Handouts, notes and copybooks could have all been clipped into a 1.5 inch binder and nothing (at least a lot less) would have been left behind.

2. I would have started using Google Classroom much sooner.

For those of you who do not know about Google Classroom, it is the first thing you should learn about to use in the classroom next year, particularly if you are teaching older students. Google Classroom allowed me to stay organized, to provide immediate feedback on students’ work and helped me avoid lugging school work back and forth from home so that I can revise or grade it. With Google Classroom, students can access their work from anywhere there is internet. There is no more forgetting work at school or at home. I didn’t assign homework. However, students enjoyed their assignments and working with Google Classroom so they were often motivated to toke initiative to work on their activities, written productions and to edit their work from wherever they had access to it.

Google Classroom also provides a marking book to teachers so you can keep track of grades you give to students before returning it to them (virtually, of course)

3. I would have been more organized.

I started out the school year on top of things. My desk was organized, my bookshelves were organized, student materials and manipulatives were organized and the class library looked great.

About two months into the school year, I felt like I was trying to keep my head above the mess and disorganization that was my classroom. I got lost under piles of work that needed to be reviewed, of forms I need to complete and various (10 levels, I think) of guided reading book sets. I was juggling too much and never felt like I was on top of things. I am a mom, I am a resource creator on TeacherPayTeachers, I am a “Blab-er” and I have trouble saying “no”.

To make life easier during the next school year, this is what I will do:

  • I will work four days a week instead of five. I may be taking a pay cut but I will be losing in salary I will make up for in sanity. With a full day off, I will be able to check students’ work and provide prompt feedback. I will be able to take time to tidy up the classroom at the end of the day, knowing that I will have a full day in which I will be able to do errands, instead of having to do them after school.
  • I will start the school year with a blank canvas.This year I was using another teacher’s classroom while she was on maternity leave. I did not feel comfortable moving things around (or out of the classroom, for that matter) because I knew she was going to return and would want the materials the way they were laid out in the classroom.  Next year, I am moving back into the classroom that was mine the year before this one. This classroom will be mine! All mine! There will be nobody else’s teaching materials in the room and I will be able to organize the classroom as I see fit. Woohoo!
  • I will use more technology. With more technology comes less paperwork. That’s all.
  • I will not overbook.This school year I was overly ambitious. I planned too many extra-curricular activities and signed up for too many committees. Instead of enjoying them, like I had originally planned on doing, I dreaded them, because I knew there was so much work I needed to complete and not enough time to do it in. This year I will stick to less. Less is more, right? Right??


My three biggest wins:

1. I communicated effectively and consistently with families, despite strikes and pressure tactics at the beginning of the school year. See my parent communication blog post here.

 2. I started the Green School Project at my elementary school. Although some were hesitant, and some resistant, almost everyone at my school got on board and involved in the Green School Project, a project that was launched with the hope of making my school community more eco-friendly and eco-literate and to practice and instill sustainable habits in all members of the community.  For more information about the Green School Project, click here.

3. I became a conference presenter. I was asked to present the Green School Project at a principal’s conference this past May. I broke the ice and was asked by participants to present in their schools to their staff, as well as to school board commissioners and committee members.


I learned a lot this school year. I taught older students and I loved it. My kids this year are big hearted and good willed. I was able to do so much with them, and they shared my enthusiasm for learning more about English Language Arts, Math, Visual Arts and becoming better global citizens. Their teachers next year are very lucky people.

Next year I will be moving back downstairs to second grade. I am looking forward to working with the younger kids and seeing how much we will grow together during the 2016-2017 school year. To get a sneak peek at my teacher planner that I will be using next year, click here. You can get your own copy in my store on TeachersPayTeachers and keep your lessons and grades organized with the help of this complete and easy to use teacher planner.

Green School Project

We have finally done it. At school, we have finally launched our Green Project.


There are so many components to the Green School Project, including fundraising projects and changing the school community’s habits that I think I just have to summarize what has been done so far and how that’s going.

So far we have launched:

Social Media

We have launched a Facebook page to share our project and its progress with our community and to share ideas with neighboring communities, encouraging participation of students, their families and community members. Still to come: Instagram and Twitter accounts for the Green School Project.


Meat-Free Mondays

Our students are participating in Meat-Free Mondays. Students are encouraged to bring meat-free lunches every Monday and to learn about the impact that the animal agriculture industry has on the environment. My fifth grade students have written persuasive essays to convince their peers to participate in this initiative and have shared them on our project’s Facebook page. Students who come to school with meat-free lunches enter into a draw to win reusable water bottles and reusable lunch containers.

One-Sided Notebooks

We have decided to make one-sided notebooks (notebooks made from paper that was used only on one side of the page) to do some fundraising for our school. To launch this part of the project, students throughout the school were asked to draw pictures that could be used as covers for the notebooks we would sell.

We wrapped up the drawing contest and are now in the process of collecting one-sided paper from around the school and the community to assemble the notebooks in order to begin selling them during the week of Earth Day


Memes and Signage

Students in my fifth grade class were asked to create memes and signs to promote our green school project and eco-literate thinking. These images will be displayed throughout the school and will also remind students to use less water, to turn off lights when they are not needed and to recycle various wrappings and containers from their lunches rather than throwing them into the trash.




The Green Team

The Green Team is a group of students from 4th to 6th grade who are implementing green project ideas in the school. We meet on a weekly basis and create posters, write some Kid-Friendly Meat Free recipe reviews to share with the school community and are doing some of the manual labor involved in implementing the Meat-Free Mondays contest.File_000

Coming Soon:

Although we have a couple of green micro-projects underway, there are several more in planning, as well as bigger projects that will help to improve the learning environments of students.

These include:

Earth Week/Month

Depending on the group and the level, students will be learning all about eco-literacy, global citizenship and eco-responsibility. Students in first grade will be using my Every Day is Earth Day pack to teach their students about what they can do to help protect the Earth. We still have a lot of discussing and planning for the month of April but we have a lot of ideas in the works that I will be very excited to share.


Litterbugs will be students who will be collecting trash and cleaning it up from the ground during recess time. They will also be walking around with trash collection bags or baskets to encourage their peers to dispose of their garbage appropriately. They will help me choose students who should receive brag tags for being so litter-responsible.

Waste-Free Wednesdays

As with Meat-Free Mondays, students will be encouraged to bring their lunches and snacks in reusable containers, rather than in disposable ones. Students who participate in this challenge will be entered into a draw to win various prizes, which are still to be determined.

Increasing the Amount of Daylight in the Classroom

Studies show that there is a faster progression in math and in reading and an increase in overall performance in schools with good daylighting. In order to increase the amount of daylight the students have access to in the classroom, we will be painting the walls white, in order to improve the reflection of natural daylight into the classroom. We are also going to be changing the storage units and have closed, white shelving, to continue to increase the reflection of natural light. The added benefit of this type of storage is that it will also help to reduce the amount of dust that accumulates in the classroom, thus improving air quality.

In addition to the physical changes to the classroom, we will also be installing sensors that detect the amount of daylight that comes into the classroom to try to keep the light intensity consistent and maximize the use of daylight.

For more information of the positive effects daylight has on learning, click here


We are working on obtaining or building compost bins that we will keep in the school yard. Students from the Green Team will be responsible for the daily collection of compost and of disposing of it in our compost bins.

In the near future, when we will begin having sufficient amounts of compost, we plan on selling bags of compost to community members for fundraising and to increase community awareness and involvement in the project.


Stay tuned to learn more about the green project and the curriculum being implemented throughout the school.

Blog signature

Differentiated seating, public speaking and a caring classroom atmosphere



I am officially on spring break. This means that in between working on my report cards and taking care of my family, I finally have time to sit down and do some blogging! I am going to take advantage of this time to finally fill you in on something I did last fall.

Here, in the province of Quebec, we are fortunate to choose our professional development. We are also fortunate to have a budget allocated specifically for that purpose. This year, in addition to going to workshops and conferences, I have decided to use some professional development money to be released from my classroom and visit other teachers and role models in action, in their own classrooms.

The first teacher I visited is Sandy Malone, a fourth grade teacher in an elementary school from my school board. Sandy and I met at the LCEEQ conference about teaching math last summer, which I blogged about here. At this conference, things just clicked between Sandy and I. We got each other’s sense of humor and I realized that I could learn a lot from this experienced teacher, who is not only friendly and open, but whom also shares my values and my teaching philosophies. I set up a classroom visit and had the opportunity to go learn from Sandy last November.

While I was there, the first thing I noticed was how caring Sandy is. The students in her classroom are comfortable and at ease. Sandy and her students laugh and enjoy each other’s company. The students all seem happy to be in the classroom and learning with her. Sandy doesn’t tell the students how to complete math problems or how to write, she guides them. She facilitates their learning. A factor that I believe contributes to the comfortable atmosphere is that students varying needs are being met.

Sandy is open to differentiated seating arrangements. She has a student who is on the autism spectrum who has a pedaling machine under his desk, allowing him to discretely release nervous energy. She has various graphics and visual reminders on students’ desks to help them sequence, to help them remember letter sounds and the direction of letters. The students do not seem to blink at the differences from one desk to another. Sandy has created an atmosphere of understanding and patience, rather than one of questioning, jealousy and judgement.


Visual reminders




Under desk elliptical


Lastly, what stood out to me was how Sandy has a daily Discovery Quest presenter. She has scheduled short presentations by students on a monthly topic. Students are expected to prepare what they will say and to present their thoughts in a sequential and logical way, in a manner that will catch and keep their audience’s attention. Students in Sandy’s class are building confidence in their ability to speak publicly.

After seeing Sandy’s students present their DQs, I then learned about a teacher in another school who was also assigning Discovery Quest presentations to his students. Since learning about Discovery Quests, I have begun implementing the lessons and activities in my own classroom. I spent the winter break working on organizing myself and making the process of assigning and evaluation Discovery Quests as simple and painless as possible.

Subscribe to my newsletter by clicking here to be notified as soon as my Discover Quest product becomes available in my store. (You will be notified of a 50% discount the first 48 hours after a new product is added to my store.)



DQ Save the date in agenda


Below, you will see a short video of one of my fifth grade students, Alexia, doing her second DQ. (Shared with her mother’s permission).


Keep learning from each other and if you are fortunate to have the same school calendar as I do, have a great spring break!

Blog signature

Periscope Professional Development

Periscope PD in your Pyjamas

Unless you’ve been living in a submarine for the last year, you know that when people talk about seeing something on Periscope, they are not referring to the scope marines use to see what is happening above water.

Periscope is a free app that is linked to Twitter, which allows people to stream live footage with their smartphones and tablets (iPads, etc.). Viewers and followers can see what the person who is scoping sees. Basically, as their slogan says, “Periscope lets you explore the world through the eyes of somebody else.” With Periscope, you can watch live as people explore different cities, you can watch current events unfold from the other end of the world and you can chat with a mom who is hiding in her bathroom to have a minute to share a thought with some viewers as her children pound on the door repeatedly asking “What are you doing mommy?”

Periscope is also the source for a lot of free Teacher PD. Many teachers share their expertise on Periscope. There are teachers who scope with tips for special education, literacy instruction, math instruction, staying positive in the classroom, getting and staying organized, classroom management, and the list goes on. The best part about using this app for Teacher PD is that you can ask the scoper (the person streaming on Periscope) questions as they share. Followers and viewers can type questions into the text box and get an immediate response to their questions and comments.

What are my top 3 reasons for loving Periscope?

  • Periscope gives you direct access to very knowledgeable and enthusiastic teachers.

I have learned so much since joining the Periscope community last fall. Every year I go to different PD sessions which cost hundreds of dollars to improve my teaching strategies, classroom management skills and to find different ways of engaging and motivating my students. Since I started following different teachers on Periscope I have had the chance to peek into other teachers’ classrooms, find out what is working in different situations and to ask questions about what they are doing.

Through Periscope I have also come to know other teachers quite well. I have built a network and have begun to collaborate with teachers from around the world.

  • Periscope allows teachers to use their voices.

I went to a conference last week about embracing diversity and supporting equity. The keynote speaker, Dr. Russell Quiglia, and his colleague Dr. Lisa Lande discussed engagement and the importance of having aspirations.

Learn more about Dr. Quiglia and the Quiglia Institute for Student Aspirations here.

Learn more Dr. Lisa Lande’s and Teacher Voice and Aspirations by clicking here.

Dr. Lande stressed the importance of the use of Teacher Voice in her session. Her studies showed that “teachers who are comfortable expressing their honest opinions and concerns are 4 times more likely to be excited about their future career in education.” She also shared that “they are also 3 times more likely to encourage students to be leaders and make decisions”. (Quaglia Institute for School Voice and Aspirations).

I am not always comfortable sharing my ideas and thoughts in the school setting. I believe this is the case for many teachers. Unfortunately, the school climate isn’t always ideal for sharing and communication of honest opinions and concerns. However, I have found that Periscope has been a great outlet for me. I am able to share my ideas, my passions and enthusiasm for projects I’m working on with a community of like-minded people, who don’t necessarily agree with everything we all say and share, but that is supportive and encouraging nonetheless.

  • Periscope makes me more purposeful in my teaching and serves as a reflection journal.

When I was in university, my practicum supervisor made me write about what I did every day and reflect on how effective my lessons were, how engaged the students were and on how to improve my lessons for the next time. Periscope allows me to do this too. Knowing that I will be scoping about what I am doing in the classroom, I have to plan what I’m going to share. I have to get to the point, decide on what worked well to share those strategies with my followers. On the flip side, I have also scoped about an activity that didn’t work and asked for advice and opinions from my followers and viewers. Whether I am sharing the good or the bad, I am sharing what I learned and I am continuing to grow.

Who should you follow for Teacher PD on Periscope?

  • General PD:

@iteachtvnetwork: This account is used by many teachers who are each specialized in different areas of education. These nightly scopes are short and sweet and provide concrete tips and strategies to improve your teaching.

  • Teaching with Technology:

@teachingwithappitude: Kami Butterfield, the person behind this handle, shares different apps that can be used in the classroom to help with instruction. She is a warm, funny and entertaining scoper.

@msidealistic: Ashley Windsor is very knowledgeable about anything internet and web based student learning. She also knows a lot about design and making things visually appealing.

  • Teacher Well-Being:

@amyadapts: Amy Harris shares strategies that she uses for teaching her special education students, from alternative seating to different ways of using washi tape to help organize students. As an added bonus, Amy is also all about wellbeing. She shares nutrition and exercise tips and encourages teachers to take care of themselves.

  • Literacy:

@hellojenjones. Jen Jones is a literacy expert. She has great ideas and suggestions to help our students become better readers and writers.

@amandawritenow, Amanda Werner’s specialty is writing. She has great ideas about activities to teach writing, with the help of Google apps.

  • Math:

@MrsAOlson: Angie has her masters in teaching math and scopes about teaching math strategies.

  • STEM and Gifted and Talented Students:

@BrookeBrown Brooke has amazing learning center ideas and great STEM activity ideas to share.

  • Green Ideas:

@chantalteacher: That’s me! I scope about all kinds of topics, from teaching math, to language arts, art, classroom management and organization, but my favorite topic to scope about are ways to go green and to help our students become more environmentally conscious, eco-literate and to help them become global citizens.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I am fortunate to say that I have gotten to know most of these scopers personally, because they are so approachable, easy to talk to and open to helping teachers become better teachers.

So don’t wait! Follow these people and start sharing your own thoughts, ideas and knowledge. Use your teacher voices!!


If you want to catch up on some scopes that I have done, you can find me at https://katch.me/chantalteacher.



5 Key Points: Math Beyond the Common Core

Last summer I attended a conference given by the LCEEQ about teaching math. Sounds tempting, doesn’t it? A two day conference in the middle of the summer about teaching math? Fortunately, the LCEEQ made it easy to decide to attend this conference. It took place in Manoir St-Sauveur, a luxury hotel in the middle of one of Quebec’s favorite ski villages.

While I was at the conference, I got to know some of the most motivated teachers in the province, who were willing to give up a part of their summer vacation to become better teachers. I also made some new friends that I can contact when I have questions about anything teaching related. Lastly, I became a member of a PDIG group that was created as a result of this conference.

During the conference, we were fortunate to learn from the authors of “Beyond the Common Core: A Handbook for Mathematics in a PLC at Work, Grades K-5”, Juli Dixon, Thomasina Lott Adams and Edward Nolan. They led group discussions and taught us different strategies for teaching math effectively. Not only did they know what they were talking about, they provided examples and taught us the way they encourage us to teach math to our students.

Beyond the common core pic

Here are the five key points that they emphasize during the conference:

1. Students should provide strategies rather than learning them from teachers.

Teachers should provide problems to students, but students should come up with their own strategies to solve them. They need to tap into their prior knowledge and use their classmates’ thoughts and thinking as a sounding board to develop a better understanding of a problem in order to be able to solve it. Solutions and strategies that students come up with will be more effective for them and students are more likely to retain them.

2. Teachers can provide strategies “as if” from students.

Wait a minute. What?

Are they encouraging us to LIE to our students?


If your students are having trouble figuring out how to solve a problem or to develop strategies, teachers can provide hints as though they had overheard it from a student. Students are more likely to pay attention and retain the information if it comes from a peer! And if another student doesn’t come up with a strategy on their own, it is okay to pretend and to lead students in the right direction, without necessarily providing answers to them.

3. Students should create context to make problems more accessible.

In the following video, Juli Dixon asks the students to solve a problem. She provides a task to the students and then asks them to work together to come up with a solution. She asks guiding questions, such as:

  • What are you working on?
  • What do you think?
  • What do you mean?
  • Who can come up with an explanation as to why…?

She then proceeds to ask the students to see the problem beyond the rules, to create problems to represent the task at hand. This makes the problem more accessible and easier for students to visualize in order to find the solution.

The example in this video is completed with older students, but it works the same way with little ones.

Video of Juli Dixon

4. Students do the sense making.

Students should provide the logic and information in order to be able to solve the task at hand. Everything needs to come from the students and students should build on each other’s understand. They should paraphrase each other’s explanations. This could be done by asking questions such as:

  • What did he/she mean by that?
  • Can you explain what he/she just did?
  • Students talk to students.

5. Have students teach each other their strategies and share their contexts.

It always seems simpler when explained by a peer than a teacher. Besides, what do grown-ups really know anyway? 🙂


As a result of this conference, my PDIG group members and I are working to find examples of context that can be used when teaching math to our students, to make math more relatable and accessible. We are visiting each other’s schools to observe each other implementing the strategies we’ve learning in order to improve our teaching methods.

This summer I will be attending the follow-up LCEEQ conference to the conference I attended last summer. The same brilliant presenters will be there, guiding us to improved math instruction. I am looking forward to it!


Using videos to empower students in the classroom

Hi all! Happy New Year!

This is just going to be a super quick post about a scope I did last weekend. (You can catch that by clicking on the My Scopes tab in the above menu).

As a teacher, I think my primary role is to help students reach their fullest potential. However, I feel that students mostly underestimate themselves or think that because they are kids, they don’t have much power to control the world around them.

Fortunately, there are some resources to help us empower our students, and we can use them in the classroom in ways to compliment learning of various ELA, Social Studies, Art and Ethics and Religious Culture concepts that have to be covered throughout the school year.

Here is a list of my top 3 videos to use with students in the classroom:

1) Rule the World- Walk Off the Earth

This video is perfect for learning about structures and features, author’s purpose and for discussing figurative language.

2) Kid President’s Pep Talk to Teachers and Students

This video can be used in teaching about purpose, structures and features, summarizing, main idea and detail.

3) Anything (clean version)- Hedley

Lyrics from this song can be analyzed, features, figurative language, vocabulary, rhyming and poetry, as well as many other concepts.

Although there are many academic related activities that can be done with these videos, the best part of these videos is seeing students walk around with more confidence and with their heads held high.

Let me know if you have or will use these videos with your students! What activities did you do?

Making connections: Learning math using concrete examples

Like in most classroom these days, in my classroom I have students of varying needs and abilities. This means that I need to plan my lessons and find ways to motivate and engage everyone, as well as reach the greatest number of students, in order to have the majority of my students understand the concepts being taught.
There are many ways of doing this, such as by playing games, by role playing and by providing manipulatives to students. By providing concrete examples, students are more likely to remember the lessons because they will have learned them through visual (eyes), auditory (ears) and kinesthetic (through motion or touch) experiences. Even if students don’t understand everything, they are more likely to get the gist of it and catch on during follow-up lessons and activities.
An example of an activity I did involving this type of learning was when my fourth grade class was learning about the Cartesian plane.
I started by using the tiles on my floor to create a gigantic Cartesian plane. I used circular stickers by Avery to mark the coordinates on the plane and Post-its to identify the vertical and horizontal axes.
We talked about maps and how we use them to find destinations.
We then compared the Cartesian plane to a Battleship board game, where players must sink battleships that are on hidden coordinates. We looked at how the vertical axis on a Cartesian plane is identified with numbers rather than letters. We discussed how in the Cartesian plane there are zeros, while in Battleship there aren’t any.
We then moved on to talk about another difference between Battleship and Cartesian planes. When we give coordinates in Battleship, it doesn’t matter which order you say the letter or number in, because there is only one row or column labelled C, for example, and one column or row labelled 2. However, the Cartesian plane can be tricky because you need to know the order in which to read the ordered pair describing coordinates.
I needed to provide visual cues and reminders to my students. I used some Scholastic book display boards and stuck some signs onto them to make them visible to all students.


The next step was to provide ordered pairs on construction paper strips to my students, so that they could work with partners and figure out where to plot their points.
Once their points were plotted, we checked with the entire group to see if they were plotted correctly. We discussed which were correct and why, and figured out why the incorrectly plotted points were in the wrong position and made adjustments to plot them correctly.
I made sure that every students had a turn plotting points on the Cartesian plane before trying to translate what they’d learned to apply it to a 2-dimensional example within their workbooks. More than 90% of my students were able to complete the tasks on their own, without further explanation, because we has explored Cartesian planes in a concrete, hands-on way, while making connections to their prior experiences.
If you have used similar means to teach math concepts with your students, please share them in the comment section below, or on my Facebook page, by clicking here.
Until my next blog post, don’t forget to be the change.


Journal writing with a purpose

I absolutely love doing journal writing with my students.
I do journal writing for several reasons.
The first is because my students and I get to know each other well and it helps us build a relationship. Students can express their thoughts and opinions without being interrupted. They enjoy communicating directly with me and I enjoy responding to them.
The second reason I love journal writing with students is because journals provide insight to me about what students need to learn, either having to do with grammar, spelling, sentence structure, content organization or other language arts related concepts. I know from their journals what to base my next writing lessons on.
The third reason I like journal writing is because I can see students’ progress as I flip through the pages of their books. I can see how well they apply my lessons into their writing. I get a good sense if students have assimilated the information from my lessons properly or if we need additional practice.
A student’s journal from my fifth grade class
When I do journal writing with students, these are the guidelines I like to follow:
1 1)   Have several topics for students to choose from.
I want for my students to have a lot to write. When I choose topics, I think it is important to spark the desire to express themselves and share their thoughts, their opinions or everything they know about a topic. When I provide only one choice, I cannot be certain to inspire a student to write about a topic. It is better to provide options.
Topics in all grades should be open ended questions. With younger students, they can be expected to respond to journal prompts with complete sentences. With older students like those whom I currently teach, I expect them to provide explanations, justifications and details in their writing.
Examples of prompts for journal writing could be:
What can you, a fourth grader, do to make the world a better place?
Why do you think someone would steal a book from class?
Why should you be allowed to take the class pet home?
Explain why winter could be someone’s favorite season.
   2)   Make expectations clear.
My students know that when I will be reading their journals, I will be checking their work for correct use of grammar concepts that we’ve learned, such as possessives and correct use of apostrophes. They know that I expect students to skip lines to make it easier to read their work and to edit and revise it. Students know that I expect them to provide explanations and details in their writing. Students know that I expect them to check their work.
   3)   Make time for students to share their journals with their classmates.
Journal sharing has many benefits. However, I feel that it is important to agree on guidelines and expectations about respect before the first journal is shared in the classroom.
Knowing that students might be asked to share their work with their classmates motivates them to be more careful when checking their work. They are more likely to catch mistakes before reading their work aloud. Also, when students read their work out loud, I find that they are more likely to catch their own mistakes and make the appropriate corrections to their work.
In my class, when it is time to share our journals, we sit in a circle to be able to face one another.
When students share their work and hear each other’s comments, they are all more likely to try to make the same improvements to their journals the next time they write.
When students listen to their peers share their journals in class, they are asked to:
        Think of something positive the writer did, such as the way they used a certain adjectives to describe something.
        Share constructive criticism on how the writer can improve to their work. For example, a classmate could suggest a synonym for a word that was repeated often in the journal entry.
    When students share their work and hear each other’s comments, they are all more likely to try to make the same improvements to their journals the next time they write.
    4)   Respond to your students’ work appropriately.
     If I want students to feel comfortable pouring their thoughts and hearts out onto their paper, I do not correct their work.
     I’ve learned that if students find their work covered in ink when it is returned to them, they are less likely to take risks and to write all of their thoughts. They are more likely to stick to writing what they are sure they can spell correctly and to topics that are familiar with.  
     Instead, I choose the most repeated or important mistake from their writing and model the correct spelling or use of grammar so that they can then go back and make the corrections themselves.  I use the information acquired from the journal entry to direct my next lessons.

The words two, chicken and vegetables were misspelled.
I made sure to include these words in my response to my student.
   5)   Expect students to make improvements to their work.
     I expect my students to go back and check their work. If I have completed a grammar lesson about the proper use of possessives, then I will expect my students to go back and check their work. 
     If there were some recommendations made by a classmate to improve a journal entry, I expect all of my students to go back and see if they could make the same adjustments to improve their writing. 
     I also expect my students to read my comments and check their work if they noticed the correct spelling I may have used for a word they had misspelled in their text. 
Note the editing in the journal entry, with inserts and eraser marks, from peer review and noticing ways that the text could be improved and clarified.
    Please share in the comment section below, what you like or dislike about journal writing with students and the ways you use journals to teach your students about writing. 

Engaging students with the Plickers app


For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Plickers, it is an app that allows teachers to project multiple choice questions on their Smartboards through a live feed and for students to answer the questions them by holding up their Plickers card, a QR code card, upright in the position that represents their answers for their teachers to scan with the app on an iPhone or iPad.
Are you confused?
That’s okay.
Here’s what a Plickers card looks like.
In my class, I have written each student’s name on their cards and have had my students color code the possible responses.
In order to prevent students from losing their cards, I have made simple tuck in pockets inside students’ desks to ensure that the cards all have a safe place to land. I just took a strip of construction paper and taped in on three sides to slide the Plickers cards into.
When I start using Plickers with a new group of students, I initiate them by asking general questions, such as “What is your favorite colors? Favorite seasons? Favorite school subject?”, etc.
I project the questions and the possible answers on the Smartboard for all students to see, with the Live Feed view. For the purpose of the exercise, I choose the option to display student names and their responses on the screen. Students practice holding up their cards and holding them in the right direction.
With the teacher’s device (my iPad or iPhone), I could see which cards had been scanned, as well as the answers they provided.
Meanwhile, on the Live Feed screen on the Smartboard, students can verify if their card has been scanned properly and if the response matches what they intended to display.
Now that students are familiar with Plickers, I use it to have students inform me of their Daily 5 choices, to do anonymous (to students) class surveys about the amount of time they studied for a test and I can quiz my students on any topic or concept that I choose to get immediate feedback of their understanding.
Plickers keeps a log (archive) of answers that were provided so I can check the answers in the future for reporting purposes.
I can also keep different folders for different groups containing different questions. It is really simple and quick to use.


Students love using Plickers. They like that everyone has a voice and can share their opinions and their answers with the group.
Plickers also provides an anonymous way of providing answers and prevents students from influencing each other’s responses (no more students looking around the classroom to see who has their hand up before deciding whether or not to raise his or her hand up as well).
I especially like that now I can be spontaneous in asking student questions because they are organized and always have their Plickers cards handy!
Try using Plickers if you haven’t yet and let me know what you think in the comment section below.