Middle School Hosted Math Fair 2017

To celebrate 2017 and a brand new year of learning, the middle school math students designed versions of their in-class math activities for the youngest students at DESK.

To prepare for their first ever Math Fair, the Middle School made connections between what a child ages 3 to 6 might be learning and the following middle school concepts:

  • Ratios and Proportionality
  • Operations (Addition, Subtraction, Multiplication, Division) with Variables
  • Geometry

The kids played happily until they had to back to their classrooms to get ready to go home. The middle school students enjoyed the enthusiastic reception to their self-designed math games and activities. Community events like this one help the children at DESK bond through action and learning. We at the Middle School look forward to hosting more subject-specific events in the future!


The middle school students were able to conceptualize, design, create and execute their math games effectively within a short time frame. Each child received 10 Doneillies (Mr. O’Neill’s Money) to play at the various booths.

Combining Tech to Adapt Down

Teaching technology skills to the early grades can seem intimidating. The research is out, but it’s inconclusive as to what is “appropriate” for different age levels.

I approach technology differently (and you can too!). Tech should be a means to an end, not the goal itself. After all, most of us learn how to use technology because we want to do something, not “just because”.

One classic limitation we hit in the early grades is literacy. What can you do with students that have variable reading and writing skills? What about your ESL students?

For their units exploring world cultures, Grade 2 teacher Miss D’Amours and I developed a student-centered website combining Weebly, Symbaloo, Youtube and the Google Cultural Institute.

What we created connected students to museums around the world and gave them a platform to show their learning!

To start, the kids and I created their Weebly for their class together. This means, I had the editor open and projected onto their whiteboard. We voted on the name of the website, the layout and header design–a process that gave the students a sense of ownership.



The students already had some experience with Symbaloo (thanks to the work of Miss D’Amours), and we love it because it allows students to connect safely (no related videos to click) to Youtube and other media resources. For this unit, we added videos, simulations and custom-made galleries made using the Google Cultural Institute (each filled with art from a designated country). Click below to check out our Symbaloo below!

Screen Shot 2016-02-07 at 2.44.00 PM

After discussing what we were going to be looking for in the galleries (colors, shapes, materials, subjects), we released the children to explore their galleries and tell us what they were finding. Many of the children are of mixed race and/or cultures and were delighted to find authentic art works from their countries.

After a couple of sessions using just the Symbaloo and having kids write down their ideas on bubble organizer type worksheets, we decided to try integrating a Padlet as a Wonder Wall for the students to add their ideas and discoveries.

Here is an example of the Padlet the students used in their classes. The best part of Padlet is that it doesn’t require a login and anyone can add notes to it.  Go ahead! Play around! Leave me a comment.

Padlet was the perfect next step in sharing information. The students were motivated to write and show their learning because they could see what they and their friends were writing in real time! In the following weeks, some students even accessed the website from home with their parents and left comments to show off in class.

In my practice, I aim to make technology seamlessly integrated into the students learning journeys, but that doesn’t always happen. Experiments can succeed or fail. Luckily, this project really took off. It is a testament to the potential of team teaching and open-minded, future forward thinking.

Science Inquiry for Early Years

Each Monday at my new school, I have an hour long lesson with a class of 3-4 year olds, many of whom are English Language Learners (ELL). All of my lessons are centred around science inquiry. One may wonder if inquiry is even possible with a group of children this young, but, so far, I have been impressed with what my students can handle. Last week, we looked at materials and tried to discover which Japanese coin cut through ice the fastest. The kids enjoyed trying to melt holes through their own blocks of ice with various coins. I asked the kids to make predictions, and, once we all had a chance to test out every coin, I had the kids vote on which coin they thought cut best through ice.

This week, I have started a seedling project with the kids. My goal for this week was for them to practice making inferences and predictions from observable information. We are practicing being IB  Thinkers and Inquirers. To scaffold, I showed the kids the unopened seed packet filled with runner beans and explained to them that I had a surprise. I told them that I wanted them to take one object from the bag and look at it in their hands. Once everyone had a bean and had had some time to look at it, I asked them what they knew about the object by looking and touching.  The kids had a lot of great descriptive words, including colors and textures. Then, I asked if anyone knew what the object was. Lucky for me, some of the kids are already budding gardeners, and they saw immediately that the seed was a “bean” or “tane”. Together, we brainstormed about what seeds need to grow and checked our understanding by learning this song about planting. Once we all agreed that plants need water and sunlight, I introduced the activity:

“Today we are going to plant our beans…but we are not going to go outside!”

Understandably, the kids were shocked. I asked them to think about how I could plant seeds inside, and, to help them, I showed them the activity materials: a paper towel, a plastic bag, tape, and water. The kids tried their best but couldn’t quite figure out how we were going to plant our seeds. From there, I did a guided inquiry, which means I demonstrated how to dip the paper towel in water, wrap it around the bean, and place it in the plastic bag, while asking the kids why I was doing each step. They were able to guess why the paper towel had to be wet. They were also able to guess why we were going to tape the bags to a window (for sunlight). Lastly, I asked the students the big prediction question:

“How many days do you think it will take for the seed to sprout?”

I had the students write their number on their bag. Because they are learning their numbers 1-10, most of the predictions fell in that range. Every day I see students checking their seeds. Some of them swaddled their seeds like babies, and some folded their seeds in neatly. Some had lots of water, and some have none at all. We are excited to see which seeds sprout first!

Lesson materials:

  • Beans/seeds
  • Quart sized plastic bags
  • Permanent markers
  • Paper towels
  • Water

International-Mindedness and the IB Primary Years Programme

I am in my last week of the online Making the PYP Happen course. It has been a fantastic reflective experience and opportunity to see International Baccalaureate teaching from other perspectives.

One of the major qualities that the IB programme wants to nurture in its students is international-mindedness, but, for many, the term “international-mindedness”. For one of my final assignments, I made this video connecting international-mindedness to the IB Primary Years Programme (PYP).

I used Powtoon (again), but this time I made the video from scratch instead of using a template.

Enjoy! Let me know what you think! Was it easy to understand? Did I leave out any important context?


Using the G.R.A.S.P. Assessment Model

My task for today is to use the G.R.A.S.P. model of assessment and develop a summative assessment for a  lesson that I critiqued earlier in this course.

My challenge here is that the G.R.A.S.P. model involves a lot of student-directed planning and involvement, and, at the ages 3-4, the ability of students to plan is greatly limited by development. Children at these ages are not yet familiar with typical forms of summative assessment (final tests/projects, papers, recitals, etc.), but pretend play can be a useful tool in the classroom and in assessment.

For this activity I will plan a summative G.R.A.S.P. assessment plan for  this unit of inquiry:

How we organize ourselves

People play different roles in the communities to which they belong.

Key concepts: form, function, responsibility

Related concepts: community, rules, interaction

Lines of inquiry:

Various communities we belong to
Roles of people who are part of our communities
How communities are organized



Assuming that the students will be studying the form and function of various jobs that people can have, I decided that the best way to check the student’s cumulative understanding is to have a group pretend play event where students play various job roles.

To run this assessment, I would include the parents–I would encourage parents to help their students plan an appropriate costume/prop and come see the final “presentations”.


  • The students will pretend play various jobs that have important roles within a community.


  • You are a policeman/fire fighter/doctor/chef/post office worker/[community job role]


  • The target audience is a class of 3-4 year olds and parents.


  • You need to show what your job is (form), what you do to help the community (responsibility), how you do your job (function), where you work.

Product/Performance and Purpose

  • You need to make a costume, prop, or drawing to show what your job is.

Standards & Criteria

  • You should be able to describe your job duties, including how you help others, and where you work.
  • Your costume/prop/drawing should help you explain your situation and  have a clear purpose related to your job role.

VIDEO: 6 Things to Know about IB Assessment

This video was created for an online IB (International Baccalaureate) professional development course, Making the PYP Happen in the Classroom. The assignment was to create a presentation for parents who are not familiar with the IB PYP methods of assessment.

This was my first time using Powtoon to make a video. It took me about 3 hours to make (including planning what to write in the video itself). I feel crazy accomplished right now.

I’m also happy to find a service like Powtoon that is available and free (to a certain extent). It took a little while for me to figure out, but I would definitely use it to create informational videos in the future. I feel like videos are better suited as supplemental material rather than the main attraction. If I was doing an actual presentation to parents, I would run a PowerPoint and then send them home to watch this.


Mind Map: Assessment

The first part of this activity asked us to create a Mind Map for Assessment. Then, we were to read about the International Baccalaureate’s Assessment Philosophy and add new information to our Mind Map. Then, because this is professional development, I was asked to reflect on my thinking and learning.


Personal reflection

One of my worries about working at an IB School is that from the outside, the whole school curriculum can seem vague and alien to an inexperienced teacher (me, specifically). As I am going through this course, I am realizing that the building blocks that make up the IB programme are the same ones that I have based my own teaching philosophy all along–constructivism, social responsibility, inquiry, backwards design, etc.

I learned that I have an inherent bias in my choice of assessment tools. In the past I have used rubrics and checklists built into textbooks or set programs, but I can see that I vastly prefer exemplars, continuums, and anecdotal records in my assessments. I also tend to value anecdotal records and continuums over tests. This may be due to the fact that I started teaching in special education classrooms and, by nature, the IEPs I dealt with as my summative assessment guidelines were based much more on anecdotal evidence than traditional testing. It could also be due to the fact that in the Pre-K to 2nd grade level, student’s test-taking abilities are still developing, so teaching test taking strategies and processes are actually part of the learning goals. I need to check my practice of assessment to ensure I have a balanced approach.

I’m loving the Mind Map exercises at the beginning of the learning modules in this course because one of my goals in taking this course was to dust off my teaching strategies and remind myself why I have certain classroom philosophies.

This exercise asked us to make a Mind Map of our thoughts about Assessment. Please click to go to the active version of the map at Mind Meister.

This exercise asked us to make a Mind Map of our thoughts about Assessment. Please click to go to the active version of the map at Mind Meister.


Assessment-_I_tend_to_think_of_assessment_in_terms_ (2)

Please click to go to the active version of the map at Mind Meister. The 2nd draft edits are written in red.