YouTube Collab & Innovations in the Classroom

My favorite, classroom innovations mostly come from day-to-day interactions in my classroom.

Whiteboard Desks

The whiteboard desks were a result of me needing to do something with large strips of whiteboard surfacing that I had ordered incorrectly.

I covered half of each of my tables to give the students equal whiteboard and computer/paper space. Over the past months, we have tried the whiteboards in all kinds of arrangements. They have been a huge hit amongst the students for math work and collaboration, especially. Now the rest of the middle school teachers have them, and they will be moved to the primary school next year.

Youtube Collab

At the beginning of the year, I decided to sort my students’ science videos into two experiment playlists. There I published ongoing experiments from their units. It is an easy way for me to organize our videos all together. When they reflect on their units, the videos are all ready for them.

A month ago, two of my sixth graders started their own official Youtube Channel, Teenagers Life. Since then they have spent the past weeks showering the adults around them with their videos. As a result of their aggressive campaigning, I am subscribed to them on all three of my active gmail accounts. Kids today know all about the importance of subscribers. They also know about the signal-boosting power of Youtube Collabs.

When the Grade 6 started their Mission to Mars unit, by contacting Alexandria De Wolfe at University of Colorado Boulder via Youtube video, I could see that the kids were pumped about recording their project progress on video. As we pursue our study of the Red Planet, we have been building a physical model simulating Mars’ surface and assembling a rover to test out.


Click here to see the Mission to Mars Playlist!

Early on, the two boys offered to take over filming and editing the reflection videos. To me, this is a productive use of their time. It makes them consider why we are doing these various experiments and really show off what they know for their audience. It fulfills the standards set by the IB MYP programme, while being engaging and relevant to the learning.

I have always encouraged students to develop meaningful creative projects to demonstrate their learning, and collaborating on Youtube serves this purpose. Their production value is way ahead of my own, and they are constantly finding new ways of explain the what, why and how of our projects.



Moving right into the spring term, the Grade 6’s started off strong with their experiential study of the human management of resources. We began with a provocation to ignite curiosity and provide inspiration for inquiry.

Originally an economic theory, the Tragedy of the Commons refers to the phenomena that occurs with shared resource systems–people acting alone will tend to act in their own interest and against the common good.

To bring this to life for the learners, we played “Tragedy of the Commons.” This is a game where players manage a pile of tokens (resources) in the center of a table. A collection of 5 tokens can be traded for a treat. In the original version of the game, there was only one rule: Any tokens left in the center after one round is doubled. Each round lasts 10 seconds.

The first game lasted one round, with a few kids managing to snatch the majority of tokens to the chagrin of the class. The second game sparked a dialogue between students about how to better manage the tokens in the center; some learners wanted to let the pile double over a few rounds and then evenly divide resources among the students. Despite initiative to act in a way that suited the greater good, game after game ended with a few token-rich snatchers and some unfortunate token-poor players.
As the Grade 6 kids grew more frustrated with the gameplay, they tried a game without the aggressive Grade 7 students. In a smaller group, the students made and held agreements about letting the tokens increase over time. At the end, though, it was still every person for themselves.
To give the learners experience creating management policies, we suggested they devise their own rules for another version of Tragedy of the Commons.

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.

Provocation: The Egg Drop

The egg drop is a well-known physical science experiment used to help students apply their knowledge about physics, materials and crash science. Often it is used midway or last in the sequence of learning as an opportunity for practice.

But what if it was the first activity of a unit, not the last?

Our first Design & Technology unit introduces the Design Cycle and its processes to Middle School students (see below).


Image taken from IBO website.

To activate prior knowledge and provoke next-level inquiry, I had the students in my class complete a timed design challenge. They knew what an egg drop is, but I wanted them to make connections to other concepts they have been studying; the 7th graders are starting a unit on gravitational forces.

Before introducing the materials and procedures, I showed video clips of Mars Rovers landings on the red planet. The kids were asked to consider the design elements that were used to help the Mars Rovers land safely.

After showing the recycled building materials and explaining the procedure, I let the students decide if they wanted planning time and gave them 10 minutes to plan and 25 minutes to design.

This group of kids are risk-takers and sometimes impulsive, but they felt pretty confident about their designs. The ones who planned, burned through the extra time drawing goofy cartoons and chatting.

Every single one of the machines failed. No eggs survived.

And I was glad.

Why do this?

Why set up my own students for failure?

  1. Reflective practice: Instead of dragging my students through explanations of good design, I want them to actively engage in the development process and understand why different processes in the design cycle are essential.
  2. Schema activation: Design is natural in any creative process, and many of us engage in it without being conscious of how we are doing it. Expecting 12-13 year olds to be able to verbalize steps in this process during the first week of school is like pulling teeth. Giving them a hands-on experience is one of the best ways to help them break a complex process into steps.
  3. Question inspiration: Inquiry-based units begin with creating questions. By a few months into the year, children are experts at this process, but the beginning of the year presents some challenges. This active, visual experiment provides the students with a common experience from which they can begin to create questions.

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

Getting in the Olympic Spirit!

Here are the hard copies of a lesson I created for my students about the Sochi Olympics at my academic Japanese high school. The lesson plan was as follows:

  1. Make a small introduction about the Olympics. I mentioned the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 and explained that the Winter Olympics this were in a place called Sochi.
  2. Read the Sochi Winter Games passage slowly. I told my students to listen only (no notes, no stress), so they could warm up their ears to the English.
  3. Play Dictionary Race. I handed out the Dictionary Race worksheets and the students and I practiced pronunciation of the new vocabulary with a round of “Repeat after me!”. I directed my students to make teams of 4-6 people and compete in Dictionary Race (basically they race to fill their worksheet out with the correct definitions to the new vocabulary).
  4. Pass out the Q & A worksheet. Read the questions and have the students repeat after you. Ask students if they understand the questions, and clarify meaning where necessary. Direct the students to take notes as you read the passage again.
  5. Read the Sochi Winter Games passage slowly. The team teacher will  check that students are taking notes.
  6. Pass out copies of the Sochi passage. Have students work in pairs or groups and answer the questions on the Q & A worksheet.
  7. Check answers. Haave students write answers for Q & A sheet on the board. Go over answers with students.
  8. Wrap-up. Encourage students to check out the Olympics and cheer for their athletes.

Click to download!

Click to download!

Click to download!


Photos taken from Google Images. Copyright infringment not intended. I do not claim ownership of the photos on the worksheets, only the written content.

That day I taught high school students about Venn Diagrams

Oh, Venn diagrams, you lovely things. I remember learning about you in elementary school.

Much like brainstorm webs, Venn diagrams are the visual learner’s best friend. What better way to make “Compare and Contrast” thinking palatable to young minds?

It might be surprising to learn that students in Japan have no idea what a Venn diagram is. It’s not part of their curricula, but, since Venn diagrams are so intuitive, they took to them like ducks to water.

I first tested this Venn Diagram lesson with students at my technical high school. Students who attend technical high schools are those studying Engineering, Architecture, Mechanics and Computer Science. In short, they are collectively some of the most visual students I have. They really seemed to get a kick out of the diagrams, and the surveys were a good opportunity to get everyone to actively participate and encourage expressive English usage. This lesson was a blast.

I used this Taking Surveys Lesson Plan for the Guide to Backward Design, but here is the worksheet for the main activity! Enjoy!

Click to Download!