Archive for January, 2015

Prison Break: The Game

Posted on January 27, 2015. Filed under: educational, games, Grade 1 & 2 |

I am excited about a little game I thought up today while planning for a guided reading lesson tomorrow. It’s called Prison Break. It’s nothing special, but it is a way the kids can practice their sight words/”jail” words.

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I made a simple little game board that had little obstacles that our prisoner had to accomplish before they were able to escape. (Many of my ideas came from the actual Fox show, Prison Break! Lol. If you haven’t seen it, you need to!)
In my class, we call words that don’t follow the English rules jail words, or “cage words.” I actually keep my words above my chair in an old bird cage.

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Tomorrow, the kids are going to be put into groups. Every group is going to make their own prison break game board with missions on it. Each group is also going to get a package of sight words. One chid will put sight words on the game board from what they think goes from easiest to hardest. The other members of the group have to read the word before they can move past that obstacle. The winner is the person, or group, that ends up free.

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I plan on laminating my board, and we can use it for math flash cards, or really anything!

Update: It worked! The kids are LOVING making their own board games. The nice thing is, it doesn’t really matter what they put down, because the real challenge will be reading the “cage words.”

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From Homelessness to Abandonment: Solving the World’s Problems 1 Blog Post at a Time

Posted on January 8, 2015. Filed under: cheerleading, Ed800 |

Watch this video first. This blog post is a response to the video for my Ed800 class. These were the…

Questions to ponder while watching videos

  • Are you surprised that these videos can be the outcome of “research”?

  • Which did you find touched you most?

  • What is your interest in research methods?

  • What do you fear most?

Seeing the interviews as research resonates with me more than “book/article research” because these are the types of human interactions that I am comfortable with. Talking with people and hearing their story is a way that everyone finds a place for “research” in their life. I truly believe the best part of the human experience is about connecting with people and finding a deeper moment when sharing one another’s lives. I really appreciate that these two videos were the first in our look at research.

There were two points that resonated with me in the first video.  The first one was when one of the men talked about not having a peace when he was walking the streets. My first reaction was critical.  My initial thought was that peace is a word that defines something spiritual, and that the word he was looking for was comfort; he did not have comfort when he was walking the streets.  Then, I was convicted that no, in fact his struggle with homelessness was/is spiritual. As I started to think about what it would be like to roam the streets, I imagined the distress and unsettling cloud that would follow him. To pathetically attempt to connect this to my own life, I will give you an example; I can’t watch the movie Groundhog’s Day because I feel unsettled that the movie keeps repeating itself over and over. Every damn morning, Bill Murray’s character’s alarm went off, and I hated that it felt like there was no progression or resolution happening. I actually stopped watching the movie because I was so frustrated. So let’s think about this… I am UNSETTLED over a movie about a character repeating his day over and over. My best understanding of what the homeless man from the podcast’s unsettled feeling is a COMPARISON to a movie about a holiday. My FIRST reaction was to judge the man’s spiritual outlook and critique his word choice of peace. My thoughts changed. I entirely believe that the man in the podcast did not feel peace when walking the streets, and his day to day reality is probably my worst Groundhog’s Day nightmare.

The second thing that resonated with me in the first video was when one of the people brought up the fact that the Food Bank rarely has fresh fruit.  This was yet another time where someone who is in the “other” category has brought something to my attention that hasn’t ever crossed my mind.  If you chose to interview me ANY day of my life from birth until today, and you asked me what struggles I was having, or what was one thing that sucked about my day, I guarantee you a lack of fresh fruit would have never made that list.  I struggle with my body image, and I honestly feel better on the days when I have fresh fruit for lunch or breakfast.  When I go a day without my banana, or if we don’t have any apples in the house, I start to feel a little gross about myself, and I make sure that even if it’s just a quick stop, I’m sure to pop by the grocery store so I can pick some up for the next day. What a powerful awakening it is to hear that something as routine as my banana and apple in my lunch can be a treasured commodity in the life of a man or woman who is homeless.

What do I fear most? After reading the question, I didn’t know if it was actually asking what my biggest deepest fears were, or if he was talking about my biggest research fear. My simple research fear is the academic nature of research. I have been out of the academic world for long enough that I start to get scared thinking about the journal articles and research papers.  If I am Little Red Riding Hood lost in the University of Regina forest, then journal articles and research papers are definitely my Big Bad Wolf.

BUT… I think the real question, “What do I fear most?” is actually way more fun to answer. (Yes, I have a twisted sense of fun.)  I would have to say the thing I most fear is abandonment. Deep. I know. I actually have no logical reason to fear being abandoned. I was never left at a gas station when I was little, and neither of my parents left or took off. All I know is that it is a real fear of mine.  Now that I know this, it is easier to spot in my life, and it has made for some funny after thoughts when I have come to the root of it. For example, one time I was making cheer posters in my kitchen. (I coach a couple cheerleading teams in the city.) My kind husband was helping me make the posters. I started freaking out at him because he was cutting something wrong, or placing the letters incorrectly or SOMETHING. Basically, I was having some type of irrational control freak moment. I was later talking through this situation with a friend who has some background in counselling, and she had me go to the root of my mini freak out to see where it was coming from.  Are you ready for your mind to be blown? Here we go.  This was my thought process that she helped me map out.

1) If he made a mistake on the posters, they would look crappy.

2) If the posters looked crappy while the children were performing, everyone would be looking at me sitting in front of the cheerleading mat.

3) If everyone was judging me because of the crappy posters,

(here she asked me how it would make me feel…)

4) I would feel alone and abandoned.

RIGHT? Crazy I know. Anyways, apparently abandonment is truly one of my biggest fears, even though I doubt my prof was really wanting to know THAT much about my life. But in the spirit of honesty and straight sharing too much information,

What’s YOUR biggest fear?

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Genius Year

Posted on January 4, 2015. Filed under: educational, Genius Hour, Grade 1 & 2, reflection, teaching and learning |

When I tried Genius Hour late last year, it literally changed my teaching life. Read about that story here. I was so amazed at the engagement, in depth learning, expertise and presentations from the 6 and 7 year olds in my classroom. I knew that I had to re-think how I was teaching so that I could incorporate Genius Hour all year, so I vowed to find a way to incorporate Genius Hour into the rest of my teaching. In the past, I have done inquiry projects where you start with the curriculum, show the kids what they need to learn, and then let them get there how they would like. It was ok, but it was never life changing. What makes Genius Hour GREAT, not GOOD, was that it was the students own passions, interests and choice. I didn’t direct it, I facilitated it. What was life changing for myself and the kids was the FREEDOM. Some kids were excited about those inquiry projects, but to be honest, those were the kids that would have been excited no matter what I did/how I taught.
I needed to somehow bring Genius Hour into the classroom without the curriculum. Sounds bad, I know… But hear me out.

I decided that I would cover the Health, Science, and Social curriculums quickly, and then give opportunity for a Health Genius Hour project, a Science Genius Hour project, a Social Genius Hour project and a “free” Genius Hour project. I didn’t know what this would look like exactly, but I knew I needed to try it. As I was talking this over with my mentor teacher, Jann Porritt, she suggested that instead of trying to fit all the different subject outcomes in throughout the year, why not cover one each term! I decided to go for it. This term, I worked on getting through the Grade 1/2 Health outcomes fast. I have scheduled my year in a way that there are 3 Genius Hour times throughout the week.

Weekly schedule

For the first month and a bit, I used all three of those hours to teach the year’s Health outcomes. We did booklets, activities, and worksheets. I graded things, and used those as the student’s Health mark. I wanted a hard copy of what we went through so if parents did ask when we covered this, I could show them the backup.
In early October, I officially started our Health Genius Hour. I have looped with some of my students from last year, so as soon as they heard me say Genius Hour, they were very excited! I can’t help but wonder if that student excitement naturally passed on to the other kids as well. I told them that it had to be a Health Genius Hour; whatever they wanted to learn about had to have something to do with health. We used the app Baiboard to brainstorm the kid’s ideas. We had an iPad for every three kids, and they each wrote 3 ideas that they were interested in. This worked ok. Some were better than others depending on the student’s tech skills, their writing skills, and their concepts. I did scribe for a couple kids as well. Ps: this is a shared document, so if the students pressed that little arrow on the right or left side, they could see in live time what their friends were writing, and get ideas if they needed.

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From there, I looked for themes in what the students wanted to know, and wrote those themes on big pieces of chart paper. I hung the paper around the room, and in true “EdCamp sign up style,” each child got 2 sticky notes. They wrote their names on them and wandered the room choosing the top two topics they were most interested in. I found that this was a good strategy, as there were lots of kids mulling about, and they actually did choose the topic they were interested in rather than just going to a group where their friends were. Once they had it narrowed down to 2, I let them sit on it for a day, and then the next day I made them narrow it down to one. (Side note: I have used the pyramid example in the past to choose their GH topic. I got that idea from Joy Kerr’s livebinder). Some topics had multiple kids in them, and others, just the one child.


This is a picture of days and minutes spinning by…

… Let’s fast forward to today, January 4th, 2015. (I started this original post earlier on in the term.)  Listen carefully…


I thought it was going to be so great! Well, it sucked. The Health Genius Hour sucked! I am going to try and give you 5 reasons why, so you don’t make the same mistakes I did!

1) LESS FREEDOM. Remember up there, when I was talking about how great GH is because of the freedom? Well, having a Health Genius Hour kind of took that away. Sure they still got to choose anything they wanted related to Health, but the same drive was JUST NOT THERE. The engagement was lacking, and the outcomes were not as brilliant. True Genius Hour needs to be 100% guided and chosen by the kids.

2) THE CONTENT. So you want to know what kids are interested in when it comes to Health? Well… they are interested in really hard medical stuff! Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that two of my student groups pretty much wanted to cure cancer, but it made it awfully hard for the little buggers to figure out what they were studying and eventually presenting on. Even though it was pretty fabulous that a pediatric oncologist decided to come and be that group’s expert, they still ended up telling all the other kids that white blood cells kill you, and cancer is contagious. #fail

3) THE CONTENT PART 2- Did I also mention that more than just the cancer group was giving inaccurate information? I’ve learned that Health Genius Hour is too difficult a task for grade 1’s and 2’s. Their interests were about things that their brains couldn’t really comprehend. I mean they were as cute as anything, but yeah.. they were a little fuzzy on the medical details. Watch this hilarious clip from the hospital workers group trying to explain a c-section, as opposed to… you know… the other way women have babies. Watch from 7:15-8:10. (They did try to connect it to the other group’s cancer presentation- which also becomes a problem.)

See what I mean? It was a little bit of a gong show.

4) THE EXPERTS- When all the students choose a topic within the same “genre,” it makes it difficult to find experts for them.  When we had an open Genius Hour last year, I had to find a Michael Jackson expert, a movie director, a NASA scientist, a NHL hockey player, a hip hop expert, a paper plane expert etc., but it was STILL easier than trying to round up a whole bunch of medical professionals this term.  I called on every nurse friend I knew, but it was difficult trying to find people for the specialized Health topics my kids wanted to know about. For example, I am so glad Dr. Brown (the pediatric oncologist) was able to come in and talk to the kids, but it was a run around to go through the right avenues to contact her.  It took weeks and weeks before I could get a hold of her to set a date. She did an excellent job explaining cancer to the kids, but unfortunately 6 and 7 year old’s minds didn’t quite internalize all the information effectively.

5) THE RETENTION- I bet you $10 that in 7 years, if you ask my students from last year what they learned about in their Genius Hour, they will be able to tell you the topic and at least 2 or 3 things they learned and remember vividly. This is because the information was valuable to them. When students have an “open” Genius Hour, they are choosing something that is valuable, applicable, interesting, and exciting to them.  Wait, what’s that you say? Learning needs to be relateable? Oh is that why we have such poor retention from students year to year! Imagine that! Students remember content they are interested in, and forget the stuff that’s not applicable to them!


One of the things I initially fell in love with about Genius Hour, is the one thing that lacked this last time we tried it.  The student MUST be engaged and interested in their topic. As much as I thought doing a Health Genius Hour was a great way to bring in curriculum AND bring a passion project into the classroom, it just flat out didn’t work. The students didn’t fail the project, the project failed the students.

You might be asking, “What’s my plan now?” Well, I’m not exactly sure. I think I might follow the same timeline as before, where I quickly cover the Social curriculum, and then give time for a free Genius Hour during those periods. I know I don’t want to even try a Social Genius Hour.  My saving grace is that if I allow for at least 3 more GH projects this year, some students are bound to cover some social and science outcomes anyway, and when the kids are more excited and into their project, the other students will no doubt learn and develop new wonders about those topics/content.

Any thoughts or suggestions? I’m open to hearing them! Please comment below!

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