Archive for July, 2015

Learn Like a Pirate in Primary Grades

Posted on July 9, 2015. Filed under: educational, Genius Hour, Grade 1 & 2, LearnLAP | Tags: |

This summer I have had the awesome opportunity to read the book Learn Like a Pirate by Paul Solarz. I have had some great conversations about its content through friendships, an ISTE tweet up, and the hashtag #2k15reads.  One of the best moments for me at ISTE was when I met Angela Gadtke @mrsgadtke at the #LearnLAP #ISTE2015 tweetup.  She is a Kindergarten teacher, and so we started chatting back and forth about what learning like a pirate could look like in the primary grades. We are even hoping to have a Google hangout one of these days to chat more. I think we will have to invite the #LearnLAP primary community in on it as well!

By no means have I come to ANY conclusions about how to teach this way seamlessly, and because it’s still July, I haven’t had the chance to test any of the ideas with my students yet, but here are some of my thoughts so far:

Student Jobs-

Paul has lots of his students do his job for him. He has them transition each other from one subject to the next, he has students give instructions, meet kids at the door and do the other “regular” teacher jobs of a classroom. Here are some I think could work in primary:

Meet students at the door: Love this one. I think it could totally work, and there is always that 1 kid who is in class way before the rest of the students anyways.

Mail helper– Rather than me standing by the lockers trying to hurry the kids up to get their backpacks off, get out their mail etc. I would love to pass this job onto a naturally bossy child who loves that kind of stuff anyways lol! I think giving them a job where they can use their “gift” for good is a nice way to honour who they are while training them to be helpful rather than bossy.

Attendance Taker: I have some kids who would definitely be able to login to a classroom laptop, use my password and put in the attendance for the day.  What I think I would like to do is have a check in system on the lockers so that attendance taking would be easy. I’m thinking of drawing on the lockers and sectioning it into four parts- Home/School/Appointment/Washroom.  If the students had a magnet that represented themselves, they would be able to move it from home to school when they arrived in the morning.  If they knew they were going to be away the next day for an appointment, they could shift their magnet from school to appointment at the end of the day.  This might also be a way to have students police their own bathroom use. As a rule, I don’t let students go to the washroom when I am teaching from the carpet.  We do tons of centre based/student directed work during the day, so when I need to teach a concept on the carpet, I need them there. That said, when I am working with small groups or individuals, the other children are working on their own stuff, and this is usually the time where I get interrupted the most. The question is usually, “can I go to the bathroom?” If I had a magnet system, the students could see if someone else was in the washroom and they would just have to wait until that person gets back.

Computer Cart- This year I had a tech helper who did all things techy for me or for any subs who came into my class.  He also was in charge of making sure the other children had plugged in the laptops, and that the laptop cart was closed and locked. My colleague Trina Crawford @tcrawford2011 inspired me on this one as I always see her little tech helpers wheeling the laptop cart down the hallway and making sure everything is put away properly!

Other jobs– During our tweet up, Cindy Scheurer @cscheuer48 said that her students know that if they have to remind her to do something more than once, then it becomes their job. I love that. If I’ve forgotten to do something more than once, chances are the kid who realized it is going to be watching for that anyways. Why not pass off the responsibility!


I loved Paul’s energy lesson debate that he does in his class. It seemed like such a fun engaging way to have children learn content and promote retention.  In primary, the only debate I have done was one on hunting. Before we had any conversations about the use of animals for needs and wants, (Science curriculum) the children debated whether they thought hunting was good or bad.  It was interesting to see the children take in the other side’s ideas and then offer a rebuttal. Before we formally addressed any of their thoughts, I had the children record their views, and we put the videos on YouTube.  As the lesson went on, we would revisit some of the arguments and talk about how they developed and if ideas had changed.  The part I find funny about the whole situation is that the “Hunting is Bad” YouTube video gets quite a few hits daily, and I get a ridiculous comment at least once or twice a month (sometimes more) from pro-hunting advocates who are furious with me and the children for this point of view. Warning: If you are going to check out the comments, beware of some extreme language and complete idiocy. 😉

Project Based Learning:

This is something I would like to get better at.  My classroom participates in Genius Hour, and they love it. It’s their favourite “subject” at school.  But, I would like to try and incorporate some more PBL.  I went to an awesome PBL session with Mike Gwaltney @mikegwaltney at ISTE, and it got me thinking about what I could do next year.  Up until this year, every year my class has adopted an animal.  The first couple years we adopted an elephant from the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (that I got to visit on my trip to Kenya).


The year after that we adopted a penguin, then we adopted a polar bear.  The kids always loved it.  We would get a little stuffed animal that would be representative of our real animal, and I would send it home with the students with a video camera so they could document the time our class pet spent with them.  I would compile all the clips together and we would watch what the animal did at every house.

The students loved this project, and they developed a real love for our adopted animal.  I even had students asking their parents if they could adopt their own penguin/elephant/polar bear. In fact, for one student’s birthday, she asked her friends to donate money rather than a present so that she could adopt her own elephant!

This past year, I was convicted that we could probably do more than just adopt an animal. There are people in our world who are surviving on much less than our $50 that we pay to adopt an animal, and so I started looking into our class sponsoring a child. I found this awesome organization called Chat to the Future. This organization was set up by a teacher who wants to connect schools in North America with a household of children of all ages in Uganda. The whole set up is amazing and the children from the USA and Canada can regularly Skype the children in Uganda to connect with them and share songs, stories and dances.

The problem was that my students really didn’t connect with this project as much as they did to the other ones.  It got me thinking about their scope and what matters to them.  During the ISTE session, I started thinking about ways that my grade 1/2 class could do something relevant to them. The people at my table were talking me through different options, and I think I might have to do something at the student level.  I really want the project to be developed and initiated through student interest. There are plenty of great PBL ideas and resources on teachers pay teachers, but I don’t want to print out a nice cookie cutter project and fit my students into the pre made mould. I want to support them through the development of an authentic project themselves.

Give me 5:

Ahhhh….I don’t know if I can do this!! Paul allows his students to interrupt the class (as a teacher would) and yell “GIVE ME 5” when they have something important to say, share or ask. He trains them on how this looks and he proves in his book that it is an effective way to support student leadership and risk taking.

The problem with this for me is that I can totally see a grade one student yelling “GIVE ME 5!” and getting the whole class’s attention only to show them the neat little ant that is crawling across the carpet at that very moment. I can just see the whole lesson being de-railed by the class crowding around that ant, and it taking 20 minutes to get them back on task and focused on what they were doing.  I’m not entirely sure that my young students have the developmental capacity to understand when to interrupt the class to share relevant learning. That said, by no means am I opposed to the idea, I just need some more conversation about how it might work itself out. I might try something out in my math or Daily 5 Centres where the students know their job the best and have a self directed engaging task to get back to if there was an interruption.

Since I have never used the term “Give me 5” with my students, I was thinking about which attention grabbing strategy I could teach the students to use.  I use several in my classroom. Sometimes I sing a little tune and have the students finish the tune off.  Sometimes I ring my chime hanging from the roof or the bell that’s by my desk.  Sometimes I say 5 and then clap 5 times, then 4 and clap 4 times, etc. all the way to 1. No matter what attention grab I use, I always say Stop, Look, and Listen before beginning what I am going to say.  I have watched my students mimic my classroom management countless times, and I always laugh when a little 6 year old student says (with sass) something like, “I will just wait until you are all ready before I pick someone.” I have no doubt in my mind that the students will be able to get the other students attention in a positive way, I just don’t know how and when I want them to do it yet!

This post is way longer than I had planned, and for that I apologize. Hopefully this sparked some ideas of your own and you would be willing to continue the conversation with me.  Feel free to tweet me at @mrsmaley or join in at #LearnLAP or #2k15reads

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Reflecting on Race, Language, and Privilege

Posted on July 4, 2015. Filed under: cultural, First Nations, Masters, Privilege, Race |

Today in my summer institute Masters of Curriculum and Instruction course, I was sitting with a First Nations elder who was born and raised in Saskatchewan, but lives a couple hours away and another woman who teaches in Nunavut. Both these women are taking the same two classes with me this summer.

Today’s assignment for our curriculum development class was to answer the question “where are you?” My spring class brought up the question of “who are you?” but this professor wants us to see curriculum through the context of place and experience.  As we started talking about curriculum being shaped by place, these women started sharing some stories about language. They shared the struggle of what it feels like to lose a language and feel it slipping out of your hands.

The woman who is from Nunavut is fluent in Inuktitut, (the official Inuit language of Nunavut). She told me that she speaks her own language to friends and family, and tries to speak only Inuktitut at home, but that it is increasingly harder for her and her family to maintain the language.  She just put up a sign in her home last week that says (in Inuktitut and English) that she would like people entering her household to speak Inuktitut if possible. She told me that she has to remind her own parents to speak in Inuktitut to their grandchildren because sometimes it is just easier to speak English because the kids don’t always understand the directions in Inuktitut.

The elder, who is originally from Onion Lake Saskatchewan was sharing her similar struggle of how she is one of the only ones left in her family to speak Cree. She tries to speak Cree to her grandchildren, but their parents don’t seem too interested in learning and practicing their Cree.  Both women asked me my background and heritage. I explained to them that my family is originally from Germany, and both sets of grandparents spoke German but that German was lost with my parents and I.  I shared how in ’05, I lived in Germany for a year, and though I started to pick up bits and pieces of the language, I came back home and lost anything I did learn because I wasn’t immersed in it.

This is the point of the conversation that really hit home for me.  The elder sighed and said longingly, “I really wish there was a place that we could go to to be immersed in our language.” It was in that moment that everything I had been learning/reading about race, privilege and place hit home. When the early Canadian settlers took over the First Nation people’s lands, they didn’t just take their culture and language from them back then through unfair treaties and residential schools, they began a systematic, institutionalized racism that would steal the First Nation people’s future generation of culture and language.


As I move forward in this class, I am going to be reading the TRC report that came out not too long ago. If you haven’t heard of it, it is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. It is a document that outlines what can be done to try to reconcile the past harms that have been done to the First Nations people of Canada.  I encourage you to read it with me and think about what you and I can do as well.

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