It started with a worksheet

I’m sometimes nervous to be asked about the activities that I do with my students.

Today, my Grade Five class took part in Cereal Con 2018, a totally made-up event complete with a conference sign-in, nametags, deskplates, personalized water bottles and muffins.  The students dressed as professionals – doctors and scientists, and we all addressed each other as “Dr.” for the day.  It was amazing.  One of my students commented, “Mrs Crawford, you really went over the top for this one!”  

Several of my colleagues stopped by in the morning when they saw the sign announcing the conference and me and my intern in our lab-coats and “Dr.” name-tags.  “What’s going on in here today?” And I’m not going to lie.  I get nervous talking about it with some people.  I am afraid of the judgment.  

Judgment that I am too over-the-top. Maybe that I’m not taking this ‘education-thing’ seriously enough. But I know that this kind of ‘teaching’ and learning is what feels right to me.  And I know from the reactions of the students, that it’s right for them, too.

So I try to explain, embarrassed, “Well, it all started with a worksheet,” I tell them.  Which is true.  But that worksheet, where the kids had to compare an element in two different cereals and report on it, although completely fine, was not enough for me.  As the kids worked in their partners to complete the research, I had another idea, spur of the moment! “Hey, Class!  Guess what?  You are all SCIENTISTS!  You need to create a poster that you will present to the class about your element and the cereals you chose! You need to evaluate them and decide which cereal is better.  THE FATE OF THESE CEREALS IS IN YOUR HANDS!”  And the students got to work.  And the conversation and the planning, and the constant checking with our class rubric to make sure everything was covered?  Amazing.  So, as I watched their engagement, I had another idea, spur of the moment!  “Hey, Class!  Guess what?  We are all going to a Cereal Convention on Thursday!  You will need to present your findings to your esteemed Cereal Professionals to determine which cereals will remain marketable for our society!  Let’s talk about what a good presentation looks like!”  And the students got to work.  And it was fantastic!  Planning, sharing roles, writing scripts or cue cards, practicing, practicing, practicing. . .

And today came.  My intern and I met the students at the door at a table where the students were greeted as if they were unknown. “Your name? Ah, Doctor Isha, I’m so glad you could make the conference!  Here is your nametag and your complimentary personalized bottle of water.  Grab a muffin on your way into the convention hall (classroom!) and we will get started soon.”

And we started the morning.  Some STEM activities with cereal.  Fractions. Our presentations, and then rounding the morning off with some discussion about circle art and creating with circle cereals. The kids said it was the best day ever.

The day managed to touch on outcomes from Math, Science, Literacy, Art, and tons of team-building!

It started with a worksheet.


Our Welcome Board


Personalized Water Bottles


Official Conference Nametags


Stacking challenge


Stacking challenge


Stacking challenge


Name Cards


Name Cards


Name Cards


Research Presentations



Tetris Art


Cereal Swirl Art


Stacking Results




I’m Not Sharing

This year I don’t feel like sharing.

Not that I won’t share ideas or collaborate with others – I do those things freely and often and I love it!  I am kind and generous with friends and family. I generally play well with others.   It’s the students that I am feeling selfish about.

I’m not taking an intern this year.

I was going to, in fact, I had signed up for one.  I had an intern this past year and it was great in a lot of ways.  Having a new adult person to converse with, share ideas with and learn from.  Hopefully, she got something out of the deal, too.

Last year started out really well. “Great!” I thought.  My intern was building relationships with the kids and starting her journey on becoming an educator.  She was learning and growing and the kids loved her.  We worked well together and shared the task of leading this group of little people.  She was a bit reluctant to jump in but I nudged her to start and to begin building her teaching time.  And things went well.

But then I got bored.  I missed teaching.  It was hard for me to just observe her lessons and not be part of the action.  I missed interacting with the kids all day and most of all I felt as though I missed out on the relationship building that I hold so very dearly as part of the building of my classroom culture and climate.  Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t disappear or leave the room for the whole time she was with our class, but the three weeks when she taught full-time and I was supposed to be ‘around’ but not ‘there’ were very, very long weeks.

In January, when my intern had returned back to university, I noticed something weird that hadn’t happened in years.  I felt like I didn’t really *know* my students as well as I had in past years.  I had gaps in what I knew about them – their hobbies, likes, dislikes.  I knew their academic abilities, but I had missed time bonding with them and developing those relationships that I hold so sacred.

I was sad.

I have just finished Paul Solarz‘s book Learn Like a Pirate, and one of the most important pieces that I took away from it was the absolute importance of relationships, trust and respect that are foundational for a positive classroom culture and team.  I nodded a lot while reading the book because I agree so strongly with those things.  I have always said that I believed that teaching was important but that the relationships that are formed are even more important.

Tonight was another fantastic Teach Like a Pirate chat on Twitter (#tlap).  TLAP is based on Dave Burgessbook of the same name.  I read it a couple of summers ago.    The theme of the chat was Classroom Culture and the importance of relationships, trust, and caring came through loud and clear from a group of very enthusiastic and passionate educators.

So I’m not sharing my kids this year (yes, *my* kids – once you’ve been in my room, you are always part of that group!).  I know the importance of the internship program and I will certainly take part again, as I have many times in the past, but this year, it’s just going to be me and my team.  And I will know them well.  And they will know me well. And we will try to live mostly happily-ever-after-probably-with-a-few-bumps-in-the-road next year.

And the year will be fun and memorable.   I’ll consider the intern thing next year.


Where There are Sparks, There is Fire

Right now, my province is facing the biggest evacuation effort in our history because of wildfires in the North.  More than 13 000 people have been displaced from their homes and their communities and relocated in shelters being taken care of by the Red Cross, the generosity of our people, and other companies and organizations.    My family has a cabin that is located in the middle of some of those fires and miraculously our subdivision has remained unscathed as of yet.  We remain optimistic and hopeful, always knowing that all it takes is a spark of ember to ignite a disaster.  My most sincere thanks and appreciation to all of those men and women who are working to save what they can from Mother Nature’s wrath.

Sparks can cause damage, but after the fire, there will be regrowth and rebuilding.  Nature and the human spirit are both extremely resilient like that.  In our learning, all it takes is a spark to ignite a movement, an activity, or a change in our teaching style.  The sparks that can do that for me and that drive my continued journey as a life-long learning come from a variety of places.

Twitter:  So many good ideas on Twitter!  The people who I follow and who I consider my PLN are so smart and so interesting.  All it takes is an interesting idea and I find myself drawn to research more and make it happen!  Find me here.

Colleagues:  So many talented people doing so many interesting things!  My colleague Bonnie is an absolutely gifted teacher.  She is a Daily 5 Guru, and having seen what she does with that structure I was motivated to learn more, even going to a Daily 5 Conference led by The Sisters.  I love to collaborate with colleagues – some of the best ideas are ones that came up accidentally in a chat session and have created the most memorable experiences for me and for the students!

Real life:  I love being able to take things that are happening in our real world and connect them to my students’ learning, as well as my own.  Often, we are learning together!

Students:  What are the kids interested in?  That often drives how I teach, what I teach, and physical structures in my classroom.  This past year involved a lot of changes in my room as I transformed it to a space that I feel was a better fit for more of my kids.

The thing about sparks is that it takes a very small one to lead to a very big result.  A simple idea becomes a unit.  A student request becomes a project.  An interest becomes a leadership opportunity.

I love when I have an opportunity to try something new.  The small sparks often become wildfires by the time I am done with them!  I love, in this case,  that there is an uncertainty about how it will work out.  I love that I can tell my students, “I’m not sure about this, but let’s give it a go and find out!”  I hope that I am always able to find those sparks to guide me as an educator because if those particular sparks are ever snuffed out, it will be time for me to pack it up.

Okay, I’ll admit it

In my Twitter-world, a great group of educators who are part of the hashtag #saskedchat have created a blogging challenge for the summer.  The first challenge from last week was about “What’s holding you back?” and it’s taken me this whole week to try to verbalize why, exactly, I have so much trouble blogging my thoughts on educational topics.

Watch this 17 second clip.

That’s right.  Fear.  I am afraid.  Afraid that: #1.  I don’t sound “smart enough.”  Or, #2, worse, that my opinion is “wrong.”  Or, #3: that a colleague will think that the post is about them.

Let me address those things as if a student had said them to me:

1:  “You are smart.  Reasonably intelligent, educated and a life-long learner of your craft.  You got this.  Go for it!”

2.  “It’s an opinion.  There is no wrong.  Not everyone is going to agree with you and that’s okay!”

3.  “Keep it professional.  Anonymous.  Respectful. Besides, no one reads your blog. 🙂  ”

So I know that I should take more risks.

But still:

I think it takes a lot of courage to put your ideas out into the world to be read and criticized.  I am sometimes afraid to be challenged by the Incredibly Smart People.

I have been around education for quite a while and as we all do, I believe that what I do for the students in my classroom is always in their best interests.  I try to better myself and my craft through continued reading, learning and application of skills.  I think I need to put myself more out there in the blogging world.  When I look back to previous posts that I have written, I like what I read.

I think that’s what matters.

Find it.

Dear Interns:


Internship is such an amazing part of learning to be a teacher.  Here in Saskatchewan, at either University, you are given the opportunity during your education to do a 4 month internship placement in a classroom.  

I have had interns in the past before I did my Teaching Hiatus (a.k.a.: staying home to raise my kids) and now, in my third year back at it, I have an intern again.

I am going to try to make a list of things that I think are important for my Intern to know.  Here, in no particular order, are my thoughts:

1.  Questioning is important.  So important.  If you ask a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question, please be ready to follow up with something to make those kids think more deeply.  Be ready to ask them “Why do you think. . . ?” or “How do you know. . . ?” or “Can you connect it to. . . ?”  You never know where those conversations are going to lead!

2.  Don’t do for the kids what they can do for themselves.  They are smart.  They are going to try to get out of some things.  Make them accountable and keep them accountable.  Encourage them to TRY.  Help them up when they are not successful.  But help them feel the joy of independence and persistence.  It’s not always easy, but it’s usually best.   Articulate to the parents that that’s your plan because it’s important to have them as partners in your students’ educations.

3.  Be yourself.  The kids are genuinely curious about you and who you are.  Sometimes, be bigger than yourself.  Be surprising.   It’s the unexpected that keeps them guessing!  

4.  Teach Like a Pirate.  I wish I could take credit for this little phrase, but it’s the awesome work of Dave Burgess and the title of his book.  It’s also a fantastic group of educators who are so ridiculously passionate about their work that the creativity and dedication is mind-blowing.  Google it.  Or check out Twitter on Monday evenings and search for the hashtag #tlap.  It’s the coolest thing ever.  You can find my review of the book, here.  I bought the t-shirt.  And the hoodie.  Enough said.

5.  Earn your Oscar.  Some days you are going to be less than enthusiastic about your content. Or you’ve been up several time during the nights and you are exhausted.  Or you’ve just had a lousy day and aren’t feelin’ the vibe to be awesome.  

Be.  Awesome.

Some days, we fake it ’til we make it.  Find a content delivery that you love.  Encourage other experts to help.  Draw from the interests of the students and take a short side-trip down a tangent.  Give yourself a short time-out, leaving the kids with something productive to work on.  It doesn’t have to be a full-on Hollywood production every day, but your students are going to remember the crazy, awesome stuff.  Do it as often as you can.  

6.  Ask questions.  I don’t know everything, but if you want, I can try to help you find the answer or I can find someone who maybe knows the answer.  Don’t be afraid to ask if you don’t know something.  Keep an “I Wonder” journal.  You’ll use it someday. 

7.  Bring your A-Game.  Show me what you can do.  As my imaginary colleague, Ms Frizzle, would say, “Take chances.  Make mistakes.  Get messy.”  I’ve got your back.  Now is your time to try new things (well, really, you’re going to do that your whole career!).  

8.  You’re going to have crappy lessons.  You’re going to feel like a flop some lessons/days.  Guess what?  That happens to everyone.  Reflect on it.  Dissect it to see what you may have done differently.  When you know better, do better.  And then, let it go.  

9. Have fun.  For goodness sake, HAVE FUN.  Laugh.  Laugh at things that happen because they are supposed to and the things that you have no control over that catch you off guard.  Laugh at yourself.  

10.  Reflect on everything.  How did your lesson go?  That interaction with a student?  Your day?  Write things down.  You think you’ll remember it all but I’ll tell you this – I don’t remember exactly how I did things last year, so remembering ALL THE THINGS is probably not realistic.  

There are a million other pieces of advice and support, but I think this might be a good start.   We’re going to talk a lot.  I hope I remember to tell you as many things I can that can help you out.  We’re at the beginning of this adventure and I can’t wait to see what you can do and to learn from you.  Because I truly believe that Internship is not a one-way transfer of knowledge and feedback.  

Let’s do this.  Let’s give these kids an amazing 4 months.  And I hope at the end of the 4 months that you have had an amazing time, too.  


I have arrived. What day is it?

By my count, I have officially been on holidays for 23 days as of today.

Summer Dreaming.

Easy, there.  I hasn’t been all beaches, sand and summer beverages!

I love my job.  LOVE it!  I won’t deny, though, that having the summer ‘off’ is definitely a wonderful perk of having chosen this career.  But I think we should clarify what ‘summer off’ means.

Officially, school was done on June 27.  From June 28-yesterday, I was aware of what day of the week it was.  Today, I found myself asking,

“What day is it today?”

And I knew that I had finally arrived at Summer.

The first week or so of holidays for teachers is definitely a time of decompression.  We haven’t started to relax yet.  For me, it was still filled with job-related tasks.  I sent thank you emails/cards for gifts generously given at the end of the year.  I had to shred copies of personal student documents that I had in my possession for the year.  I sent emails and texts to parents of some of my students, checking in and seeing how they were doing, after a very emotional last day where they were so sad to leave the school.  I have kept in contact with one of my students who is on a trip abroad and has enjoyed emailing with me. And I have answered parent emails that have still trickled in regarding lost items and questions about the fall.

Once those tasks seemed to trickle off I found myself trying to catch up with all the ‘house/home stuff’ that has been largely ignored in the end-of-the-year frenzy that is June.  I swear that the laundry has been multiplying and I may or may not have run out and bought new underwear for my family when I was having a bit of trouble keeping up.  What?  That’s normal, right?  That and dealing with the pile of school items that both of my own children brought home and unceremoniously dumped in the front  room.  I am proud to say that just 23 days later, that has been taken care of.  The bar is kind of low here, people.

After those first couple of weeks, I start to feel like socializing again.  I’m reading amazing books for fun. My energy is back – I am sleeping well and sleeping in a little bit.  I manage to stay in bed until 7:30 instead of the work-day 6:00 wake up.  Once again, low bar, apparently.

So, now, I find myself sitting on my deck on a quiet – What day is it? Oh, yeah, SUNDAY. – morning, enjoying a coffee in the sun with my dog sleeping at my feet and the rest of the family still snoozing and I know that I have arrived.  I am in summer relaxation mode.

My goal for this summer was to learn how to relax.  This sounds stupid, but it’s true.   It was made clear to me mid-June, when a colleague of mine brought her class into mine to teach us some of the yoga that they did as a group.  It became clear to me that I don’t know how to relax. I don’t know how to do it. I was extremely uncomfortable trying. It was a sobering experience when I realized how high-strung I was and how fast and stressfully I lived my life.

This summer has, so far, been awesome! I am spending time with my family, camping, going on day trips (If you are ever in Moose Jaw check out the Chicago Connection tunnels tour!), bike riding with my kids and learning how to sit quietly and watch TV (Sherlock and Dr Who on Netflix are my faves right now). The conscious decision to relax has been wonderful for me.

Next week my kids will be in camp and my husband will be going to work.  My initial thoughts were, “Great!  Quiet house! I can get working on school stuff for the fall!”  And no doubt, I will do a bit of that.  Some Pinteresting.  Work on my year plan.  Create my online dayplanner.    But I will be aware of my need to recharge.  Teachers need that.  Because as soon as I am allowed to go back in the school, after summer cleaning and maintenance have been done, I will feel that familiar tug to get back to work.  And really, I can’t shut down entirely.  There’s a whole internet and Twitterverse that I have to learn before I get back!

So to my teacher friends, enjoy your summer. Recharge.   I hope you have arrived.  It’s a long journey getting here and we deserve every minute.  I hear the padding of feet and the slamming of a bathroom door inside the house.  My quiet time is over.  My family time begins.

CC: Photo Credit: TowerGirl via Compfight cc

Whereby I declare a breakdown.

For a week in March I was extremely fortunate to be asked to be part of a group of people who would help design and plan 9 new joint-use facility (Public and Catholic) schools to be built in our province.  It used the Lean Process and was facilitated by Dave from Seattle.  (Which is all I know about him.)  We had teachers, consultants, facilities people, division office folks, parents, board members and students from 5 different school divisions involved.   Dave from Seattle (henceforth known as DFS)  had a bit of a bumpy start with the group of nearly 100 people in attendance.  DFS thought that the majority of the participants there were more familiar with the Lean process than we actually were.  Actually, most of us there knew NOTHING about the process so the information that we were initially given went WAY over most of our heads and the connection to what we thought we were there for was lost, almost entirely.  Value-stream mapping and fishboning, for example, were activities that we had trouble connecting to the understood purpose of school design:

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DFS told us that if we ever felt that things unclear, if our tasks seemed ill-explained, or if for any reason we were frustrated or lost during the process that we were to declare a “breakdown.”  Now, no one did while we were there, and I wonder what that might have looked like if one had, but I know that there were times when it should have been used, given the comments that we were hearing and the frustration levels at times.

We were tasked with designing the new “School of the Future” builds, fully realizing that our plans and models wouldn’t be built *exactly* as we had suggested but being optimistic that the main ideas and themes that had been would be implemented.

The process was daunting and difficult.  It was also one of the most amazing things I’ve ever been involved in!  After seeing an extremely motivational presentation by some kids from Red Deer, and their plan for the school of the future, which won an international design competition, we were ready to start planning our “schools of the future.”

We were given the ‘shell’ of the design to work with, the “Tetris” model.  Onto that, we had to arrange and place coloured pieces of paper which represented different learning areas/rooms/spaces around the school.  And once we had a whole school planned, both the Public side, Catholic side and the shared use facilities in the center of the school, we had to do it again.  Six more times.  This was the Seven Ways Process.  By the last ways, people were tired of looking at coloured squares and although there may have been some more ‘outrageous’ ideas being thrown around we were sometimes  less likely to be thinking traditionally and more likely to start cutting the square pieces of paper into curved pieces or tossing those pieces and creating our own.

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Photo 2014-03-11, 11 15 43 AM120+ plans later (for two separate designs) we had to vote on our favourites, based on attributes such as flow and functionality pieces.

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After those plans were whittled down to 2 (well, 3, but that’s a whole other blog post) we started to create our models.  The plans were simply a guideline.  Our finished model was based on some of those ideas, other brilliant ideas that came to be as we built, space restrictions or square footage requirements.  And 3 mighty awesome designs were the result.  Plan A was a model that had space for 650 kids per ‘side’.  Plan B was 650 on one side (Public) and 450 on the other (Catholic). Both had 2 floors.

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In addition to the models that were made, a group was charged with building a full-scale model of a few rooms within the plan.

On Friday of that week we had a Report Out to all of the participants of the week, the media, Directors of Education from the 5 school divisions that were involved. The models were shown and explained and the ‘favourite’ features of each plan were shared.

Yesterday, at the 30 Day Review, we met again with the architects to see the preliminary plans that have been created based on the Quality Metrics (desired attributes) that were identified in each plan.  These plans will eventually become the ‘core’ plan and will be configured and tweaked according to the needs of each individual school division based on their separate educational directions, readiness,  and needs.

So.  We were designing the ‘School of the Future.”  The school that will meet the needs of our students and communities for the next 30 years.  Considering changes in educational pedagogy and technology. So we were largely planning for the unknown.  Can we anticipate what education will look like in 20 years?  Not really.   However, the trend that came about time and time again during the planning stages was that we didn’t want to be ‘traditional.’ Collaborative spaces for students and teachers were identified as a high-need. Flexible spaces for different uses.  Maker spaces.  Areas for messy inquiry. Community shared areas and spaces to be shared between the two schools in the structure.

The plan that we saw yesterday seemed to lean largely towards a traditional space, in my opinion.

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While many of the Quality Metrics were indeed incorporated, I think that we are still needing more and larger flexible spaces.  More areas for students to congregate and share and collaborate.  I am in awe of the architects who are facilitating these meetings.  Laura and Craig listen to our sometimes far-out ideas and never give us the “look” or the comment that we’re crazy and ‘of course that will never happen.’  They are supportive and listen to our ideas and madly take notes the whole time.  Their task to take all of these ‘wants,’ from a variety of interest groups and different educational beliefs and ideologies can be nothing short of daunting.

I teach in a school that will turn 25 years old next year.  It’s an amazing facility, bursting at the seams!  We have traditional spaces for our classrooms but see kids working in non-traditional places all the time – stair wells, hallways, shared learning areas.  And in most of these areas, they are collaborating on something.  The technology in our school is used progressively and by most teachers. We have charging carts for technology and some teachers have incorporated a ‘charging station’ area in their own rooms.  “Traditional” classrooms are organized by individual teachers – some preferring desks (I like them but rarely have them in a traditional – read: rows – design) and some preferring tables.  Many have a communal ‘gathering’ areas or other work-spaces and specialized, functional  furniture such as standing desks, rocking chairs and beanbag chairs.  Many of our teachers teach as if they were in a ‘school of the future.’  Lots of inquiry learning, technology and BYOD opportunities, collaboration with other teachers, classrooms and among students.  We have a small outdoor garden, a space created by a few teachers, their time and passion and a Gardening Club.  Many teachers link their students’ learning to our environment by being outside whenever possible and take care of the environment by encouraging recycling, being aware of paper usage and other initiatives.

To me, the plan that we saw yesterday seems more similar to my present, 25 year old school than the “Jetsons-esque” ‘School of the Future’ that many people believed we were planning.  There were some fantastic additions, including DaVinci Studios and teacher collaboration spaces.  The inclusion of the presentation staircase for seating and performances is one of my favourite things!  The architects heard that we wanted more open space, more areas for flexible usage (ie: garage/pony doors to allow for open or more contained spaces), and I hope that when they take those things back to their group, they will incorporate more of them.   I won’t lie.  I am a bit disappointed.  We spent a week planning these schools and although we knew that they wouldn’t be built exactly how they were presented, we were  optimistic that we would see similarities in the final planning stages.

So, DFS, who is no longer part of this process,  here’s where I’m ready to call a breakdown,  fully recognizing that it’s too late.  Here are my questions, concerns, and or ponderings:

*  Have we succeeded in building a ‘school of the future?’  The spaces in my present school are being used quite similarly to some that are planned in the drawing we saw yesterday.  27 years ago, when the planning started for this facility, were *they* planning for the school of the future? Maybe this means they succeeded, as maybe we will have?

*  What happens when we try to staff these facilities?  Are there enough teachers who will be willing to give up the control of their one space and share a collaborative space with others? I think it would be an interesting challenge!  Will teachers who have a more traditional view of educational practices ‘close off’ their open spaces in order to teach as they always have? I hope that there will be opportunities for expressions of interest and mentoring by people who have been in these situations.

*  For those of us who have been students in open area classrooms. (Dating myself:  Confederation Park School, Saskatoon.  I was in Grade One when that school opened with its central, open resource centre, break-out rooms and open area classrooms.)  Did it work back then?  Most people would likely say probably not, since most schools eventually erected walls or used dividers to break the spaces back into more traditional classrooms.  But was it the same educational practices driving our instruction?  I don’t think it was.  I think comparing the classrooms of the mid-late 70s to the classrooms now is apples and oranges.

*  We have a window in our facility that leads out onto the roof of the school.  What are the chances that my Principal will let me use that as access to the roof where we could create a rooftop garden space?  Okay, probably not, but I’ll ask, anyway.

* And what happens next?  Is the input of teachers and students over until the builds start in 2015?  Will our finances and facilities managers lead the charge from now on?  Just wondering. . .

I am extremely grateful that I was given the opportunity to be involved in this process.  It was and continues to be exciting and interesting.  I look forward to seeing this process move forward in the next few years.

And now I will call a “Buzz Delta.”  Which will mean something only to the people who I attended this fantastic week with.  . .