#1161 Enough!

I wear a different button everyday to school.
Last week one button on my shirt said “You are enough.”
During circle time an eight-year-old boy gently asked “What does that mean?”

I paused for a breath and the following fell out of my mouth:

So many people are told they are not tall enough, fast enough, big enough or smart enough.
Lots of people believe they are not good enough at math or art or reading. 
Some people wish they were strong enough, kind enough, tough enough…
But you are enough. 
You’re enough at SOMEthing. 

You just need to find out what your thing is.

There was a pronounced pause and the boy quietly said, “That is wise.
I’m not sure where those words came from, exactly, but they floated around in my head for the rest of the day.

My Button of the Day – thanks to Ifs Ands or Buttons

We spend so much energy in school and life focusing on narrow outcomes:
• excellence in math and literacy
• being stronger and faster
• attaining a university education

These are excellent goals. But many other traits or characteristics are overlooked or under-valued.

Ken Robinson describes a story of a student whose passion and skills to be a firefighter were spurned by a teacher as not good enough until, years later, his student saved his life in a car wreck.

A teacher at my 1980s high school was well known for rejecting a student’s desire and talents in music. Later, the student, Bryan Adams rocketed to fame and fortune.

As a boy, Ingvar had a tough time in school. His father told him he wouldn’t go anywhere in life. He was dyslexic but had an aptitude to think differently. Despite his challenges, he was good enough to build IKEA from a tiny business to an enormous company.

Stephen Wiltshire, as a child, would not speak. His language abilities were minimal. He didn’t socialize well. But he had an amazing ability to memorize enormous details – enough to reproduce cityscapes on paper from memory. He is now a world-renowned, architectural artist.

Many real superheroes start out with enormous challenges.
With support, tenacity and/or good fortune, they discover their (sometimes hidden) talents were more than good enough.

As a teacher, I support students’ challenges.
More importantly though, I seek to recognize students’ true talents and help them shine. They are enough. We just need to discover their true strengths to let them shine!

#1160 Growth Mindset – Making Changes

Life can be tough.
Making positive change is easy.
Or is it?

I spoke to a veteran teacher recently about the idea of making positive changes.

Me: “Change is tough.”

Other Teacher: “It’s just a decision people have to make.”

This was a tough discussion for me.
Change is easy, technically. Instead of A you choose B.

But overcoming entrenched barriers and obstacles takes more than a flick of a switch. Change is harder to overcome if life has been traumatic or decades of obstacles have become entrenched.

How you approach the obstacles has a significant impact on your success at getting around them. Recognizing the need for, and accessing, support is another piece of the puzzle.

Obstacles will always be there. Some will be tougher than others.
Growth mindset – along with support – can make the difference to create change.

Fixed Mindset:
The way is set. It’s always been this way. It will always be this way.
“I’ve never done well at ________ (school, love, interviews, tests…) That’s the way it is.”
With a fixed mindset obstacles turn into barriers that become insurmountable.

Growth Mindset:
The past has been set. But it can change. Anything is possible.
So far, my success at ________ (school, love, interviews, tests…) has been limited. How can I get better?”
With a growth mindset, obstacles turn into puzzles that become possible with perseverance.

It’s true, some people have innate abilities that make (some) tasks or changes easier. And some people have external negative influences that increase the challenges.

But, with a growth mindset, the outcome is a challenge or puzzle that just needs to be navigated for success. Anything is possible. Nelson Mandela said “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” 

Listen to Carol Dweck speak about the power of yet.

Finding effective mentors or support for those with a history of recurring obstacles or entrenched barriers will also be one important key to success and positive change

Back to my discussion with my teacher colleague…
Change is tough. History can repeat itself unless you make the decision to choose a growth mindset – perhaps with support – to allow the change to happen.

#1159 Teaching Climate Change

People around the world banded together recently to urge for change to help earth.

At school I see a wide range of views from young students. Most are keen to help but can be limited in knowledge and resources. What can you do to help young people help the planet?

• Lead by example! 
Children are sponges and mimic those they hold in high regard. If you compost, recycle and pack lunch with re-usable containers, it’s likely they will, too. Our son came home and told me he needed a container to bring his lunch/snack compost waste home. He made me smile. His teacher is making a difference.

Tree planting – every tree counts!

• Talk
In class we talk about factors affecting the environment. Discuss options for getting around: using bikes, public transit, electric/hybrid and gas car.

Discuss the benefits? Costs? Modelling critical reasoning is a valuable skill for youth to experience (and adopt.)

It doesn’t take a lot for young people to understand and appreciate .

• Bring nature to the classroom
I love trees!

I bring trees and plants into classroom learning. Trees can be used in science (soils, life, photosynthesis) and in literacy (describe/compare, narrative, read aloud…)

In math, trees can be used to recognize and create patterns as well as measurement.

After a month of learning, we plant the class tree somewhere at the school. I asked one student if she ever went to see her class tree. Without hesitation she beamed “Everyday!” 

Trees can be a powerful learning tool! Bring your own environmental passion to the classroom.

Trees in the Classroom!

• Goals
Set goals with your students/children. Every little positive environmental action helps… 
Will you:
1. Plant trees?
2. Walk, bike, car pool?
3. Reduce/eliminate purchases with excessive packaging?
4. Compost
5. Choose alternatives to fossil fuels?

Help the earth.
Teach the children…

#1158 Real Superheroes

Real superheroes are often in disguise…
They are real people who do extra-ordinary things. I like to bring the superhero ideas into the classroom…

Last year I wrote about superheroes in the classroom.

Below I share:
• Three real superheroes
• A CBC clip about a teacher who brings superheroes to her classroom
• Ideas for using superheroes to meet curriculum expectations

Like Gladys West, who developed the mathematics behind GPS technology. She overcame enormous hurdles to set the groundwork for technology that many people in North America and Europe take for granted. Hurdles? She’s an African American woman who grew up in the 1920’s when women and people of African heritage were not supposed to shine. She shone brightly in the world of mathematics but did not receive much recognition for her work until recently.

Who is YOUR real superhero?!
Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay

Or mild mannered Mr. Rogers and “Officer” Clemmons who battled racial segregation on mainstream television in a gentle and welcoming way by sharing the spotlight and a pool in the children’s tv show. Today, that’s not so unusual. In 1969, in America, that was unheard of. But it helped challenge deep seated bigotry in the USA.

Or Cecilia Payne, born in 1900, who proposed groundbreaking astrophysical theories against all odds. Her mother refused to pay for her education. She was a woman working in a man’s field. Other scientists denounced her theories. But she persisted and lay the groundwork for modern understanding of our universe.

I like using real superheroes in the classroom. Links to literacy, art and character education offers all kinds of unit plans with backward design.

Start by finding the end result – a real life superhero – and work backwards to research who they are and what makes them tick. Extend the activity to connect to the student’s self – what are the student’s hidden superpowers?!

Others, like Marjorie White (featured in the CBC clip below), use superheroes to motivate students:

Who are your real life superheroes?
Who do you admire?
What is YOUR super power?!

#1157 School’s Out! … Summer Learning

School’s out!
Summer is in full swing.

That doesn’t mean literacy and math learning need to stop.
It also doesn’t mean you need to pull a chair to a desk and do some worksheets.

Let the learning continue – but hide it in summer activities! See some literacy/numeracy learning ideas below:

Summer Literacy
These games are geared to elementary children and can be played anytime there’s some downtime, not just on roadtrips:

• I spy literacy games– “I see something beginning with t and ending in e.” … “TREE”… “What letters go in that word?”

• Story circle– Each person adds a sentence, verbally, to an ever-growing story. The story will be silly but reinforces communication and connections.
Person 1… “We arrived at the beach and jumped in the water when suddenly…”
Person 2… “a submarine floated up beside me.”
Person 3… “The submarine opened and out came 26 cats…”
Person 4… “…Who did not like getting wet!”
Person 1… “My Dad rolled his eyes and said ‘Why are cats driving a submarine?!’”
Person 2… “We HAVE to help the cats!”
Person 3… “But, how?!…”

• Visit your library! There is hours of adventure found in a library. There’s still time to join the TD Summer Reading Club.

• Read to your children. Anytime, anywhere. Research supports that reading to your children is a very good idea.

Encourage children to count money to practice math.
Counting allowance money is (hidden) math!

Summer Numeracy 
• “Who wants some money?!”

My son’s day camp had a cantina. He wanted $2 for a treat. I gave him my loose change jar so he could collect the $2 himself. With a little support and guidance you have a motivated mathemetician!

“Who wants cookies?!”
Bake some cookies (or anything!) with your children. Get them to read and measure from the recipe = literacy and numeracy (and cookies!) Motivated mathematician strikes again!

• Tables turned…
Get children to try to stump YOU with their hardest math questions.

Hehe… Who likes to stump their moms and dads?! Their questions may be silly and not illustrate perfect math. This math inquiry offers a chance to build on their math curiosity and engage math ideas and interest:

Child: “What’s a billion times a gazillion?
Mom/Dad: “Yikes, that’s a tough one! A boozillion?
Child: “No, a gabillion!
Mom/Dad: “Wow, that’s big! How big is a million?… Do you have a million hairs on your head?… Do you have a thousand hairs on your head?… etc.” 

Their ideas and curiosity can be more important than a perfect answer. 

• Hiking math
Plant some math inquiry into hiking (or whatever you are doing.):
How far have we gone?
How old is that tree?
How many bugs are in that tree stump?
“How did you figure that out?…”

Again, the math ideas and discussion can be more valuable than perfect answers… Keep the math conversations going.

Science, art, social studies, physical activity, can all be disguised as fun activities, too.

Summer (hidden) learning will keep them sharp!
Keep it up. 

#1156 The Forced Apology

A young student does something wrong.
They’re told to apologize.
They do.

And then nothing changes…

There’s a lot wrong with this scenario.
The student upsets someone or something. Yes, that’s unfortunate but it happens. I like to think of these ‘oopses’ as potential for learning. Often the student is asked or told or expected to apologize and, usually, the student knows the easy way out – “I’m sorry…” 

The trouble is – in many cases – the student is not sorry. They want to get out of trouble quickly, go through the ‘sorry’ steps and get back to what they want to do. The greater injustice is that, oftentimes, the student’s undesirable behaviour does not change or is reinforced.

This winter a student from another class routinely stepped over the boundaries of school rules and general decorum. He was a high-flying prankster constantly pushing the envelope of acceptable behaviour. He’d been trained to keep playing his get out of jail “sorry” card. 

The last time he said ‘sorry’ with his big goofy grin and an expectation of absolution, I stopped. 

“I don’t think you are sorry,” came from my mouth. His smile faded with the recognition that his normal routine had hit a snag. He stood quietly, unsure what to say…

“If you were sorry you wouldn’t keep running and yelling in the halls between classes.” More silence…

“I would know you were sorry if you at least attempted to make a change.”

And I let him go…

That was the start of a slow change.

The next time I taught his class I met him at the door. I asked why I should let him in. “I could just give you your work. You could do it in the office… I don’t like it when your behaviour disrupts others. How do I know you’ve changed or are willing to change?”

That was the start of a gradual evolution. It required time and consistency and more energy than demanding ‘sorry.’ It required our relationship to grow.

The end result was better. But the cost was higher. 

Most people think teachers teach math or language or science, etc. They do, but the more important job is to develop the whole person. That takes more time and effort – often more effort than the teacher has time for.  

Don’t accept a meaningless apology. It’s the extra step that makes the difference to a student and a community.

#1155 Trees in the Classroom

Last fall, I carted six trees into my classroom. 

They fit nicely on the window ledge.

They also fit nicely into the curriculum:
• We wrote about the differences and similarities of the leaves.
• We compared the mathematical patterns and measured their sizes.
• We studied the science of trees as oxygen producers.
• We included them in art.
• We discussed the social impact of trees on neigbourhoods.
… And then we planted two trees as a lasting memory of the learning and gift to the school/neighbourhood.

Trees - curriculum links to language.
Trees in the Classroom

In the current state of our climate – more frequent floods, big storms and weather anomalies – bringing attention to the carbon capturing potential of trees at any grade level is a good thing.

I’d like to see trees planted as many places as possible. Schools and students are a great place to plant the seeds, metaphorically and literally. Growing trees in your class is possible and easy:
• Plant some apple seeds from a student’s lunch apples and see what happens.
• Contact groups like Ecology Ottawa and ask about their free seedling giveaways.
• Collect seeds in the fall and explore the process of seed germination (this can be challenging.) 

Trees for life!

Trees - curriculum connections
My tree nursery – to be planted in schools, parks and yards…

#1154 Learning Math

At the grocery store I recently paid for $92 worth of groceries. I asked for $60 cash back on my purchase. The cashier froze, paused and stammered “Ok, soooo…. How much will that be?” The bagger saved the day and helped with the math. 

I was shocked that 92+60 caused so much difficulty. What surprised me more over the next month was how often a cashier stumbled with similar, simple “mental math.”


Mental Math
The Ontario Ministry of Education defines mental math as: “Doing calculations in the mind, with little or no use of paper and pencil or calculator.”

How many math questions can you do quickly, in your head (NO calculators, please!) Leave your answers in the comments, below.

In practical ways, simple, mental math means almost instantly knowing the answer – in your head – to questions like 92+60. 
Or 12×8. 
Or 100-87.

Why is this important?
There are practical reasons. When you’re at the checkout it’s nice to verify that the cashier is giving the correct change, quickly, without the need of a calculator. Mistakes happen more often than I’d like to think.

In a bigger life context mastering mental math is useful to everyday tasks. 

I’m talking about figuring out how much paint to buy for a room that is 11 feet by 9 feet with 8 foot ceilings (320 square feet of wall space, not accounting for window or door or ceiling.)

… Or figuring out how much it will cost to take 8 kids to a birthday party movie at $8 each plus snack pack of $4.

In the classroom, mental math is crucial for higher level math. I’m not talking about 3rdyear university calculus. Word problems and bigger concepts will suffer if all the student’s mental energy revolves around simple math calculations. 

The National Research Council found that “The more automatically a procedure can be executed, the less mental effort is required. Since each person has a limited amount of mental effort that he or she can expend at any one time, more complex tasks can be done well only when some of the subtasks are automatic.”  (NRC, 2001)

What do we do to help our children?
I believe it is important for students to learn simple math by rote… so that the answer to 92 + 60 is automatic. They should learn simple math including times tables by memory.

How can students acquire this knowledge? It’s not fancy. Practice. 

Activity 1
In elementary classes I do short “Mad Mental Math” by placing 20 simple math questions around the room on “vertical, non permanent surfaces”. I encourage students to work quickly, support each other. There are no calculators allowed! It’s exciting, fun and involves all levels of math students.

Activity 2
I’ll also do a game-show style quiz where students answer simple math questions verbally or on paper. It’s lightning fast, a little crazy and fun.

For both activities, we go over the answers as a class and ask students to explain strategies they found useful to figure out the answers.

If young students automatically know simple mental math, bigger concepts come more easily…


• Laura Wheeler. nd. “Visibly random groups & Vertical non-permanent surfaces.” https://mslwheeler.wordpress.com/2014/11/09/visibly-random-groups-vertical-non-permanent-surfaces/

• National Research Council. (2001). “Adding it up: Helping children learn mathematics.” Washington, DC: National Academies Press. (page 351) – sourced from “Focusing on the Fundamentals of Math: A TEACHER’S GUIDE,” below.

• Ontario Ministry of Education. (2018). “Focusing on the Fundamentals of Math: A TEACHER’S GUIDE.”http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/teachers/teacher_guide_math_en.pdf

#1153 Technology in the Classroom

This is an assignment for an “additional qualification” (AQ) course on Special Education through ETFO.

My philosophy
I love technology in education and for helping students with learning difficulties (… when it works intuitively, seamlessly and easily with other platforms / users and is used appropriately by teachers and students in the classroom.)

The qualifying statements added to the initial statement makes technology a challenging medium to manage.

technology in the classroom

Advantages of technology are amazing – especially for those with special needs. LDAO suggests many current ‘assistive technologies’ (AT) that are currently available including:
• screen reading softwarebenefiting those with dyslexia and who benefit from processing information through the ears instead of through the eyes.
• voice recognition softwareallows students to talk their words into the computer. This is beneficial to students who struggle with typing or pencil use
internet research– having a connected device opens a student to the world of information.

There are many challenges of tech in the classroom including obsolescence, compatibility, training roadblocks and misuse of technology.

One of the greatest challenges, in my opinion, is misuse of technology. Many students benefit from the tech access they are provided through their IEP. Tech assists with their writing, reading, research, etc. Sometimes, some students use the technology as a crutch and become unwilling to be without their tech, even when not specifically needed. The intended use can quickly get sidetracked by other tech/internet distractions if not monitored appropriately by teachers.

Another challenge of technology is that it can narrow our scope instead of broadening it. While teaching a science class recently a student sat sullenly and idol when she should have been researching answers. When I approached her she told me she couldn’t do ANYthing because she did not have access to a computer at that time. “How else could you find the answers?” “I NEED the internet.” I quickly pulled a class dictionary off the shelf and looked up Question 1’s topic – I had the answer for her in less than 2 minutes. The problem wasn’t that she needed the computer. She was the deer-in-the-headlights of technology – she didn’t look beyond the computer for options to complete her work.

Another challenge is the effectiveness of the technology. My first year of teaching I inherited a classroom with an (expensive) SmartBoard – an interactive projector screen that acted like a tablet. The only trouble was it didn’t work. After many support tickets, requests and visits (the problem was a hardware issue) it became functional near the end of the school year… I used alternative, more reliable technology for most of the year.

Understood.org offers 10 Qs to ask about adaptive tech to help keep the tech applicable to a student including portability, specificity to a child’s needs, simplicity…

bring your own devices
Bring your own devices – pros and cons…

Equity Issues
Good technology, used effectively expands and propels learning to a new level of possibilities and support. Life is not fair to some but technology can help. Equity does not mean that everyone gets the same. Equity suggests that everyone gets what they need to perform successfully. I need glasses to read effectively. That does not mean everyone should get a pair of glasses. Similarly, not everyone needs voice recognition software but there are some students that will succeed only with that technology. 

BYOD (Bring Your Own Devices) can be an equity issue. Some families are fortunate to be able to provide a student with a device for school use. That’s good news until there is a student who cannot afford to bring beneficial technology to support their success. School funded technology is an important step for everybody. The school board should provide for all who are documented as needing technology for success.

“Bring Your Own Device” is a growing idea in the classroom whereby students are encouraged to bring a device to school.

Critical ideas to ponder with respect to BYOD – sourced from the Peel link below:
• BYOD reduces the requirements of the board to provide tech learning tools.
• Collaboration potential through the internet.
• Learning extends beyond the classroom hours and space.
• BYOD allows higher technology into the classroom.
• Equity issues related to socio-economic ability for all families to provide BYOD.

Listen to more about how the Peel District School Board is embracing BYOD.
The benefit of students bringing their OWN technology include reducing the need for school boards to invest in tech and, often, technology brought from home can be more current than that purchased through the school.

My concern of a BYOD policy is the expectation that families provide their own devices. For some, this is achievable but for many this puts a financial stress and sets up potential “have / have not” stigma for students within a school I would prefer the school board provide ample technology for all.

My concerns have been outlined above:
• appropriate use of technology
• shortsighted “tech-only” mindset when other solutions are available/beneficial
• BYOD inequalities…

I love tech, when it works well. With appropriate funding, diligence and use, tech goes a long way to help many students perform to expectations and beyond.

For more info see the following:
Assistive Tech
Different technologies available
Access to tech
Affect of technology on socio-economic groups
Peel Board’s BYOD policy
Peel Board BYOD Parent Policy

#1152 Powerful Words

“You’re too fat.”
“Why would you want that?”
“Oh, come on. That’s so easy!”

Small words have lasting effects on brain development in youth and the “prevalence of anger, hostility and depression in adulthood.” (PsychologyToday.com)

Words affect outcomes. (Photo: OnePixel.com)

Developmental Roots
I’ve always been fascinated by the factors that turn people into who they are. There are enormously diverse factors – nature and nurture.

Our genes and predispositions are hard to change – propensity towards height, specific intelligences.

Environmental factors, of course, have a large impact on development – adequate shelter, nourishment affect the ability to grow and stresses on growth.

Social factors also have an enormous effect on the development of a person. Vygotsky built his socio-cultural theory of learning on the idea that we are products of the people that surround us.

Choosing Support
A good friend once told me “Surround yourself with supportive people.” I believe that is sage advice and will support a stronger, healthier person – and I do not mean physical strength.

Providing Support
Imagine growing up being told, regularly, by people you look up to (teachers, family, coaches) you’re too thin, fat, not good enough, disappointing. Direct words have a great impact but subtle insinuations, disapproving glances also have a lasting effect if repeated enough. Many will start to believe what they’re told. 

Imagine, instead of focusing on negatives, the same people sought to comment on positives:
• “You look good.”
• “I like that book you’ve chosen.”
• “You really did well with that jigsaw puzzle.”

Positive words support positive development. (Photo: OnePixel.com)

When I adopted my first dog in the early 1990’s I sought help to help me create an easy canine companion. I stumbled upon a book at the local library called “Training your dog positively.” It’s message was simple and applied so well to my philosophy in teaching: Acknowledge and address the shortfalls (simply/quickly) but regularly praise and promote the successes!

At school I hear and see the results of positive and negative support. Children that are offered more positives and told they will succeed generally do. Children that experience more negativity often struggle with confidence and success.

Two Options for Improving
There are two sides to the issue.
It would be lovely to just ask the world to praise and pursue positive support (while supporting challenges.) That means asking people (including you and me) to reflect and be aware of the impact of our words and actions on people. Less judgment. More positive support.
But that is a lofty goal.

Another option is to arm children with the skills to shield themselves from negativity and pursue positive role models – another challenging goal. I see children who withstand negative influences regularly. Their role models are doing the best they can… But we can encourage children to recognize their own worth and help them seek positive friends and influencers. “Surround yourself with suportive people…”

Listen, choose your words well, and smile.