To my teachers


Forever and ever I’ve been wanting to contact my teachers growing up – but I haven’t. Three things recently made me remember that: 1) a student mentioned that she is currently writing letters to her teachers (she just graduated grade 8 in June – She is  20 years ahead of me), 2) my friend told me about reconnecting with a past teacher at Lakeside Park, and 3) visiting Colasanti’s.

I picture myself 20 years in the future having past students contacting me to thank me for inspiring them or teaching them something important or even just sharing with me where they’ve gone in their lives – and although it makes me feel old, it would make me tickled. The kids who were in grade 8 the year I started teaching have graduated university and are off into adulthood. Unreal.

I decided to write a public letter to a handful of my elementary teachers of the past who I think about with fondness- with the hopes that they may be directed here, or stumble upon it. Most people remember their high school teachers having the most impact (and I had some absolute gems – Mr. Gombai (art), Mlle Gaudette (french immersion), Mr. Buchanan (music) who grew my confidence, made me laugh regularly and pulled my artistic talent in all directions. My math and science teachers also made me very prepared for University.), but because I teach elementary school, I find that I think a lot more about my KPS teachers in my teaching life.

I now realize how much effort and love goes in to each classroom – and probably didn’t give them enough credit at the time. Some teachers are magnetic, enthusiastic and make learning fun, safe and welcoming. Not all were like this, but I was blessed to have many great teachers growing up – perhaps they inspired me to become one myself.

Mlle Pugliese – Kdgn + grade 1: Mlle directed all of the school musicals, and even though I never got cast any “higher” than chorus I always tried out. I memorized the songs, longed to be a set designer and dance. I was mostly too shy and probably couldn’t handle it at the time. These days, elementary musical theater is my thing – my most favourite of extra curriculars. I think Mlle had something to do with this. When I think of Mlle, I also think of making dioramas at trapezoid tables, dipping cookies in milk and how she taught my parents to speak French. Mlle is currently a Professor of Dramatic Arts at UWindsor. Très cool.

Mlle Costa – 2e année: Mlle was the most artistic teacher I ever had. She spent her lunch recesses drawing epic chalk art to illustrate our printing practice. She had trendy clothes and long painted fingernails and took us to her mom’s house for an awesome field trip. She always sang and performed at school talent shows. I hope that I inspire my students artistically as much as she did. I try to infuse as much art as I can, going out of my way to bring creativity to my students. (And I always have some sort of performance up my sleeve for assemblies). Not surprisingly, Mlle created an alter-ego clown named Zoléo and wrote French children’s music. So rad.

Mme Cotter – grades 3 + 6: I think Mme was the smartest person I know. She taught us songs and taught in small groups – two things that I value in my classroom. She gave me the love of overseas penpals and the value of snail mail. She had us make poster projects (one of my favourite things for my students to create) and do a lot of research. Most importantly, she had confidence in me and encouraged me to be a leader amongst my peers. I truly value the things I learned about myself in her classes. Mme eventually became a principal – and is now happily retired.

M. Pelland – 5e année: My first male teacher (and his first year of teaching!). His perspective and love of practical jokes leaves a lasting memory for me. My best memory is his epic Lou Flirpa joke (I copied this joke with my students). He was very strict with his ZERO English rule (that is my number one classroom rule) and gave out random little toys for fun (plastic smurfs!). We created a class newspaper (still on my list of to-dos) and he used a purple pen to mark things. He would often share stories about his family (nightmare about buying his engagement ring for his wife) and his hobbies and interests. It made him real and likeable. I always try to incorporate these things in my mini lessons as well.  M. Pelland is still teaching at KPS.

Miss Hopper – Music. She was my trumpet mentor extraordinaire. She made my confidence soar, and I still play my trumpet in the Port Elgin Community Band (and in our school band). She made me lose my fear of performing in front of a crowd, gave me solos and continued to be supportive throughout high school. She helped me get a spot in the pit orchestra for one of my favourite musicals of all time (A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Forum), she taught us some fab choir songs and introduced to me to the (underappreciated) movie Newsies (love!). I incorporate music in my classroom on a regular basis and I am a huge advocate our school’s music program. Miss Hopper currently teaches High School music.

What were your favourite things about these teachers? Do you think of them as often as I do? When you think of your past teachers, do you think of them with fondness and inspiration? Why? Why not? Do you think that your high school teachers had more of an impact on your life today, or elementary?

*The above letter is from one of my super-rad students. She writes me a heartfelt letter every year. They are all hanging on my wall. xo

** If you have contact info for any of the above teachers, please send them over.

First Annual Art Show

My co-worker Natalka and I gathered our art projects from the past year and set up the gym for our First Annual Art show. Natalka teaches art to the English kiddos from grades 4-8 and I teach the French Immersion art from grades 3-8. We organized the gym by Elements of Design (Line, Shape, Texture, Space, Colour, Value), labelled the work and invited parents and students to enjoy the artwork. We were so pleased as to how it all turned out and had fantastic feedback.

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The majority of my ideas came from my schooled: art pinboard or projects that I did myself in elementary or high school or for fun. We used pencils, markers, pastels, crayons, glue, magazines, paint chips, gesso, wire, pantyhose, charcoal, found items, recycled items, paint, foil, sticks, pop cans, exacto knives and clay to create our projects. Some students created Facebook profile pages of famous artists and created art like them. My class created a giant colour wheel of found objects.

We also created a collaborative installation, where each student illustrated a pair of eyes. We compiled them together with the title “If these walls had eyes” – representing the eyes of aboriginal students of residential schools.

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I am so fortunate to teach visual arts. It is definitely one of my passions. I am excited for more projects next year. I am also excited to add more of a social justice inquiry twist to the intermediate projects, start sketchbook projects with my juniors, give kiddos a greater choice of materials and create more collaborative projects within and between classes.

art long range planning

Report Cards of the past.


Report cards are due to the office next week, and I’ve been inputting marks and comments like a mad-lady. When I was home for my dad’s birthday party, my sister and I were going through some old pictures and came across his old report cards from elementary school. I both laughed and cried.

Let us first start with the noticeable differences between then and now. The 60s report cards were actual report “cards”. One piece of card stock folded in half kept for all 3 terms. Some marks for penmanship and arithmetic and spelling and a couple of handwritten generic comments. The 2013 Ontario Report Card is 4 pages long each term. The front page is school information, Religion* and Learning Skills marks and comments. Page two is Language (English and French, and Native Language if applicable), Math and Science marks and comments. Page 3 is Social Studies, Phys Ed, Health and the Arts (Drama, Dance, Visual, Music) and student goal-setting. Page 4 is grading information and parent goal-setting. All of that writing and I still feel bad that I left spaces in some comment boxes. We get the report cards sent back to us if they aren’t done “properly”, they need to be personalized and have to include strengths and next steps for the students. There are check boxes for immersion and IEPs, and guidelines as to how many strands you have to report on each term.  You also can’t give less than a D or you get red-flagged by the computer system. You are supposed to comment on what they can do and what they’ve completed, so if a student rarely completes assignments, that can’t really be “counted” against them. If they slack off in math, or don’t put in any effort, you are supposed to comment on that in the Learning Skills section, not the Math section. Heck, there is a whole policy document about how to write them.

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Can you imagine writing reports cards like my dad’s teachers? One small card for all three terms with a sentence or two handwritten general comments? One even says “completed to 18.” What does that even mean?  Seriously, that sort of  report card writing would take no time at all. Talk about stress-free! I wonder if the principals even had to proof-read them? Likely not. One of the report cards we found of my dad’s had a comment that wasn’t at all related to school, it talked about how my dad had terrible taste in hockey teams. What?!

Here are two quotes that were typed on the front of many of the old report cards we found that I liked…

“Our schools are endeavouring to provide an environment where your child may grow naturally in intellect, in social co-operation and in moral responsibility. Parents help by ensuring for the child proper rest, well-balanced diet, prompt and regular attendance at school. Feel free to contact the school on any problem concerning your child’s progress. Calls at 8:45 am or during noon hour disturb the school routine at least. Appointments can be conveniently arranged.”

All children have not the same ability to learn in school. Comparison of reports, therefore, is apt to be unreliable and unfair. The school exacts the same standards of obedience, honesty, cleanliness, application to studies, interest, regularity and punctuality that should be practiced by all citizens as they form the basis of a happy family life at home or school.”

I am not complaining about writing report cards, I’ve become quite efficient, and I nerdily love the curriculum that we get to teach and report upon (so pumped about the new immersion document!). I also appreciate the PD day we are given to write them (well, to at least get a crack at them). These report cards are definitely more packed with details than those of the past, but are they really helpful to parents?

I spend a lot of time deciphering comments on report cards during interviews. For example, a comment reading “With teacher assistance, Benny can add 3-digit numbers with some effectiveness.” really means, “Benny can’t add very well.” – but doesn’t it sound nicer? I also spend a lot of time explaining that a B actually means “meeting grade-level expectations” and is more similar to an A of the past, and a C isn’t the end of the world, it just means that they haven’t solidified the expectation, but they are progressing.

I also wonder how many parents read all of the words that teachers spend hours typing up in “parent-friendly language” (whatever that is supposed to mean) or do they just look at the letter grade? Also, if parents don’t know what the curriculum says in the first place, then they won’t realize that “Shan writes very simple texts using one or two forms. She generates some clear ideas with supporting details and is beginning to use paragraphs in her writing.” is not at grade 5 level, and is much lower than the grade 5 expectations his/her peers are reaching, which are “Penny writes longer and more complex texts using a variety of forms. She identifies and orders main ideas and supporting details and groups them into several developed linked paragraphs. She determines whether her ideas and information are relevant, appropriate, and adequate for her purpose, and does more research if necessary.”

Does anyone care to guess how many page 4s I get back from parents?

On that note, I need to go finish writing my Learning Skills (which in my opinion, are the most important part of the Report Card.)


Closed- & Open-Ended Problem Solving

What’s the difference?

Close-ended: Many of the questions we traditionally ask students call for a single number, figure, or mathematical object. These kinds of questions are closed-ended because the expected answers are predetermined and specific. There are many examples of closed-ended problems online. These can be very valuable practice, and excellent homework support.

Examples of closed-ended questions:

1) Jennie wanted to buy some flowers for her mom. Each flower costs $3. If Jennie buys 15 flowers, how much money will she have spent?

2) The total number of people at Monday’s football game was
50,000 + 9,000 + 300 + 1. What is this number, written in standard form?

In contrast, Open-ended questions allow a variety of correct responses and elicit a different kind of student thinking. The open-ended nature of the question allows students to demonstrate their own ways of solving the problem.

Examples of open-ended questions:

Type 1: Ask Students to Explain Who Is Correct and Why: These types of items present two or more views of some mathematical concept or principle and the student has to decide which of the positions is correct and why. Example: Ian says that when you find the sum, you have a lot of choices for a common denominator. Frank says there is only one choice for the common denominator. Who is correct and why?

Type 2: Ask Students to Create a Situation or an Example That Satisfies Certain Conditions Questions of this type require students to recognize the defining characteristics of the underlying concept. Students must take what they know about a concept and apply it to create an example. Example: At Friday’s game, there were more people than there were at Monday’s game and fewer people than at Saturday’s game. How many people could have been at Friday’s game? Explain how you know your answer is right.

I’d like some more sample problems!

There are many math problems online – and many are close-ended. You can easily convert a close-ended problem into an open ended problem (and visa versa). Both are excellent practice, and we use both open- and close-ended problems in our math classroom.

Original Closed-Ended Item

Revised Open-Ended Item

Find the Lowest Common Multiple of 18 and 24.

Why can’t 48 be the LCM of 18 and 24?

What are the next three numbers in the following sequence?
1, 4, 7, 10, 13, ___, ____, ____

Consider the following sequence: 1, 4, 7, 10,
13, … . Is 100 a member of this sequence? Explain your reasoning.

Round 37.67 to the nearest 10th.

Generate three different numbers that when rounded to the nearest 10th give 37.7.

mathy valentines.


Today we wrote some math (thomas) valentines. Here are some of my favourites translated. These kids are hilarious.

“Dear Area – You fill my heart with love and make me feel all warm and cozy inside. Love, Rectangle”
“Dear Mode – You are beautiful and smart. You’ll always be my favourite. Love, a data set.”
“Dear 536 – Things are not working out. We need to break up and go our own ways. I’ve found someone new. From, Division”
“Dear numbers, I love you in my life. Our love keeps growing and growing. Love, ascending pattern.”
“Dear addition – We belong together and will be together forever. You are my match. Love, subtraction.”


These valentines were part of some voice trait learning. We’ve been talking about adding voice to our writing with some quick-write mini lessons. One of the ways we can add voice is to change the point of view of the author.  Above is a picture of my hallway bulletin board devoted to the voice trait. Included with the valentines are some “Show, don’t tell” paragraphs and some voice-embedded opinion grocery lists. I also put some self-portrait collages – because if they aren’t full of voice, I don’t know what is.

Subtraction strategies!

We are working on subtraction strategies. It is very important to realize as a parent (and a teacher!) that the traditional North American algorithm (columns with regrouping) is NOT the only or best or fasted way to solve large-digit subtraction. It may seem that way because for many adults, it was the only strategy that we learned in school.

Some of the other strategies that we’ll be exploring at school include: Base 10 blocks, Decomposing, Number Line (why subtract when you can add?), friendly numbers and anything else that students come up with that works every time!

I was taught in school the traditional algorithm (cross out the number, borrow from the next), but after learning so many new strategies, I’m never going back!

Check out this video of a teacher explaining 16 different ways to subtract!



Read. Read. Read.

The biggest concern of parents of children in a French Immersion classroom is that they [the parents] don’t speak French and don’t think they’ll be able to help their child with homework. In an attempt to ease that concern and bridge a better connection between home and school, I send home monthly “tips” in my newsletters.


Read with your children at least once a day (in ANY language) for at least 20 minutes. Have a family reading time – where everyone reads.

Continue reading aloud to your child even if they can read by themselves. Even if they are in grade 4 or 6 or 12.

Explore books together. Ask questions, explore character motivations and themes. Point out new vocabulary or ideas. Make connections to your lives.

Vary the text. Reading does not only have to be chapter books. It can also be with non-fiction texts such as science experiments, instruction manuals, magazines, cookbooks, comic books, movie/music/book/game reviews. menus, song lyrics, catalogues, blogs, food & product labels, brochures and newspapers. Try an audio book! Respect the genre your child chooses (even if you are scared of snakes or cannot stand princesses!)

Tell stories together orally. Talk about your family genealogy, or vacation memories. Record yourselves!

Set up a reading space in your home and make sure everyone uses it. Build a great home library. Keep reading materials in the bathroom, in the car, in bedrooms and near the tv!

Be a good reading role model. Let your children see what you are reading – share interesting things you’ve read about in books, magazines, online or in newspapers. Seeing you read will inspire your children to read and your reaction to reading has a huge influence on your child as a reader.

Visit bookstores and libraries. Get a library card, take advantage of programming and explore new authors and genres together.

Ask your child what he or she is reading, and encourage discussion.

Go places and do things together to build their background knowledge and vocabulary. This will give them a stronger basis for things they read.

Be knowledgable about your child’s progress. Find out what reading skills and strategies they are expected to have at each grade level. Talk to your child’s teacher.

Add some Writing!  Provide lots of writing materials (paper, pencils, pens, markers, staplers, hole punches, yarn…) Write grocery lists, thank-you cards, posters, family newsletters, make books….

The Set-Up: What My Classroom Says About Me…

To desk or not to desk?  No teacher desk. I haven’t had one in years. I have some shelves with teacher books and curriculum documents, as well as unused science/social studies texts. I have a horseshoe guided reading table to work at (I keep my laptop on it) and a couple of cupboards and drawers behind it to store some of my stuff.  I don’t need any more space than that. I felt that when I had a desk I just used it to dump things on and shove stuff in. It wasn’t useful and I quickly got rid of it.

Tables or desks: I wish I had tables.  I have desks set up in groups. I rarely teach a lesson with the kiddos at their desks. It makes it seem like I am talking to more kids than there actually art. I like them on the carpet in front of me. I sometimes sit with them on the floor, or stand/sit in a chair. I feel much more confident when I am taller than my students. For most work, students have the opportunity to work wherever they want in the classroom. I have camping chairs, a plethora of stools and ottmen, a bunch of pillows and a couple of carpets. Students are usually at “their desk” for artwork and eating.

What’s on your walls?  There isn’t much….yet. We create anchor charts together as a class and put them up as we create them. Since I do have 13 of the same kids as last year, I’ve kept some of the anchor charts – since technically we did create them together so that they can continue to refer to until I “re-teach” it to the entire class. Some teachers still put up motivational quote posters, but I can’t stand them. Even if I did like them, you can’t find them in French anywhere.

Are you in the room?  Not really. There is a picture of me with silly glasses on the door with the rest of my class. I suppose it would be nice to have a picture of Rob & Eli somewhere, but I don’t – just like the students don’t have photos of their families on their desks. My writer’s notebook has some photos of them plastered on the cover.  I have a class photo from each of the classes that I’ve taught along the top of my Religion board, and a couple of sculptures (past art projects), my rubber chicken and my stuffed Domo (class pet) on some high shelves.

Which way do your desks face?  I keep my desks in groups. It saves space, my kids are (quiet) hard workers and we do a lot of group work. If they turn their heads one way they see the SMARTboard, and if they look the other way, they see the white boards. But as I mentioned, most mini-lessons happen from the carpet or at the small group table.

Are there places for the students to work that doesn’t include their desks?  They can work wherever they feel that they work best and stay on task. They choose.

Can they get what they need?  I keep containers of things (pencil crayons, markers, pencils, erasers, staplers, tape, pens, glue, paper clips, paper) all at the writing shelves. They can grab it if they need it. Unless it gets trashed or abused, they have access.

Where are those rules?  I don’t have rules/consequences posted anywhere. The first week of school we practice routines over and over again. We also discuss and internalize our classroom rules (My most important two: Listen to instructions the first time and SPEAK IN FRENCH). We practice and practice. If at anytime throughout the year the expectations are not met, we’ll stop and review again – but my kids are pretty great.

Where’s the tech?  We have a SMARTboard and 4 classroom computers. We have a class iPad and a FLIP video camera. I often have my camera at school too. The kids become very comfortable with the gadgets quickly. This year we’ll be blogging, tweeting, animating, playing math games, listening to audio books, creating photo and video projects and doing a lot of media literacy. I think we’ll try skyping with Rob’s class too!

guiding questions from: Pernilleripp

Addition Strategies

Our addition strategies!

Some may argue that the traditional algorithm is the best and fastest addition strategy- but that is probably because it was the only one that you learned (and were drilled with!). We teach our kids many ways to solve the same question – we also encourage them to come up with their own ways of solving problems. That is what differentiating instruction in math is all about! I don’t care which strategy they end up using to answer their questions as long as they consistently get the right answer and can explain what they’ve done. The splitting strategy is actually very popular for many kids.

We spent this past week learning a different addition strategy and practicing each one. Next week we’ll do more problem solving and they can use whichever strategy they’d like.

The kids are proud that they know how to add in more ways than their parents can. They love playing with numbers in different way. They are like mini-teachers at home. They ask me if I teach them to Rob at home. So awesome.

Check out the six we learned! (yes, me too! I love learning new ways to do old things.)

Friendly Numbers
Base 10 blocks
Number Line
Traditional Algorithm (the “columns”)

For more cool strategies for addition/subtraction/multiplication/division of more than 1-digit numbers, do a youtube search – there are some really rad multiplication strategies out there.

(yes. I love math. And I try to make as many of my kids love it as much as I do!)

NOTE: Please don’t judge me if I’ve made errors. Blame it on the preggo brain!!

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