20 hour Project

There are some definite perks to having a husband like George Couros. He pushes my thinking, asks questions and has high expectations for my teaching and learning. I appreciate all of these qualities immensely and would not be the teacher I am today without his guidance and support. I was talking with him about how I enjoy the idea of Genius Hour and my students really enjoy working on projects like that, but I find that we end up making a bunch of things that eventually get taken home or go in the garbage. I know that the learning is more in the process than in the end product, but I was wanting to try something where the students acquire a skill that they could use for the rest of their life, something they could take with them. My husband, of course, had something for me to watch and told me that he thought I could definitely do this with my kids.

This video is about the 20 hour project. What Josh Kaufman explains is that we can learn a new skill in 20 hours. The way he proposes that we learn this skill is through a few simple steps.

  1. Deconstruct the Skill (Break the skill down into smaller and smaller pieces- practice the most important skills first).
  2. Learn Enough to Self-correct ( Get 3-5 resources about what you want to learn. Too many resources and you procrastinate, learn just enough so that you can start and self-correct as you go. Get better at noticing when you make a mistake, and then doing something a little different).
  3. Remove Practice Barriers (Don’t get caught up in the research phase. Remember that in the end, the point is to actually practice the skill, not just learn how to practice it.)
  4. Practice at Least 20 Hours

I love that this is a simple premise that can yield some pretty amazing results. There are so many skills that students could learn and so many ways to learn them. YouTube is an amazing resources and has hundreds of experts waiting to assist you. I wanted to try the 20 hour project myself before I got into it with the students so that I could show them my example.

My 20 Hour Project

In high school, I ran cross country and really enjoyed it. I didn’t keep up with it in university and when I started my first year of teaching, I tried to get back into it. The first time I ran, I was so itchy I was dragging myself across the concrete (a ridiculous image, I know). The next time I went running, I was luckily with a friend, the reaction was worse. He had to call an ambulance and take me to the hospital ( my blood pressure was dangerously low and I was passing out, and my whole body was covered in hives). Needless to say, after that I avoided running. Fast forward to almost 7 years later and I finally got my doctor to recommend me to see a specialist. What the specialist concluded was that I have something called “exercise induced anaphylaxis”  so basically, I am allergic to running (which no one believes me, so I also asked him for a doctors note). He told me that I would be able to run, if I ran on an empty stomach (hadn’t eaten for 4-5 hours) and took an antihistamine before I went. I was so elated that I could finally run, I rushed to the drugstore and bought some Aerius and started researching. I found 3 resources and an expert who has been running for a long time (my husband) and made a plan. Since I haven’t run in a long time, I started with really short runs and have started working my way up. The first week, I did short 1.5 km runs (because I wanted to stay close to home incase the medication didn’t work). Then, when I realized it was working I started interval training. The first 2 weeks I ran for 2 minutes and walked for 1. Then the third week I ran for 3 and walked for 1. I even started bringing my dogs on the run so that they would push me. The end goal is to be able to run a 10 km in an hour. I am currently only running 4km to get myself used to running and I will continue to increase the distance as I get more comfortable. I am currently running/walking 4km in about 21 minutes, but I know I will get slower as I increase the distance I am running. When I started, it was really tough and I NEEDED that walking time, but as I practice more and more, I feel like I need it less and less. I am really starting to love running. I have also been biking and doing runners yoga to stretch my muscles and help with my performance. So far I am about 5 hours into my project and really liking the idea and the end goal.

As I go through my journey, I have started planning how I can assist my students with their project. I found this resources that has some ideas as to which skills students might choose. Students are definitely not limited to this list, we will also brainstorm ideas and help each other refine our ideas.

One important aspect of this project will be that students do some research. Students will need a mentor to support their journey. They can tweet out asking for help or use YouTube to find an “expert” to support their learning. Students will find 3-5 resources and add them to their 20 hour project google doc. This will allow them to easily find their resources, as well as limit themselves so they don’t procrastinate.

Along with research, we will also need a way to display what we have learned and the process. This way, students can self correct and share with others their progress and ask for support. Students will blog or vlog their progress to illustrate their learning. They must blog each time they work on the project. That might be a few sentences about what they have done that day, their struggles, their success or a video showing progress.

Below is an example of a video of me vlogging my experience. I will continue to document my progress, and ask for support from others as to how to improve my time and how to train smarter. This vlog is only up to day 10, but I will try and update it as I continue to run more and talk about my progress.



Jobs With Purpose

help wanted

I am sure we have all had job charts in our classroom and they come in many different shapes and forms. As I see it, the point of having classroom jobs is to help students take ownership of the classroom as well as take responsibility for the physical space they are learning in. This past year I set up my classroom so every student had a job. We came up with the jobs as a class and then rotated through the jobs each week. This was awesome because each child had a responsibility and they reminded each other of their jobs. Some jobs were more desirable for some kids than others and some students were better at remembering to do their jobs than others. One problem I saw was that kids would forget which job they had because we rotated through them each week. Another issue was that they were not always very interested in their job.  As I plan for the upcoming year, I was thinking about how to make this system better and allow for students to be more engaged in keeping our classroom running.

I came up with an idea, but I think I need some help building upon the idea. I was thinking that we would have classroom teams, as opposed to one person per job. (The teams could then choose to delegate different aspects of the job, or use a combined effort).
One job that I thought we could have would be PR department. This team’s job would be to post our daily or weekly classroom events on Twitter, Instagram and our blog. They would be in charge of managing our classrooms image.
A second job I considered would be HR department. Students would be trained to support students with small or “kid sized” problems they were dealing with. This team would also be on the look out to make sure all students were enjoying themselves during recess and were getting everything they needed (like extra permission slips). This team would also be in charge of covering the office while our secretary took her lunch break. (this could also be handled by the neat and organized team if they needed to switch)
A third team would be the IT department. This department would be in charge of ensuring that technology was functioning properly and any tech issues we had could be resolved. They would also be in charge of making sure our chromebooks and iPads were fully charged and ready for use.
A fourth team would be the health and wellness team. They would be in charge of giving ideas for healthy snacks, leading the gym stretches and picking the warmup games for gym class. They would also help set up brain breaks during the school day.
A final team would be the Neat and Organized (still working on the name) department. They would help with handing out anything students needed, ensuring that the classroom and hallway was Neat and organized. They would also be in charge of doing any clerical work we needed such as answering the phone or running things down to the office. This team could ensure all students had the supplies they needed and be in charge of keeping track of the extra supplies. It would also be helpful if this team kept track of all the forms students hand in and ensure all students handed it what they needed to.
Each team would have its own cubby to store supplies or so that the team could communicate with each other. It would also be a place for students to have meetings on Monday to talk about who would do which job for that week.
Is there a department I am missing? Does anyone do something similar in their classroom?
I am not sure how kids will “apply” to be in each department or what will happen if they are not being a valued team member. If you have any suggestions or ideas, that would be awesome as this idea is just in its preliminary planning phase 🙂


As a kid, one of my favourite ways to play was to mimic society. My mom would bring home old forms from the bank and my friends and I would fill them out and play teller. We would open our own spa and set up massages and manicures for our moms. For a while, we even played gas station and made idol chit chat while pretending to fill up each others tanks using a hose (that was really hilarious for our neighbours). Play is important. Even today, I really enjoy playing, creating and imagining. When no one is looking, I’ll admit, I lip sync to popular songs and imagine myself as a superstar. As a kid, if I had had the opportunity to mimic society at school, I would have enjoyed school even more.

Recently I visited a school called “Aspen Heights Elementary School” in Red Deer Alberta. There I experienced a MicroSociety® school in action. According to the Aspen Heights Website a MicroSociety: 

“[Aims] to prepare students for the real world. In MicroSociety, the school is run like a country with student run banks, businesses, an elected government, police, postal service, newspaper and non-governmental organizations. Each student fills out a job application, goes through an interview process, and has a work performance assessment completed by their manager.

All students earn wages in the school’s ‘micro’ currency, make deposits in the ‘micro’ bank, and pay taxes. In addition, they work together to overcome problems encountered in their ventures while becoming responsible citizens. In a MicroSociety students learn and grow to their potential. Most importantly, they experience the pride and benefits of their labor, as they become business owners, bankers, legislators, and entrepreneurs in a safe and supportive learning environment.

When I arrived, I was greeted by Aspen Height’s Prime Minister. She looked me in the eye and shook my hand. She was well spoken and very respectful.  I was very impressed with how grown-up she seemed and she later explained to us that she used to be quite shy. In grade one and two she barely raised her hand and was afraid to be called on. In MicroSociety she pushed herself outside of her comfort zone so that she could grow as a person. When she started as Prime Minister she was nervous to make announcements in the morning or greet new people. She said now, a few months into her role,  she feels like “it’s no big deal”.

While I walked around to the different ventures, I was able to speak with many of the managers and owners (grade 4 and 5 students usually). Often the students would see a new face in their venture and they would come and shake my hand and let me know how business was going. In MicroSociety, ventures need to pay rent as well as pay their employees. I met an owner in a venture that was working on her market day (a day that students usually don’t work and are allowed to shop at the different ventures). When I asked her why, she said she needed to work that day so that she could make rent. Not only was she learning delayed gratification, she was also understanding the responsibilities involved in running a business.

My tour guide, the treasurer, was an energetic and excited grade 5 student. As we were touring around, two members of R.A.M.P. (Aspen Heights police force) stopped us to alert our guide that he had lost his ID badge that all students must wear. As a teacher, I could see myself saying to this student that he needed to go find it and be responsible for his things, but that is not how the students handled the issue. In fact, the two police officers radioed to other officers to let them know that our guide had lost his ID badge and to be on the lookout for it. About 3 minutes later, there was an announcement made over the intercom letting all students know that the ID badge had been lost. The way that the students spoke to each other was with respect. The police officer was clear that our guide needed to find his badge, but went the extra step to help him find it. It was not about catching people for a ticket, but ensuring that everyone was following the rules and if there was a problem, they would help solve it.

I was so impressed with the idea of MicroSociety and all the real world skills the students were developing. Experiencing “Market Day” was truly amazing. I believe that the skills that the students of Aspen Heights are learning in the MicroSociety, create better citizens and allow students to grow in a comfortable space with their peers. It is an amazing program and I hope that more schools can use this model to better prepare our students to be active participants in society.


Teacher for hire: Googleyness a necessity

At the end of a long and wonderful day, I sat down to tackle my ever growing list of emails. In the impossible quest of emptying my inbox, I came across an email from my principal Travis McNaughton about our PD session tomorrow. He asked us to watch a video featuring a talk by Tony Wagner about innovation in the classroom.

During the video, Tony Wagner talks about Google and their hiring practices. Google hires people based on their ability to think outside the box, as opposed to focusing on grades or standardized test scores. When I looked on Googles website, they had a list of things they look for in a potential candidate. Their criteria include: Leadership, Role-related knowledge (someone with a variety of strengths and passions), How you think (problem solving) and Googleyness (what makes you, you as well as how you work in a team). They are not looking for someone with a large content background, because they realize that all people have access to the internet and can easily Google what they need to figure out. They need someone who has skills and the ability to persevere and work through problems. They want employees with passion and creativity.

How do I transfer the ideas from Google to my classroom? What do I need to do to as a teacher to facilitate leadership, passion, problem solving and teamwork?

My question is, how do I get students to think like a Googler? How do I prepare my students for a world that focuses less on content and more on skills? How do I become and innovation facilitator?

Kids are Awesome!

“I can’t wait for Friday!”, “This kid in my class is so frustrating!”, “I don’t feel that parents appreciate all that I do.”, “how many days until summer vacation?”,”I’m not allowed to do that at my school.”

Many of us (me included) are guilty of spouting off the above negative quotes. Teaching is a hard job. We have long hours  and there is a constant need for patience and flexibility. It’s hard! I couldn’t agree more. Sometimes I need to remind myself as to why I got into teaching and focus on the positives. Last week we had a dance party in my class just because we wanted to… and then we did a flash mob in the class next door. I know that we weren’t covering the curriculum, but it made it easier to cover the curriculum later that day. I laugh when the kids say funny things and we all laugh together. On Wednesday I am throwing down a lip sync battle for the last half hour of the day, because kids can be creative and do spectacular things when you let them be kids. (We can call it music class, right?)
The reason I got into teaching is because of the kids. Yes, I love to meticulously organize (and colour code) things. Yes, I enjoy creating cool and engaging lesson. Yes, I like the smell of fresh school supplies. But the reason I love teaching has nothing to do with that. The reason I love teaching is because I think kids are awesome!
Tomorrow, remind yourself of why kids are awesome! Do something fun that allows them to see that “sharpening the saw ” is just as important as reading and writing. Show them that you are human and you want them to be too. Remind yourself why you love teaching.
Please comment below and tell me what you did!

Is it me…

This year has been a really busy school year (my excuse for not blogging since August). I got married (eeee!) moved cities, as well as started a new grade and division. Lots of change, lots of new, lots of exciting. I have a group of ladies I connect with on Twitter and we call ourself #plngelato (because we are teachers that support each other and we all love delicious gelato). We have a challenge to blog once a month (better late then never) and this is my December edition.

My husband is great for being honest and pushing me to be all that I can be. We were having a conversation the other day about how I am much more relaxed now  as opposed to at the start of the school year. He said to me, “You know it was more about you when you were stressed and tired then it was about the kids”. My first reaction was to berate him and tell him that he doesn’t know what it’s like and how difficult my class is… instead I took a deep breath and thought about his comment. Was it me? It was… I was trying to move mountains and push my students and myself beyond what we were capable of. I was expecting too much from myself and from my students which caused me to constantly be disappointed, frustrated and exhausted.

I am sure many other teachers out there would want to smack me if I say “it’s you, not your students” so I won’t :). I just want to share with you my experience.

The school I taught in for the past 3 years was a bit of an anomaly. All students who were in grade 4, were achieving at the grade 4 level or higher. This is not the norm in most schools, nor is it my experience this year. In September of this year (at my new school) I was teaching as if all students were at the same level, I was expecting all students to listen and work hard. I forgot that each student is an individual and I needed to treat them as such. I forgot that as teachers, we need to start where the students are and work from there. I wouldn’t walk into a grade 1 class and expect them all to understand calculus, that would be unrealistic, so why was I expecting grade 4 level work out of students who were struggling? It’s a much smaller extreme, but still a fault of the teacher. I was worried that it would reflect poorly on me if I wasn’t hitting all the curriculum outcomes, but as my teaching partner told me “You have to reach them where they are, not where they are supposed to be”.

After a month and a half of beating my head against a wall I started to change. Not necessarily intentionally, but I started to change the way that I was looking at student needs. I use a spelling program (that my amazing teaching partner Adrienne Zenko showed me) that differentiates learning for all students. Each student gets words at their own level (as determined by the program) and they sort the words into meaningful groups which allows them to learn word patterns. I noticed that students were engaged during the time when they were doing spelling practice. Students were actually focused and would ask to create new and inventive ways to practice their words. What was the difference between this and the other activities I was asking them to do? It was at their level. They were capable of working independently and were seeing success.

Another area that I saw success was in math. I use an amazing math program called JUMP math which goes through each concept in very small incremental steps, allowing students to fly through the parts that make sense to them or get extra support for the sections they are struggling with. There is also enrichment for students who are understanding that concept and would like to explore the topic in more depth and breadth. As with the spelling program, students were achieving at their own level, they were independent and were experiencing success.

As January fast approaches, I feel it is time to make a resolution. In 2015 I will treat each student as individuals and make sure that they can all experience success at their own level. I will not take where they are working now as a reflection on me as a teacher, instead I will measure their success through the progress they make this year.

What is your New Years Resolution for your teaching practice?

Starting the year off on the right foot

Every year I kick off the school year like a sprint! Getting up extra early, staying extra late, making sure the year is off to the best possible start. Eventually I have to slow down… but that September burst is so exciting! Every year I plan to do more team building and bonding activities, but it never seems to go as planned. Each year I get nervous about time (how fresh the rush of June is in all our minds) and jump into curriculum. This year I will not do that. I will allow time for students to get to know each other, get to know me and get acquainted with the flow of the class as a group.

I truly believe that we treat people differently when we know their story. My emotions changed drastically as I watched this video. Attitudes and patience for others change when we know each other’s narratives. As much as possible, I want everyone to get to know each other so that we can be a little more patient and kind.

My plan to facilitate this:

1. I am at a new school this year so I am excited for the kids to get to know me 🙂 (I can’t just rely on reputation as I normally do). I am going to make a video of myself at home and show it to the kids so they know who I am and who is in my family. Depending on technology that is available, I would love the kids to do the same and share about themselves through video.

2. The first 10 minutes are crucial to setting the tone and getting the school year started off right. I am going to try the technique mentioned in this blog post. She suggests getting students to come in right away, leave backpacks on the hook, and start an activity. She leaves a simple activity and a pencil on each desk so that students can start to get to know each other  and be successful at a task. That way she can quickly get around to each student and start a relationship. After the activity is finished, they can unpack their backpacks and talk about procedures and teacher quirks

3. I want to create a classroom quilt (hopefully somehow connected with dot day) that can hang up in the classroom as a reminder we are all a part of a bigger group. Each student will create a square about themselves and then the squares will be fastened together to form a quilt. I love having things in my class that are student created, rather than a really nice bulletin board set from a fancy teacher store. 🙂

4. I want to do several team building activities. For example, students will need to build a cup tower using a rubber band with 4 strings attached to it. They must equally stretch the rubber band to go around the cup, without touching the cup,  in order to build the stack. We may also create towers out of spaghetti and marshmallows in groups, since we will be talking about building things in science.

5. It would be cool if students could create their own digital time capsule to be opened on the last day of school. I still have to figure out what platform I am going to use, this could be on their blog. The time capsule could include their height, shoe size and favourite  things. Then they could open the capsule on the last day of school and see how they have changed.

6. Create an “about me” post or page on their blogs and allow students to comment on each other’s blogs and find someone who has something in common with themselves.

7. I want to start each day with a class meeting. When I worked at a Catholic school, we started every morning giving intentions for others. I would like to start the day off with giving students an opportunity to share ( in a secular way 🙂 ).

Do you have any other ideas? How do you start your school year? How do you start to build relationships in your class?

Please excuse the mess, we’re learning here

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This upcoming school year, my goal is to relinquish control and allow learning to be more “messy”. For the past 3 years I have been working at a school that promotes group work, but expects students to be in rows, so learning has looked very neat and tidy.
I can admit that I like control and that I like to think learning is a linear path. As we know, it’s not. Often the best learning happens when we make mistakes and fail the first time we try something. In this upcoming school year, I would like learning to be messy. It’s okay if we don’t get the correct answer right away, or if we work on projects that don’t have a correct answer.

I am very excited to change my space and my teaching to suit this practice. I will be following Nicholas Provenzano for tips on how to change my space. I want the space to flow so that we can change configurations quickly. Horseshoe for  discussion, pods for group work, pairs for small projects and free floor space to work on projects or to read. I am excited to make my classroom flexible, so that the space is best for the learning we are doing.

I also hope to give students more choice and creativity in the projects we do. Choice can come in many different forms. It ranges from “choose the country you would like to research” to “In whatever way best suits your learning, share what you have researched about the country you choose”. This year I hope to move away from “small choices” to “big choices”. This will have to happen in baby steps, allowing smaller choice in the beginning until the students and I (okay this is mostly for me) can get used to what this type of learning looks like. For example in the beginning of the year I was hoping to do some “copy cat ” writing. Where students use a story they have already read and write a story with different characters and setting that follows the same format. This allows a little choice, students choose the story they use to “copy” from. By the end of the year I hope to do a project where students display their learning of “quality of life” using whatever medium they want. Our entire social curriculum this year is based on this overarching theme, so it will be a good way for them to display their learning from the year.

To someone who already practices “messy learning” these ideas may seem small, but I need to retrain my teaching from 3 years where learning looked very neat and tidy. Every student working on a different project is a foreign concept for me, I hope to adjust quickly. I would love suggestions on how other teachers support real learning in their classrooms. How is your classroom set up to support learning? How do you frame units and projects? I would love ideas and help!

Choice is Important to Creating Student Voice

Writing is very a individual skill that all students need to learn. The problem is, I find many writing programs teach a formula… but is that what’s best for creativity? My students are able to “begin with a bang”, use interesting describing words, and vary their sentence starters. They can write a paragraph with a strong opening and closing sentence. But when do we teach kids to be creative? When do we teach them to add their voice and personality?

I have a student in my class and his writing is dripping with personality. He is humorous, concise and uses amazing vocabulary. When I read a stack of writing, I know his right away because it is just so… him 🙂

How do we teach that?

Students need to know how to write a proper sentence and knowing how to join ideas into a paragraph is important. But so is voice. How do we help students develop their own style?

One strategy that I have tried is to give students choice. On Thursday, the students in my class wrote about what life would be like as a settler. I told students they just needed to explain what it would be like. Some students wrote letters, others wrote stories, some wrote paragraphs. Because they were given choice they were able to let their personality to come through.

For example, one student wrote:

“ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh I don’t want any more farm torture!” I uttered. I wish we’d have just stayed in Boston. Now I have to do farming. I can’t believe we live in a dirt house and we don’t even have a bed yet! “Why did the sheep run away.” ”oh no the cattle are fighting again and the horses just joined in!” Sadly I do not get enough allowance for this. ”Finally it is dinner time, noooooooo beans!”

He totally understands what life would be like, and it’s interesting and entertaining to read.

Another student wrote:

“Dear Christina,

I’ve been on the train for 3 days now. I’m heading from Iowa to Curlew. I don’t know how many days we will be on the train for. I just hope it’s not for 10 days( my neighbor is getting a bit stinky every…single…second!!! ). The bathroom had been occupied for hours. I can’t wait for my turn in the kitchen! I’m starving!

your truly,

She understands what a settler would go through, but she did it in a way that make sense to her.

Allowing students to have choice is so important to creativity. When a student can create something, in the way they understand, it allows them to add a personal touch, and seeing each child for their own amazing individuality is why I became a teacher in the first place. The more we encourage our students to be themselves, the better we all are.


Every great teaching idea I ever had was inspired by, harvested from or straight up stolen from another educator. There… I said it. We hate to admit it, but we need each other to be successful. When asked a question, I often need a minute to create my own opinion, then I want to talk to others and get their opinions and ask questions. Bouncing ideas off others is how we achieve great ideas.

This year I have started using Twitter and have experienced the power of connecting and collaborating with others. Teachers who don’t have grade level partners are no longer isolated, they can turn to Twitter to allow them to connect and collaborate. In February, I went to Parkland School Division to learn how teachers in that division are using technology effectively in their classrooms. George Couros, Divison Principal of Innovative Teaching and Learning in PSD, set me up with several innovative teachers. Through this experience, I was lucky enough to meet Kelli Holden , an exemplary grade 4 teacher. She explained to me the power of Skype and how she utilizes it in her classroom. I was immediately inspired and asked if I could be involved in her next project. Kelli created an amazing project to help students learn about the Canadian troops leaving Afghanistan. The five classes involved in the project were able to learn more about the troops through a Skype sessions.  One of the teachers,  Catherine Dohn, spoke to all 5 classes about her husband, who is a Peace Keeper. She provided pictures, information and a first hand account of what Peace Keepers do. She was able to give my students an experience that I would never have been able to supply on my own. We also had students use a site called Chatzy, which allowed the students from all 5 classrooms to chat with each other about what they knew and what they had learned. They were able to learn from each other’s facts and questions. This was all made possible for my students because I connected with other teachers.

As an adult, I love collaborating with others and getting to hear their view points. I constantly collaborate with other teachers at my school and have begun to also reach out to teachers through twitter. If collaboration is so beneficial to adults, then why in the classroom do we often ask students to work independently? Some reasons I have heard from fellow educators are: “Students don’t know how to work collaboratively”; “they will just copy off each other”; and “they can’t work in groups without getting off task”.

Just like every other skill they acquire, students need support, practice and some instruction on how to be collaborative. In my class I use a program called Kagan to help my kids work collaboratively. The program provides a structure to allow students to work together and participate equally. As educators, I believe we have to let go of the notion that students are “stealing ideas” from each other. Collaborating is not copying, it is a way to learn from others and to increase your own knowledge of a subject area. We need to allow students to work with each other to create projects, have conversations and ask questions. The old adage, 2 heads are better than one, is truthful and something we should consider for our students.