Liberation Day

This is a non-education post that came about in part because the Historica Foundation released their video commemorating the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands.

Today is May 5th.

75 years ago today, the Germans surrendered in the Netherlands and the Dutch were free. This happened because Canadians sacrificed their lives to liberate the Netherlands.

The food drops depicted in this video saved lives in the Netherlands. By the winter of 1945, the Dutch were down to a ration of 300 calories a day. Many of the Dutch turned to digging up Tulip bulbs to eat in order to survive. They were starving and dying. The Dutch call it the Hongerwinter or Hunger Winter.

Without those Canadian soldiers, I would not be here today. Neither would many of the people I love. Including my son. Both of my paternal grandparents were in the Dutch Resistance. They smuggled Jews, spied and performed sabotage. It is doubtful they would have survived if the Nazis had not been defeated.

By this point in the war, my dad had been born, but sent away to live with relatives because my Opa had escaped from the Nazis again and he and Oma were in hiding. When the Canadian battalion showed up, my Opa became a scout for them and while he described it as heading into the next village to liaise with the resistance. We have since found out that it was so much more. Oma tells stories of having fun partying with the soldiers, but again, there was a tendency to downplay the danger they were in when telling stories to the grandchildren.

Canada is a small country that is often mocked by ourselves and others for our kindness, but never forget that we are capable of great things. There are millions of people alive today because we cared enough to free a country that we had very few ties too. I never forget that I am one of them.

Thank you, Canada.

What to do with your kid: COVID-19 – Day 19 – International Children’s Book Day

It’s me, Deanna, the teacher with 20+ years experience who, like you, is practicing social distancing at home with my child. I have decided to use my training and experience to develop a daily list of activities for you to do at home with your kids.

Note: I have been doing more to support teachers in my board as they are supporting their own students. This means I have less time to work on these posts. But feel free to look at previous ones for inspiration. I am also going to start slipping in some suggestions for teachers as I know these blog posts are being shared by teachers.

Today is International Children’s Book Day. The day was chosen by the International Board on Books for Young People and it is traditionally chosen to be the same day as Hans Christian Anderson’s birthday.  I thought this would be a good time to revisit reading as an activity for your child.

Reading for pleasure is one of the best indicators of future success. Once you account for socio-economic background, the children who read for fun tend to do better in school. And children are made readers in the laps of their parents. So one of the things that is hopefully happening in your house is time for reading every day. Some of that should be independent, silent reading and some should be shared reading (a.k.a. reading with your child). Or have them read to you while you are doing something like laundry. And don’t forget using some of those teleconferencing tools we have all had to master in the last few weeks to have your child read to family and friends.

There are lots of places to get books, even with everything shut down. Your local, independent book store is possibly still making deliveries. Check with them first. Then there are your big online retailers. You can also check with your local library for digital options like ebooks.

There are also a lot of places that have made their electronic catalogues free during the time that schools are locked down. This is a mix of fiction and non-fiction.

One of the other things that are happening is that celebrities and authors are using their social media feeds to read stories to us all. Please take advantage of them as some of these people are gifted storytellers, readers and voice actors.

  • Mo Willems – the award winning author and illustrator is hosting a daily doodling session for kids. Each day, he includes instructions for people to download.
  • Josh Gad – The star of Frozen and Beauty and the Beast is reading a story a day on Twitter. 
  • Neil Gaiman – the author reads all of his book Coraline on his website.
  • Dolly Parton – this starts tonight, April 2. Once a week she will be reading selections from her Imagination Library
  • Levar Burton – will be having three storytimes a week on his Twitter feed. (And seriously, if you have Tween aged kids and up, check out his podcast.)
    • Mondays – 12pm EDT – Kids
    • Wednesdays – 6pm EDT – YA
    • Fridays –  9pm EDT – Adults
  • Peter H. Reynolds – Author of the Dot, has multiple ones on his facebook page. Loads new ones, Monday through Friday. Live at 11 am.
  • Mac Bennet – Reading on Instagram every day at 1

More are listed here.

Please take some time to share (or discover) the love of books with your child. We are a species of storytellers. Help your children appreciate that.

Deanna Toxopeus is a teacher with 20+ years of experience teaching students from Grade 1 to Grade 8. She is currently an Itinerant Teacher of Assistive Technology with the OCDSB. The opinions she expresses in this blog are wholly her own.

What to do with your kid: COVID-19 – Day 18 – Fake News!

It’s me, Deanna, the teacher with 20+ years experience who, like you, is practicing social distancing at home with my child. I have decided to use my training and experience to develop a daily list of activities for you to do at home with your kids.

Note: I have been doing more to support teachers in my board as they are supporting their own students. This means I have less time to work on these posts. But feel free to look at previous ones for inspiration. I am also going to start slipping in some suggestions for teachers as I know these blog posts are being shared by teachers.

Reminder: The neighbourhood walk is today, April 1, and the theme is jokes. Write out your favourite pun or joke and hang it in your window. A tip from a teacher, make your letters big and a solid colour. Avoid using lighter colours like yellow.  Or challenge your kids to make a visual pun. Like these ones

Despite it being April Fool’s Day, today’s list is not about pranks. The last thing you need right now is an escalating prank war between your children and the hurt feelings and mess that will come with it. Instead, I want to focus on hoaxes and fake news. In this day and age, the ability to tell the two apart are really important. So important, that for my last few years in the classroom, I spent a lot of time teaching kids how to apply critical thinking skills to what they see on the Internet. Especially on a day like today when fake news stories proliferate on the web.

For younger children, one of the best entry points is Hoaxes. I always started with this page on the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus. Read it over and discuss it with them. I would then move on to the Great Spaghetti Harvest. Then let them spend some time at these sites:

Once they’ve done that, ask them if they see any similarities in the hoaxes. What makes a hoax a hoax?  Then have them create their own hoax.

For older kids, especially the ones with social media accounts, spend some time discussing fake news with them. Especially its negative effects. Then have them look at these guides for spotting Fake News:

You can have them use a tool like Google Slides to make their own infographic to help people sport fake news.

And once you’ve done all that, there is the Bad News game. It is a simulation that has the user pretend to be a social media influencer. They try to increase their influence by pushing fake news. The game shows you the techniques that purveyors of fake news use to increase their reach. The researchers behind the game theorize that by playing the game, users will develop an immunity to the techniques used in fake news. I have used this successfully with 11 to 14 year olds and they have gone on to play it after they left my class. 

Deanna Toxopeus is a teacher with 20+ years of experience teaching students from Grade 1 to Grade 8. She is currently an Itinerant Teacher of Assistive Technology with the OCDSB. The opinions she expresses in this blog are wholly her own.

What to do with your kid: COVID-19 – Day 14 – World Theater Day

It’s me, Deanna, the teacher with 20+ years experience who, like you, is practicing social distancing at home with my child. I have decided to use my training and experience to develop a daily list of activities for you to do at home with your kids.

Note: I have been doing more to support teachers in my board as they are supporting their own students. This means I have less time to work on these posts, so this one is shorter than most. But feel free to look at previous ones for inspiration. 

Reminder: There is a movement to put a teddy bear in the window for today, March 27, so people can go on a “bear hunt” when they go for a walk. 

Today is World Theater Day a day to celebrate the value and importance of the art form “theatre”. So the activities are all centered around theater.

Watch Some Theater

Not in time for tomorrow, but the National Theater will be live streaming a new play every week on YouTube, starting on Tuesday, April 2. Broadway HD is also an option, but they only have a 7 Day free trial, and then it costs money. Playbill has an up to date list of live theater performances and where they will be streaming.

You can also watch film adaptations of plays and (mostly) musicals. Check your favourite streaming platforms and use parent discretion. Here is a short list:

Read Some Plays

Read some plays about with your kids. You can find plays at your local library’s digital service or lots of free ones on the web. Here are a few:

Learn About Shakespeare

Shakespeare was the most influential playwright in history. Spend some time with your kids learning about Shakespere and his influence.

When you are done, the Folger Library has some excellent activities for kids to do after.

Perform Some Theater

This is probably the most important thing you can do with your kids on this day. Have them create and perform their own plays. They can retell a favourite book, movie or TV show. Or they can create their own stories to tell. Encourage them to make props and gather costumes.  Older kids can make a program for the play. Look at this how-to for help. When they are ready, watch their performance.

Watch Some Fictionalized Theater

Theater has been the topic of many movies and TV shows. Have your kids watch a few of these and compare them to their own experiences. As always, use your knowledge of your kids to determine if these are appropriate or not. Check your favourite streaming service or local library for these.

Deanna Toxopeus is a teacher with 20+ years of experience teaching students from Grade 1 to Grade 8. She is currently an Itinerant Teacher of Assistive with the OCDSB. The opinions she expresses in this blog are wholly her own.

What to do with your kid: COVID-19 – Day 13 – Live Long and Prosper

It’s me, Deanna, the teacher with 20+ years experience who, like you, is practicing social distancing at home with my child. I have decided to use my training and experience to develop a daily list of activities for you to do at home with your kids.

I have been doing more to support teachers in my board as they are supporting their own students. This means I have less time to work on these posts, so this one is shorter than most. But feel free to look at previous ones for inspiration. 

Reminder: today is encouraging words day for neighbourhood walks. If you are participating, remember to put some encouraging words in your windows. If you want something more permanent, there is also a growing movement to put a teddy bear in the window so people can go on a “bear hunt” when they go for a walk. 

Today would have been Leonard Nimoy’s 89th birthday. Nimoy was best known as Mr. Spock on the original Star Trek. In honour of his birthday, today has been designated “Live Long and Prosper” Day. And there are a lot of curriculum connections to be had here.

Math – Logic Puzzles

Mr. Spock was known for being logical and applying logic to every situation. So why not introduce your kids to logic puzzles?

There are plenty of apps and sites that offer logic puzzles for you to do online or print, but the one I want to focus on is the KenKen. The KenKen is a style of logic puzzle that involves arithmetic. It was invented by Tetsuya Miyamoto, a Japanese math teacher, in 2004. 

Why I like KenKen’s is that they involve the four basic operations of math, addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. The puzzle doer has to practice basic arithmetic to solve the puzzle. This can be a fun way to practice basic math skills. You can print off some at their website or play them online. And, like everything else, there’s an app for that.


Mr. Spock was the science officer of the USS Enterprise, and so this can be a nice link to some stem activities for kids.

Penny science – Mr. Spock had green blood, because the metal in his blood was copper, not iron like ours. Copper when it oxidizes turns green. You can explore this using these cool STEM experiments.

Star Trek was ahead of its time when it came to science and has even correctly predicted many of our advances in science. NASA has a great article about that. There is also a documentary if you want to watch that. If I was doing this activity with my kid, I would then have them do a scavenger hunt through the house looking for things that were inspired by Star Trek.


Star Trek is a classic of Science Fiction, with many episodes dealing with issues that still plague us today. There are plenty of lists out there to pick an episode and watch it and discuss with your kids. Just stay away from Spock’s Brain, Sub Rosa, and Threshold. Another option to ask them about what issue they would make a Star Trek episode and which characters would it be about. Let them play act it out or, if they are writers, let them write a script, short story or picture book.

Deanna Toxopeus is a teacher with 20+ years of experience teaching students from Grade 1 to Grade 8. She is currently an Itinerant Teacher of Assistive with the OCDSB. The opinions she expresses in this blog are wholly her own.

Worst Slideshow Ever

I once had the opportunity  to participate in the Ditch Summit run by Matt Miller. As part of that summit, Matt talked to Jon Corripio, the author of Eduprotocols. In his book, Corripio discussed setting up standard routines in classrooms that can be applied to any subject. 

I was intrigued by an idea Corripo presented called, “Worst PowerPoint Presentation Ever”.  The premise of the worst PowerPoint Presentation Ever is pretty simple: you teach your students how not to do a presentation in order to teach them how to do a PowerPoint presentation.  I decided to try it out in my own classroom once the holidays were over. 

The steps I followed were are as follows:

Step 1:  Set the Scene

I first showed my students the comedy routine “Life After Death by PowerPoint” from comedian Don McMillan.  I would urge you to preview it first, as some items in some of the routines may not be appropriate for your students.

Step 2:  Make the List

After I showed them the video, as a class, we brainstormed what makes up Slide Show presentation bad.  We came up with a list of 8

  1. Too Much Text
  2. Bad Font choices
  3. Too many colours/Bad colour choices
  4. Too much animation
  5. Too much data
  6. Too many bullet points
  7. Too many slides
  8. Bad transitions

Step 3: Reveal the Project

I then revealed that I wanted them to make their own worst slide show presentation which they would share with the class. The topic didn’t matter, but they had to try and address as many of the characteristics of a bad slideshow as possible. 

I was met with incredulity. “We get to make them bad?” I was asked.

“Yes,” I answered.

I was met with smiles and disbelief.

I told my students they had three periods, starting immediately. I made sure I had enough devices, in my case, Chromebooks, to give the students a chance to create their masterpieces. Or perhaps we should call them “disasterpieces”.

Step 4: Show Them How to Use the Software 

I gave them the bare minimum of instructions on how to use Google Slides. And I mean the bare minimum.  I simply showed my students to insert a new slide, how to add text to a slide and how to insert a picture. That’s it. I left the rest of it to them to figure out.

Step 5:  Get Out of their Way

I then got out of their way to let them create their slideshows. This was where the first bit of magic happened. One student would figure out how to do something on their slide, such as insert a gif. Their neighbour would ask “How did you do that?”

Step 6: Introduce the Twist

The day the presentations were due, I explained that they were not going to be presenting their own presentations. Instead, they were going to present someone else’s. There were actual gasps and some laughter. 

Once the hysteria had died down, I started drawing names randomly. Now I have traditionally used names on popsicle sticks to make groups, choose students for activities, so my students are very used to this system. I used this method to determine who’s presentation was going first and then who they were presenting. The slide deck of the person presenting became our next slide deck and the name of the first slide deck maker went back into the mix. Each time someone was randomly selected to present, their slide deck was the next up.

This twist created the ninth criteria, being prepared. Too often with presentations, the presenter does not know the subject. They are simply reading from the slides as they appear. By presenting somebody else’s presentation, that they may never have seen before, you will drive home the point that you need to be prepared. You need to know your material. But more on that later.

Step 7: Enjoy

I sat back and enjoyed the presentation with my students. There was a lot of laughter.

As a bonus, the day of the presentations, I had the students create bingo cards with the 8 criteria we knew. I had some of them insert those bingo cards into plastic sheet covers. Then the day of, I passed them out randomly. Students could then choose to keep track of the criteria on the bingo sheets, they simply weren’t allowed to call bingo during the presentations. At the end of each presentation, I circulated with little chocolate bars from Costco. A bingo meant chocolate. 

Never, ever, have I ever had more attentive students during a presentation. 

Step 8: Debrief

When they were all done, I led a discussion with my students about what they learned. In one class’s case, they added new criterion, “being prepared”, to the list. The second class didn’t, so I made sure to introduce it. 

Students tend to think that how a presentation looks should determine their mark but in reality, it is the content that is the big determiner. It is important that we spend time drawing students’ attention to this. This is where we help them develop some meta-cognition about their work.

Step 9: Assess

When I did this assignment, I did not mark the presentations. They were supposed to be horrible.  Instead, I had the students write a reflection on what they learned. This is what I assessed. And my students did recognize that they learned things through this assignment. A couple even recognized that I had them create something “bad” so that they could learn how to make a good slideshow.

But, the next time I do this assignment, my plan is to have the students create a rubric for presentations and then write an explanation/justification for the rubric. The rubric I use for presentations for that year will come out of their rubrics. In this way, it is co-created and clear to the students where the marks come from.  I will also use the explanation/justification as an assessment of how they write a paragraph.

Did it work?

Yes. I got better slideshows from my students for the rest of the year. I also had an engaged group of students for the time the project was being run. The worst part was getting enough devices to make this work.

My intent is to use this project as one of the first ones I do at the beginning of the school year, both to set my students up for success with presentations for the rest of the year and to co-create a solid rubric with which I can assess.

A Year (and a bit) with Assistive Technology

A little over a year ago my son was diagnosed with as being gifted, with a learning disability. Specifically, he struggled with short term memory.  And, like many people with LD, organization is a challenge. I joke that God doesn’t even know where the papers my son is supposed to bring home from school have gone.  I then comment that apples don’t fall far from trees, as I am also gifted LD, although my LD is in spelling.

Practicing Dictation

It was at this point my son was assigned a Chromebook as part of my province’s Assistive Technology program. He uses it to help alleviate the exhaustion that comes with writing. A side effect is that there are no more assignments on paper; everything is managed through Google Drive.

At this point, I need to point out that technology is not a panacea. My son experienced some growing pains as he and his teachers adapted to the new realities of what assistive technology could do. His French teacher started using Google Classroom to share work and Snapverter to convert the pdf files for my son. My son would use tools like Read and Write to read the French news stories that were his homework to him when he was tired. He would use the Talk&Type feature in Read and Write to dictate when his hands were tired.  I even saw him using my personal favourite, Eqautio, to do some multiplication work for math without me suggesting it!

Slowly, but surely, there were improvements.  By the middle of this school year, I was stopped by his Math and English teacher who told me that while she knew I was concerned about my son’s organizational skills, he was one of the best in the class about handing in his work. She commented that he always got his Chromebook out without prompting and got to work. There were minimal problems with inappropriate use.  A few weeks later, the school’s special education specialist mentioned how amazing my son was with his assistive technology. She suggested we make a video starring my son as he was a textbook example of why this program is important.

Assistive technology allowed my son’s creativity to come out.

It hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows. My son fell into the trap at one point of trying to game the system with “find” and then “copy and paste” to answer comprehension questions. There have been a couple of supply and student teachers who have refused him the use of the Chromebook because they lack the understanding that it is an accommodation on his IEP and, therefore, a legal requirement. And there are still nights when my son is mentally exhausted from coping with his LD all day and homework time ends early with tears.

But there has been an improvement – My son even sees it. We discussed how he was doing as part of the preparation for this post.  He acknowledges that Assistive Technology has helped him improve academically. He also finds school easier than he did in the past. Like most students who use Assistive Technology, he rarely uses all of the features of the program he is using. Instead, he picks and chooses the tools that are appropriate for the task. And for how he is coping with the LD at that time.

As a parent, I see my son’s self-advocacy improving. He will speak up more often when he is struggling or when he meets the new adult in the classroom who doesn’t understand Assistive Technology. My son will also, matter of factly, tell his peers that he has a Learning Disability, something that all of us with LD need to start doing to begin removing the stigma and ignorance that surrounds that diagnosis.

An assignment and attempt to get something from us.

As a teacher, I also see the unintended benefits of my son’s teachers adapting and accommodating for my son’s use of Assistive Technology.  I have anecdotally heard from other parents in the class that their children also used things like Read and Write at home to listen to their French homework. They appreciate the use of Google Classroom for their children to access the work.

Overall, our family’s journey on this AT/LD road has been a positive one. There is still further to go, as technology and software are always improving and my son’s skills are always growing. But I would encourage any teacher thinking about starting to use Assistive Technology in their classroom to do so. The same for any parent hesitating to sign the form – My son concurs. When I asked what he would say to parents, students or teachers who were considering using Assistive Technology, his answer was “Do it! No, seriously, do it.”.

Teaching Critical Literacy in the Fake News Era

I recently had the opportunity to participate in the MAD PD as a presenter. I presented a webinar on a strategy to update our media literacy curriculum to reflect what our students are consuming outside of class

If you look at the average Media Literacy Curriculum, there is a lot about advertising and traditional media like TV and radio. But is there a media literacy curriculum that talks about Instagram influencers? Youtubers? Data mining? Search algorithms?

I would be surprised if you could show me any that mention social media and the Internet at all.

Yet where do our students spend their media time? Binge-watching anime on Netflix. Watching a Twitch livestream of their favourite gamer. Sending Snapchats to friends. Making Tik Tok videos.

We need to provide our students with the critical literacy skills to successfully navigate the 21st-century media landscape. But how do we do that when our curriculums are so rooted in the 20th century? Well my way is to invent my own and tie it back to the current curriculum.

I have been successfully doing this for several years now, looking at a variety of different forms of Internet Media. My units are dynamic, changing as they go. My students are engaged and begin to demonstrate the critical literacy skills they need to survive in the online world.

Rather than giving you a unit that only covers one specific type of media, I want to share with you a scaffold that you can apply to your classroom. I am a big fan of Jon Corippo and his EduProtocol method. So I want you to walk away with something that you can use, no matter what media you want to work with.

Steps to follow to create a new media unit:

Step 1: Determine the type of media or content you want to cover
The first step is to determine what type of media or content you want to cover. By media I mean form and by content I mean what that post is trying to achieve. So you may want to look at Tweets, which could have a broad range of topics, or you may want to focus on Fake News, which could span several mediums. The choices here are endless, and it may seem impossible to narrow it down into something that is manageable as a unit, but I would encourage you to talk to your students to find out what they are consuming and go with that.

Step 2: Consume it yourself
Next step is to spend some time consuming it yourself. What do you notice? Is there a standard format? Is there an overriding theme that gives you something to work with? What do the ads look like? How does the media monetize itself? Why does it appeal to your students?

Step 3: Tie it Back to the Curriculum
Take a look at the curriculum and figure out how you can tie it to what you want to cover. If you are lucky, you might be able to link it to your media literacy curriculum. Frequently, media literacy curriculums have expectations linked to advertising. Or look for bias in media coverage. If not, look at your writing curriculum. Having your student write a short analysis of an Instagram post might meet several of your writing curriculum expectations. If you are a subject-specific teacher, like science, can you use parts of the curriculum to look at fake health claims made online?

This is where you can get your learning goals and look-fors for this unit. You should also determine what your final products are at this point. I usually do an analysis piece, where students apply our co-created criteria to an example of the media we are studying. I also like to including a creative piece at the end of the unit where students create something related to the media being studied. These kind of units are also a wonderful opportunity for students to do a self-evaluation of their learning.

Step 4: Curate
Now you want to curate a collection of examples for your unit. Carefully select age-appropriate material for your students. You do not want to end up in a disciplinary hearing because you let your students access random social media feeds. Gather about 10 good examples. Focus on finding examples that are typical of the media you want to study. Leverage your students’ interests if you can. If they like hockey, look for content related to hockey. Don’t just go for shocking content.

It would also be a good idea for you to capture the media in some way. The Internet is mutable. It changes every day. You could find the perfect example of what you want to study at 8:00 am, only to return to it at 2:00 pm and have it be completely different. Learn how to use print screen or download video.

Step 5: Co-Create Criteria
This is probably the most important part of this unit. Share 3 or 4 of your curated examples with the students. As a class consume (read, watch or listen) and discuss them. Look for things they have in common with each other. Look for what makes that form of media unique (hashtags, visuals, etc.)

After three, co-create some criteria related to the media with your students. Put that somewhere in your classroom. It doesn’t have to be fancy, flip chart paper works fine, but it does have to be visible. You want your students referring to it through the course of the unit. If you are using something like Google Classroom, take a picture of your criteria and post it there as well.

This is also a good place to introduce concepts like bias or asking about the intent of the media piece being examined. Who made it? Why? Is it successful? Look at the intent behind the media, not just its form. This is where you can model the critical literacy skills you want your students to develop. Teach them that

Step 6: Practice Applying the Criteria
This is the section that gets into the deep teaching and learning part of the unit. This section is divided into three subsections.

Whole Class
Now we move to have them apply the criteria to multiple examples, first with the whole class. Start with showing the students another one of your curated examples and apply the criteria you have developed.

I usually use a scaffolded, small groups method here. I randomly group my students into groups of four. And then hand them one of my curated examples. They then apply the criteria we have developed and assess the example. I usually ask for a short answer written response, but you can choose whatever form of response best suits your students and your program.

The key here is to give them feedback on their analysis as soon as they finish it. I usually choose to give them oral feedback which I use the extension Doc Appender to help me record in my student files. I give them the chance to revise the work if they choose. Many do, and I can see both their writing and their understanding of the media we are studying improve.

I then have them repeat the process with a succession of smaller groups of three and two, all randomly selected. The random selection has lead to some interesting groupings, but it has also allowed me to give very specific feedback to help those students improve. Don’t be afraid to repeat a grouping size if your students need the extra practice. You know your kids.

This is also a great opportunity to display students work. I frequently use a bump-it up board to display leveled examples of their work. I have been blessed with teaching language to two classes, so I frequently cut off the student’s names and display one class’s work to the other and vice versa. I then lead class discussions before I share each curate media example on why responses are levelled as they are. This leads to a good discussion as to what the criteria are and how they can “bump up” their own work. The board remains as a references as students work on the next media example.

Also, if something emerges during this process that makes you or your students want to rethink your criteria, don’t be afraid to do that. The criteria are co-created, so if you or the students think they need to be revised, DO IT! Nothing will reinforce the idea that it is their criteria more than if they can change it.

Once you are satisfied that the students are ready, now you can move to the solo part of the process. Once again, choose one of your carefully curated pieces to distribute to your students. They will then apply the criteria for a dress rehearsal of the final assessment. When they are finished, you need to read it over and give them immediate feedback, as you have for the group work. Give them the option of incorporating your feedback to revise their work. Once again, use whatever your favourite method is for documentation of what you have seen.

Step 7: Final Analysis
Your students should be ready now to tackle a final piece of analysis. Once again, distribute another one of your curated pieces and ask the students to analyze it using the class criteria. You need to tell them this is for formal assessment ahead of time. The form of this analysis should be the exact same form you have been practicing all unit, using the very criteria the class has established. I would also make sure that you discuss this with your students so there are no surprises..

Step 8: Unleash Your Students’ Creativity!
This is the fun part! Back in the planning stages, you should have figured out what you wanted your students to create. Now you want to give them the space to do that. No matter what you decide, the criteria that you co-created with your students need to be part of the final product. And of the final assessment. Remember to share your look-fors and how you will be assessing this with the students at the beginning of the process. You should also give lots of feedback along the way so they can produce the most impressive final product.

You should also figure out a way to share their final products with an audience. We know that students will produce better work if they think it will be seen by more people than just the teacher. So go out and find people to look at their work. Examples include websites to share with other classes in other schools in the board, pitching ideas for PSA posters to the principal, sharing infographics with members of the community.

REMEMBER: You need to also think about age appropriateness and the media you are studying. It may be tempting to have all of your students create Snapchat posts, but you should think about how they create them. You may not want to use the media being studied to create the final product. My recommendation is to use your district approved tools.

Step 9: Reflect
This is the key. Have your students reflect on what they have learned. Journal entry, Flipgrid video, one on one interview, the format is not important. What is important is that your students think about what they have learned over the course of the unit and how they can continue to apply those skills in the real world. This is where those critical literacy skills will really shine. And take the time give them feedback on this reflection. Comment on it. Discuss it with them. Show them that you care about their own reflections on their learning.

Also, seek your students’ input on how this unit went. I like to use a Google Form to get feedback on how to the unit went. Contrary to what you think, I have never had a student use that as an opportunity to be mean. Instead, I have often found that their feedback is thoughtful and helps me make the unit better.

You also need to reflect. How did this whole process go? What worked? What didn’t? What did you not see coming? What impact did this project have on your students? On you? On the greater school community? How can you use the feedback from your students to make the next version of the unit better?

Step 10: Reinvent
Yes, I said next version of the unit. Because the Internet and the types of media it contains are always shifting and changing. New apps are released daily, and people find new ways to use them to speak to the world. The unit you just made and built will not be one that you use for years in your classroom. Instead, the framework will be. The content will shift to reflect the media your students are consuming.

And they will be better off for it. As will you. As will we all.

Email for Developmentally Delayed Students

As part of my job as an Itinerant Teacher of Assistive Technology, I have had the chance to visit a a number of different schools with a wide-range of different programs. This has allowed me to see a variety of approaches to a wide cross-section of students.

One of the more interesting things I have seen is the teaching of 21st century life skills to students who are developmentally delayed. A teacher at Carleton Heights Public School, Maureen Hogan, asked me to come in and work with her students. She was hoping they would be able to learn how to log in to a Chromebook and send an email to their parents. Maureen wanted her students to begin to develop some of the skills they would need for a world where services are increasingly accessed on-line.

She had already started the process by changing the students’ password to their name and a series of numbers. In addition to making it easier for these students to login in, the new password allowed students to practice typing their name. This also helped in some cases with students’ literacy goals.

Luckily for me, Chrome had recently implemented the ability to do dictation over top of GMail. With that, I simply had to set up an contact card for each student’s parents. Students were then be trained to click in the “To:” field, say their preferred diminutive for the parent in question. They could then move to the main body of the email and, using Chrome dictation feature, dictate their email.

Student dictating choosing to send an email to mom.

Maureen has now made sending an email a regular activity during literacy centers. It allows the students to practice some very real life skills, while allowing her to assess their understanding of how to communicate in an email.  As an added bonus, she also is able to reinforce lessons on pronunciation as Google will only write down what it hears, creating a very real consequence for students working on improving their diction.

A message to mom

Overall, the activity has been a success. Students have been excited to send their parents a message during the day. Parents have loved getting a message from their child. For Maureen, she has a real world activity that both engages her students, develops their literacy and helps them practice real world skills. And I have several other teachers in my district interested in having me in to help them set up a similar systems for them.


Equatio is a program that is setting Teacher Twitter ablaze. It works on top of several different programs and browsers to allow you to do math on the computer. Unlike many other things on the market, the user still has to do the thinking and the work. It doesn’t do the math for you.

I was exposed to Equatio at the beginning of the year as part of my new job, Itinerant Teacher of Assistive Technology (ITAT). The ITAT team was looking for something to support students in STEM. We found Equatio and fell in love.

I have taught math for almost all of my career, and using the computer to prepare resources has always been difficult. I have become very adept at using superscript and inserting special characters. No student, even those who use a computer for all other work, has done their math on a computer in my 20 years of teaching. Equatio has the possibility of changing all of that.

With Equatio you can easily type math expressions and equations. The program allows you to type the name of an operation or other math symbols and insert it as an image. For example, typing “sq” brings up a menu with squared. Clicking on that inserts a 2 as an exponent. “Times” brings you a multiplication symbol and so on. You can also dictate your math, which blows my mind. Saying “open bracket, negative 7 plus 8, close bracket” brings you “(-7 + 8)”. If you have a touchscreen, you can even hand write math. Let me repeat, the computer turns my chicken scribbles into readable math. The program even has a mobile interface that gives you access to a touchscreen and mic if you don’t have one on your computer by using the touchscreen and built-in mic. The mobile interface will also allow you to take a picture of math, be it handwritten or typed, and add that to your document.

All of this math is turned into an image that is not only editable but can also be inserted into many G Suite products. (Docs, Sheets, Slides, Forms, Drawings). This means that math is as easy to do with a computer as language is now. And as a math teacher, that is really exciting.

I hope you take a minute to check it out. Or at least check out the resources on Equatio I have prepared below.