Being generally less helpful as a teacher

Our class has been planning and starting to create videos about having a growth mindset. Students divided topics up and are each creating short clips. One group is creating music for the video clip and one student is learning how to edit video with Camtasia so he can stitch all our work together.

Today the group using the green screen got started. I stood back and watched them. They asked me which iPad app to use for green screen and another student piped up to answer. I didn’t even get to show off my super-duper teacher “I know how to do this” powers. What happened was way better.

I turned around to help another student and by the time I refocused on the green screen group, they had found an image of the brain, and recorded themselves in front of it using the green screen. A student from another group saw them struggling to hide their interview question page (paper) from the camera and jumped up and asked if he could run to the art room. He came back with a green piece of paper and taped their interview questions to that. This hid the page from the video. Genius. I would never have thought of that.I would have wasted 20 minutes plotting some high-tech teleprompt method.  Yikes.

Our school has a green screen in the library that is available for all classes to use. All set up with everything needed. Its great. Today we were using my own personal green screen set up in the back of our classroom. I hadn’t set up the lights, because we are starting to collect a rather large amount of “stuff” in our classroom (green screen, 3D printer, old macbook for video editing, iRig keyboard, 3Doodler, Wacom tablets, iPad stand, iPad tripod, iPad bin). The teacher I share a classroom with is AMAZING and ok with all this, but I was trying to reduce our impact by leaving the lights in a box until needed. After a few recordings, the students realized on their own that they needed more light to make the green screen disappear completely, so they found and set up the lights and got what they needed. All without me. I didn’t even know they knew that we had lights.

I’ve read a lot lately about being generally “less helpful” as a teacher to support deeper learning and problem solving. Today, I worked with some groups to help them focus their research on what they needed, troubleshoot technology that was acting funky and do some planning. This group, however, I decided to be generally “less helpful” for and instead made notes on the learning skills and strategies that they demonstrated. What a great learning opportunity for me. Standing back and watching instead of interfering let me get a much better understanding of what my students’ strengths and needs are.


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Student-Led Lessons – OneNote

The other day my student Caleb taught the class for me. What a great day. Caleb is a OneNote guru and he took his job seriously. He prepped and got ready for the lesson. He downloaded .exe files to USB sticks for students who didn’t have OneNote already (why didn’t I think of that?). Caleb demo’d using OneNote in iPads and PC’s. He investigated the differences in how it works on different platforms.

He taught us many tips and tricks for using OneNote like ninjas to organize our digital lives. One of the things I learned from Caleb was that the Windows version of OneNote has this great “touch screen” setting to make it function better with a touch screen. See the video for details. I’ve honestly never learned so much in one of my own classes.

Thanks Caleb!


Using a SMART Board or other Touch Screen with OneNote from Jac Calder on Vimeo.

Fun Looking at the Heart and Blood Flow (with Leap Motion)

Mrs. Lachapelle’s science class looking at the heart using Leap Motion today. I love the conversation in the background.

“can I try it?” 

- “yep”


- “yep”

“like, like, right now?”

The answer to the last question was yes as well. Students figured out how to have it show blood flow (which was todays lesson) and looked at it pumping through the heart.


Fun Looking at the Heart from Jac Calder on Vimeo.

Student Creativity in Math

Today, using ClassFlow my class did an interactive math lesson/diagnostic on combining like terms. We started by classifying terms so that I could get an idea how students thought about numbers with integer coefficients and exponents.

Students came up with some super awesome and TOTALLY unexpected ways of classifying these terms. One student put the terms on a number line, but also alphabetically. It was fascinating. One that I will definitely be coming back to for more discussion. Some students put the numbers in order based on absolute value of the coefficient and then some students grouped them based on variable (like terms).

I’ll be honest, my students were so creative, it totally caught me off guard a few times. I’m not sure I consolidated all their ideas very effectively. It opened up a whole new way to start future conversations. From todays student responses we could have consolidated and moved our thinking along in the concepts of ordering integers, patterning and sequences or combining like terms. I forced the conversation to combining like terms. This is what we consolidated today, but I can’t wait to use their responses from today to take us into those other conversations at a later date.

At the end of the lesson today students created an Educreation video using their laptops or iPads and made their own “combining like terms” question in partners and then solved it while recording their steps. This provided an entry point for all students. Students still grappling with the concept created a question such as 1x + 1x = 2x. Students moving along in their thinking created a question such as 2x – 4y + 3x +7 = 5x – 4y + 7 . Within Educreations we can watch each others questions and how they solved them.

Playing with LeapMotion

We’ve been having some fun with LeapMotion today. It lets us use our hands in the air to work my computer. There are a few apps already designed for it. I’m sure the number of apps will only grow over time.

Today when investigating the 3D heart, one of my students (not the one in the video) came up and showed us what was wrong with his heart and taught us about his heart surgery. Was it planned curriculum for that day? No. Did every single one of us learn something? Absolutely. :)


Leap Motion fun from Jac Calder on Vimeo.

Fun in Family Studies

Today I was lucky enough to have an “on-call” in a Grade 9 Family Studies class. Their assignment was to create “something” to help their classmates review a skill covered in the kitchen so far.

Some of the topics included:

  • how to cut a pineapple,
  • knife safety
  • making great pasta
  • sanitizing the kitchen
  • making great rice
  • Canada’s Food Guide
  • packing a healthy lunch
  • How to get the right number of servings of each food category
  • how to measure liquids
  • how to double a recipe
  • how to half a recipe
  • preventing food borne illness

Each group chose the media format they preferred. Their goal was to create anything that their classmates could use to review the concept or skill. Students used the following different digital tools and more.

  • iMovie
  • Animoto
  • GoAnimate!
  • PowerPoint
  • Voki
  • Tellagami
  • Audioboom
  • Google Slides

I must say that this was one of my favorite on-call’s ever! All sorts of creativity and excitement going on today. Before Mrs. Marion left for We Day (lucky duck!) she helped me join their online class in Google Classroom. This allowed me to see the assignment, assessment criteria and post information in class with the students. As students finish their media pieces, they are posting to Google Classroom. This allows Mrs. Marion to see what she missed in class today. Usually, I feel so disconnected to a class when going into an on-call. Certainly not this time.

Engaged Teens = Responsible Teens

I just got an email from a student. The student was set to teach class for me tomorrow. Its a learning strategies class and he has some SERIOUS skillz in using OneNote for organizing his entire life. I asked him if he would show the class how he uses OneNote for organizing all his notes, web clippings, codes for all our class accounts (he’s more organized than I am!), etc.

Not only did he agree,  but he went home and over a few days planned everything. He looked into how OneNote works on devices other than the one he has (we are BYOD, so we have many different devices in the classroom). He downloaded .exe files of OneNote onto USB sticks so we didn’t have to waste time downloading. He highlighted the tools that make school easier. He requested using the SMART Projector and my Wacom tablet to demonstrate. He requested an iPad on site to demonstrate.

The email I just received was the equivalent of a teacher calling in sick. The student has an appointment tomorrow and was worried about missing class, so we rebooked. This student is more responsible than many University students. At times I worry he is more responsible than I am… :)

Resource: iPad as a Teaching Device

Most money spent on iPads in education is spent on purchasing LEARNING devices. iPads for student use in class. This is where the biggest impact on learning can happen. However, many teachers are getting their hands on iPads for teaching that they can personalize and set up for themselves. While this most directly impacts teaching, it can have great impacts on student learning as well.

Link to resource: 

Using Scratch in Digital Learning Strategies

We needed something to get our class back working together as a cohesive unit today. Yesterday we had an amazingly awful run of things trying to get text-to-speech tools installed and running on all students devices. It was chaotic, crazy and frustrating for many of us.

We had planned on starting with Scratch next Monday, but needed something exciting and fun to end the week on a positive note. Wow, did that plan work!

Scratch is a tool created by MIT that allows youth to create animations, videos, games, etc. while developing some skills required for coding. Over the past few years Scratch has moved to a web-based platform that runs in the browser. This means my students could access it from any device except iPads. Lucky for us, their teacher is a bit geeky and always has an extra Chromebook kicking around. In learning strategies we are using Scratch to address the following learning goals:

  • Practice skills required to learn new things.
  • Develop critical thinking skills required to troubleshoot when things don’t go as planned. What can you do when something doesn’t work?
  • Develop collaboration skills. Students can build together, learn new features from each other, build on each others code.
  • Practice critiquing each others work and providing effective feedback for improvement.
  • Reflect on what it means to have “grit” or resiliency. How do we respond and feel when things don’t go as planned?
  • Develop skills for creativity and innovation. How can you make this piece of work even better?
  • Provide context and practice of some literacy skills. We will be keeping design journals as we go.
  • Provide context for reflection on learning skills.
  • Provide a real virtual community to practice and demonstrate our digital citizenship skills in. These skills will include appropriate communication, sharing our work, remixing others work while providing credit.
We had great conversations about “the Grandma rule” (don’t post anything online that you don’t want Granny to see). We also talked about the skills required to troubleshoot when technology goes wrong and what it means to tinker and figure things out on our own.
During the initial exploration period, students explored previously created Scratch projects and started to create their own unplanned projects.  Unrestricted exploration. Their reflection was based on brainstorming things they could create. As I walked around class, I heard the following from students;
  • “how did you do that?”
  • “here! come see this!”
  • “Wow, did you know that you can… ?”
  • “ok, so what if you did this and I did this… “
  • “urrrrrggggg, why can’t I get this to work? Ok, lets try this…”
  • “I just made the coolest thing, come here and I’ll show you how I did it”
  • “so, how did the person make that game? Here, we can look at the code. Does it make sense?”
Todays class was the most engaged I have seen my students by far. It was also the most collaborative they have been, with exception of previous “directed” group work. Meaning, they were all up and learning over each others computer screens, helping each other out and interacting with each other.
Mission accomplished. A great end to the week. Next week we’ll each find a feature to share with classmates.

Is it not common sense? School culture and Fullan’s Six Secrets of Change

This summer I found myself reading (or rather, listening to the audiobook) Fullan’s Six Secrets of Change. As I was mowing the lawn, or driving, or walking the dog to this book, my mind kept making connections to the change in our school culture over the past year as we moved into 1:1 BYOD Blended Learning (every Grade 9 brings a laptop or tablet to school).

The shift in culture in the school has many factors most certainly. However, if you look at the shift in professional development over the past year you can see connections to each of Fullan’s secrets. I think this is just common sense?


Love your employees

    • about empowering, not running over or beating into submission
    • investing in teachers (our school was saturated with teacher-directed learning and release time for that)
    • believe in teachers, set high standards
    • empathy for the complication of change by all coaches, resource teachers and administrators

Connect Peers With Purpose

    • all groups looking at assessment and feedback through BYOD to support creativity, communication, critical thinking, collaboration
    • focus might be different for different groups, but all working on common purpose, for example:
      • TLLP team (interdisciplinary)
      • department teams (subject-specific)
      • SSI (math)

Capacity Building Prevails

    • creating the environment where it is ok to try new things, fail, and improve
    • tinkering becomes the norm
    • asking for an “extra set of hands” becomes the norm
    • still work to do, but we are certainly improving the culture – teachers asking others to come in while they “tried something new” to help troubleshoot and problem solve
    • non-judgemental

Learning is the Work

    • not focused on the digital tools, but focused on developing the attitude, skills and beliefs to become a life-long learner in the 21st Century
    • proven by our TLLP survey (teachers self-identified their biggest growth being in “modelling 21st century learning”)

Transparency Rules

    • survey pre and post, based on ISTE standards for teachers (teachers said that their biggest need was creating assessments and so that is where we focus next)

Systems Learn

    • can’t revolve everything around individual leaders, need to focus on the school as a whole
    • focus on developing many leaders
    • sharing encouraged at every staff mtg,
    • focus on distributed leadership, pairing teachers up to other teachers to share
    • my job as TLLP leader, became more about connecting others than trying to help everyone myself
    • humility and openness to change. we changed course many times