Friends, Learning, Making and Playing…a Conversation with Kindergartners

“School is fun.”

“I like playing with my friends.”

“I like that we go to centers and have fun, and play together as friends.”

“I love that I have a lot of friends here, and we do a lot of activities. I like learning and reading here.”

“I like my teachers and my friends, and I like playing with blocks and Legos.”

“I like to make stuff with my bare hands.”

“I like when my Papa picks me up from school.”

“I like the Legos and the books. It’s fun to read books! I like to play with my teachers and friends too.”

These are just a sampling of the sweet, thoughtful and genuine interviews I conducted with several JK and SK students at the Northeastern Catholic District School Board these past couple of weeks.

Tuesday, January 26th was my Board’s JK Registration day. I was tasked with creating a multimedia presentation showcasing our Kindergarten students, and all of the amazing learning opportunities their teachers provide for them.

The common thread in the conversations with these students was the concept that learning is fun, and also that they love to create, play, and perhaps most importantly, they love their friends, family and teachers. It’s the people who surround them every day who have their best interests at heart, and to help them to realize their potential, who were at the forefront of their minds (and are, every day).

Here is a link to my presentation, and I hope I was able to capture the spirit of these students and the Kindergarten program itself.

Background Music: “Life of Riley” Kevin MacLeod (
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License

Grade 5 Science: Human Organ Systems and Dissecting Frogs

I cut the top of my thumb yesterday slicing up a lime for shrimp skewers on the BBQ. This morning, I went to open a new band-aid and, for some reason, the band-aid had frogs on it.IMG_0752

This reminded me of an event Science Timmins facilitated as a culminating activity for my Grade 5 science class in November 2013. We dissected frogs at the conclusion of our Human Organ Systems unit. Or, as one of my students put it, “digesting frogs.” In his defense, we had just been learning about digestive systems!

Why frogs? A frog’s anatomy is similar to that of a human being’s anatomy; that is, we both have the same types of organ systems, but of course a frog’s is much simpler than ours. Screenshot 2015-07-11 12.45.42

MHHE’s Virtual Lab: Virtual Frog Dissection provides students with an opportunity to virtually compare both interior and exterior anatomies of frogs and humans. This website also contains audio instructions; a great accommodation for those students who have difficulty reading, or for those students who are auditory (as well as visual) learners.

Dissection Day

The students were so excited for this activity, and for every day leading up to Dissection Day, they would talk about it or ask if it was actually happening (to this day, the students still talk about it and ask if they will have the opportunity to do it again)! When the day finally came, they were beside themselves. Antoine Garwah outfitted each student with goggles, dissection kits and smocks, so they looked like proper scientists. We had prepped their “stations” (their desks) with drop cloths (plastic tablecloths from Dollarama, aka an educator’s second home), and each student had an aluminum tray for the frog to lay in during the procedure. IMG_2366 (1)

The frogs were transported to us in a big white bucket, and each student took turns to pluck his/her frog from the bucket with some squeals and, for some, after a few attempts! IMG_2375 (1)

This is the structure (more or less) that we followed on the day: Science Timmins Frog Dissection Structure (1)

Each and every student took part in actually making incisions in the frog’s body, as instructed by Antoine, and then worked diligently in identifying each organ system as they came to it. I will tell you that a few of the students had to go out to the hallway to take a breather in between sessions, but I was surprised at their collective stamina! This was definitely their first foray into this type of activity, and I know that they all believed they were scientists that day.

Here is a parent letter I had drafted prior to our activity, to ensure that each student had consent to participate. It is a fully editable Google Doc, so please use, edit and share should it benefit you and your students.

For the Animal Rights Activists (or the squeamish!)

The Frog Dissection app for both iOS and Android provides a decent alternative to the real thing; and also offers an accommodation for those students who have moral or ethical objections to dissecting animals. iTunes sells it for $3.99, while the Android version is $5.17 as this post goes live. 

Ontario Grade 5 Science Expectations from Understanding Life Systems: Human Organ Systems

The following are the Big Ideas taken from the curriculum:

  • Organ systems are components of a larger system (the body) and, as such, work together and affect one another. (Overall expectations 2 and 3)
  • Organ structures are linked to their functions. (Overall expectations 2 and 3)
  • Systems in the human body work together to meet our basic needs. (Overall expectations 2 and 3)
  • Choices we make affect our organ systems and, in turn, our overall health. (Overall expectations 1 and 3)

By the end of Grade 5, the students will (Overall Expectations):

1. analyse the impact of human activities and technological innovations on human health;

2. investigate the structure and function of the major organs of various human body systems;

3. demonstrate an understanding of the structure and function of human body systems and interactions within and between systems.

IMG_2384 (1) IMG_2385 (1) IMG_2393 (1)


Making Thinking Visible with the Shadow Puppet App in K-2

A couple of months ago, I was asked to present to Kindergarten teachers about how to use the Shadow Puppet EDU app for iPad and iPhone, and how students can use this tool to make their thinking visible in an interactive, engaging and intuitive way.

The Shadow Puppet app allows students to create videos, presentations or slideshows by using photos and video clips from your device’s camera roll, photo stream, or albums. They can add music and narration to their content, overlay text and icons, and share and export their creations to multiple social media platforms with ease. You can use up to 100 items and record for up to 30 minutes.

Something to think about:

  • The Shadow Puppet app only allows you to record your entire narration at one time.
  • You can pause and undo, but if you want to fix a mistake AFTER recording, you must delete the entire narration and start over.

The teachers brought their iPads to the session in order to try the app out for themselves, and after I went through the app step-by-step by using the images on my own iPad, they created presentations of their own. They enjoyed how user-friendly the app is, and we discussed how best to introduce the app to students and the many potential uses for Shadow Puppet.

Here is a link to a presentation about Shadow Puppet I created using Google Slides and Slides Carnival (a website dedicated to providing users with fun, free templates for Google Slides).

Screenshot 2015-07-08 02.22.46

Live from New York, it’s Dave Ruch!

Yesterday, students at St. Paul School, as well as other schools in Timmins, across Canada and the U.S., had the opportunity to participate in a free, live and very interactive concert by Dave Ruch.  Dave is a teaching artist who captivates audiences with his musicality, personality and impeccable timing: “Show me those teeth!  Beautiful – especially you in the red shirt!” Cut to student in red shirt, now smiling profusely, his/her friends gasping and trying to figure out how he knew?!  😀  The concert featured instruments such as the mandolin and the jaw harp, as he took the students around the world, teaching them verses of songs in different languages (Nigerian, Russian, Japanese, Italian…), and definitely got them out of their seats, dancing and singing along.  He even took questions after his 45-minute concert via email.  If you are looking to add an interactive experience to your Music program, look no further.  Thanks Dave!  His official website is:
As well, teachers can find him on the digital Human Library site – and don’t forget to register for even more exciting virtual field trip opportunities for your students!

Google Slides Presentation: Indigenous Math Games

My students learned how to play two different Aboriginal math games (more can be found here).  They had fun playing Throw Sticks and Stick Dice, games originating with the Apaches in the Southwest United States and the Pomo Indians of California, respectively. During large celebrations that would last about four days, nations would get together and would feast, dance and play games. Many of these games involved gambling and setting large wagers against neighbouring tribes.  The kids didn’t want to stop playing the game, which is interesting, because all the materials you need to play this game can be found in nature, and not on an iPad!
For Throw Sticks, you need: 40 rocks, arranged in 4 groups of 10 in a circle, 2 feathers for place markers, and 3 sticks (we used popsicle sticks) that must be decorated using the same patterns and colours on each.
Throw Sticks

For Stick Dice, you need: 6 (popsicle) sticks, all decorated the same on one side only.

Stick Dice
Obviously there weren’t any Mr. Sketch markers back when this game originated, but I imagine that they would have burned etchings into the sticks to create patterns, and/or used things like berries for dyes.  The students were then taught how to use Google Slides.   They especially loved the transitions effects and how you can “drag and drop” pictures using Google Chrome, as opposed to Internet Explorer where you have to save your image and then upload it.  As part of our procedural writing unit, their task was to create a presentation all about how to play the game of their choice.  When these are complete, they will be teaching another class how to play their games by showing their presentations on iPads. And because you should end your procedural text on a positive note, I’ll apply that here:  Amazing work, Grade 4/5’s!


Some of my students struggle with division.  I have taught a strategy called flexible division to see if they would find it easier.  It is essentially using the multiplication of friendly numbers and “keeping track” of these numbers on the side of your division problem.  For example, if you are dividing 85 into 2 groups, we would look at how many times 2 can fit into 85.  If we know 2 x 10 (because 10 is a very friendly number, or any multiple of 10 for that matter) equals 20, we would write the “10” on the side of the problem to remind us that we multiplied 2 by 10, and then write the “20” underneath the 85 and subtract it.  I tell the kids that it is like picking away at the “ice chunk number” – using the multiplication of friendly numbers until we whittle away at the big number until there is nothing left to whittle away – or, until we have “ice cubes” (remainders) left.

One of my students had an A-Ha moment this afternoon when we were going through Flexible Division once again as a class.  He had always said that he didn’t get it, but couldn’t articulate exactly what about the strategy he didn’t get, so he would go back to his drawing pictures strategy (and there’s nothing wrong with that!).  Well, today he actually came up with a very profound question, and we got to the bottom of his confusion – he asked, “How do you know which number you use for the multiplication part?”  I was ecstatic.  It apparently doesn’t take much!  I explained, with the help of my other students, that it was any “friendly” number (such as 5, 10, or any other multiple of 10) you pulled out of the air, as long as the product didn’t go over the dividend (the number being divided)!  It could be any number you are comfortable multiplying by the divisor (the number you are dividing the dividend by), and all you are doing is making that divisor smaller and smaller.  It was a nice breakthrough moment for him, and it really showed the power of asking questions in Math, and the clarity that (hopefully) comes as a result. 🙂

Here is an example of a Division Lesson from Ontario’s Guide to Effective Instruction (Gr. 4-6) that includes a visual of the flexible division strategy.