Attempting to Make Learning Meaningful: #geniushour #mysteryskype #comments4kids #kidLitReview #kiva

This past week I was invited by Dean Shareski and Discovery Education to be part of the first Vancouver Ignite (#yvrignite) session host by the Discovery Education Network.  It was awesome opportunity to share some of my learning, experiences, and learn and connect with a number of educators around British Columbia whom I connect and learn with on twitter. Below are my slides and accompanied notes for my presentation… “My Attempts in Making Learning Meaningful”.  The Ignite presentation format is 20 slides in 5 minutes.  It went fast and it was quite a thrill.  I even broke the rules a little and chatted about 30 seconds over… I know… quite the rebel!

Screen Shot 2014-11-23 at 3.30.22 PM In the last 3 ½ years the way I learn and teach have undergone a transformation. I have learned more about myself as a learner, and I have learned more about what is important to me as teacher.

I am passionately curious and always seeking deeper meaning and understanding in every aspect of my practice and person.   I have learned I can make discoveries about my practice, question it, and implement new ideas the next day without fear of what could happen but with excitement of what is possible.

I was having difficulty engaging a class in their learning. I created journal topics, choice socials, science, and Language Arts projects with perfectly created rubrics… yet projects were not being completed and criteria was not being met on a regular basis. Students who were constantly asking me, “What did I get? Instead of questioning themselves about what did they learn.

It frustrated me. Then I read an exchange of tweets between Angela Maiers and Denise Krebs. Genius Hour in the classroom!!! Time for Autonomous and Meaningful personal learning in the Classroom!

Letting go of me controlling what to learn was easier than I thought. I watched Denise do it in her class and showed her classes’ learning samples with my students a couple days later. It was the students who were at a loss for words… “Do you mean we can learn anything we want?” They cheered and then questioned… “What do I Wonder About?” They were engaged and I was hooked on how I could continue to make learning meaningful in other areas of my class.

Stumbling through cat videos and laughing babies I came across a Dan Pink Video titled the 1 sentence project.

I thought this would be the perfect way to connect Peter Reynold’s “The Dot” with Genius Hour. The Dot describes the impact you can have by taking that first step and making your mark. The sentence became their declarative statement about what their sentence would be after this school year. It became their lens that helped them question whether what they were learning in class was helping make the mark they wanted.


Students wondered about the cure for cancer, how do you juggle a soccer ball, play the piano, or how can I build a mini computer. All I needed to do is give them time, opportunity, and answer their questions with a question.  Learning ceases to become cumbersome to students when you hear stories of student’s spending hours of their time at home advocating, tinkering, creating, and learning to ask questions about things they are interested in.

Finding more meaningful opportunities for my students to take steps into inquiry learning has become my passion.   I want them to discover places, locations, people, and worlds they could never have imagined through questions they ask themselves with their global audience.  Conversations on our blogs and through skype and google hangout flatten our world for us and make this more accessible to learners.

Another newly discovered passion is reading for enjoyment.  I was turned off of reading for enjoyment for a long time because I found reading to be a difficult task rather than an imaginative journey. I had no passion for it but after listening to author David Bouchard speak a few years ago I learned if a community of readers in my classroom were to ever develop I needed to read the titles they were reading and give recommendations to them and expect my students to do the same.


Not because it was required but because it is fun to talk about stories. Students now have monthly personal reading goals for themselves, a collective goal as a class, a list of books they have read, and opportunities to share in conversations about a book they were reading with peers online and off.  Teacher and author Pernille Ripp inspired me along the way with her constant sharing of her ideas about creating a culture of passionate readers in her classroom.

Twitter is a powerful medium that can support relationships and learning for educators and students.   This realization came for me when I discovered the hashtag #comments4kids on twitter. It was a place where educators can post their student’s blogs in hopes of getting authentic feedback from classes or teachers.


I tried it a few times a few years ago and was surprised to see how far the reach was. Soon I found myself commenting on student blogs around the world and sharing my student’s blog link in my signature after each comment.

You’d be surprised at how many revisions a student will happily do if piece of their writing has the opportunity to make an impact on others.

A special connection occurred recently between author Ruta Septeys of Between Shades of Gray and a student after we discovered she was on twitter. We shared her blog post and question with her, and you can imagine that student’s excitement when a conversation occurred about the author’s visit to Lithuania to interview Holocaust Survivors prior to writing the novel.

I learned Bill Ferriter’s Salem Middle School Kiva Club was raising awareness, money, and having kids make informed decisions about which entrepreneurs they would loan money to at a Surrey Digital Learning Series event. These kids were coming to the club afterschool. It was fascinating to be able to have my students last year be able to ask grade 6s in North Carolina questions about their club.   Thank you also to my friend and Surrey colleague Diana Williams Afterwards we used funds we raised with our grade 7s to fund micro loans to entrepreneurs in developing countries.

Technology was supporting meaningful pedagogical learning opportunities, raising awareness, starting conversations, finding answers to their questions, and helping them make a difference.

Helping others involves students understanding that learning should lifelong and meaningful to them and others. Benjamin Franklin said it best. “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”



Hugh McDonald


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First #KidLitReview – One For The Murphys by Linda Mullaly Hunt


Below is our inaugural #KidLitReview post of One For The Murphys by Linda Mullaly Hunt from our classroom.  The grade 6 students in our class will have an option of completing a blog entries or a 1-2 minute video blog reviews of a youth fiction or non-fiction books of their choice.  I completed the first video blog post below to model for students the expectations for the blog.

Please check back to our Class Blog as students will be posting frequently their #KidLitReviews of books of their choosing.  If you are an author interested in having one of my grade 6 students review your novel please send me a note here.  I assure you the students are passionate about reading and are excited at the opportunity of making their mark and having their opinions heard and inspiring other classes and young readers by sharing their posts with our class twitter and instagram accounts under my guidance.  The students have individual and collective reading goals and are excited to share their passion with the world.  The students have a collective goal of reading 990 book this year.  Currently they have read 136 books.  Any inspiration and advice you can provide to the young authors and readers in our class would be welcomed.

Keep reading and enjoy the #KidLitReview reviews.

Mr. McDonald

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Seth on Sorting


This is something I find myself wondering about more and more. The fraud is that many people look at the world as a performance based community. When in fact the traits most valued and appreciated are the kindness, resiliency, and hard work a person displays within a community. I hope we keep moving forward inch by inch driven in schools by Mike’s words: “When will what we know change what we do?” We need to keep evolving schools to model what we appreciate about others in our community.

Originally posted on :


Much of what Seth Godin blogs about is food for thought, but every now and again he writes something that really strikes a chord with me and I need to put it in context. His recent piece on The wasteful fraud of sorting for youth meritocracy is just such a piece. He takes up a conversation that seems to be gaining more attention as we question the purpose of school and how we approach learning for students, both in and out of school. In part, I am drawn to the post because I nod my head in agreement while reading it and, in part, because it really challenges all of the structures we have created around schools.

Godin argues students are being taught our world is one in which people are picked based on performance. When it comes to activities like school sports and music, those running the programs might point out “that their job…

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The Joy in Saying “YET!” What a 3 Year Old Can Teach Us About Having a Growth Mindset

The other day I took my 3 and 5 year olds to a playground at a local park prior to watching my wife play her slo-pitch game. My 5 year old easily crossed a chain bridge and then my 3 year old attempted to cross and fell a couple seconds after grabbing hold of the chains with her hands.

She was about to give up when she told me, “I can’t do it.”

I replied, “You can’t do it… YET!”

She happily said, “Oh yeah… YET!”

She then proceeded joyfully to attempt to cross the bridge a 2nd/3rd/4th/5th time in quick succession.  She fell each time a few seconds after starting. On the 6th attempt she finally figured out the one step at a time strategy we were talking about previously and completed it.

She was so proud of herself, and she asked if I could video her doing it, “so I can show Mommy.”

The video above is the 7th attempt, and she couldn’t be more happy with herself!  This is the power of YET in action, and I was in tears when she high-fived me.  I only wished I videotaped all her attempts, so she can see what joy and perseverance looked like to her when she was 3.

I can’t help but constantly question myself on how I can inspire myself, family, students, and colleagues to continuously find the joy in saying yet, and enjoying the learning journey along the way.  Using the word yet changes a fixed-mindset to a growth mindset and a growth mindset brings  joy in the hard work when we face challenges.  Thank you to Carol Dweck and her book Mindset to contributing to my awareness about the power of a growth mindset.

Hugh McDonald


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Why the Global Read Aloud Matters


The importance of being connected gives students endless learning opportunities. I love this story shared by Pernille! Enjoy!

Originally posted on Blogging Through the Fourth Dimension:

Wednesday started out as a normal day at school.  I walked into the office to check my mailbox when our amazing secretary handed me a mystery package.  I immediately looked at the mailing label and was astounded when I saw this.

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Immediately curios, I ripped open the package and was surprised when I saw this

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The package came from Cathy Kreutter, the librarian at the International School of Uganda, and she was reaching out to me continue the global connectedness started by the Global Read Aloud.   Not only was I shocked, but I was also over the moon excited, because the other thing in the package was this…

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A book, written by Cathy, based on the American Folk Tale “There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly” meant to tell readers more about Uganda.  I couldn’t wait to read it to my students!  And what happened next…

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Paper Airplane Challenge Part 1 – Telling Our Learning Story

I rececently watched an English Fan who created a paper airplane and let it go from the upper deck of Wembley Stadium.  The paper airplane he created danced gracefully through the sky for what seemed like minutes and hit an unsuspecting Peru Soccer Player in the side of the head near midfield.  I don’t believe for a second they were trying to hit anyone.  In fact they themselves referred to it as a lucky shot.  They were just having fun and trying their best to see how far they could go.  Here is the video:



There are numerous videos shown from different angles that show this video was not altered in anyway.  After seeing this video I was immediately inspired and we attempted to recreate this event from the top of our skynet on our playground.  However another factor came into play that we didn’t initially think about.  Not all students/people are comfortable with heights.  Therefore students understood that they could throw their airplanes from whatever height they were comfortable with.

The students came up with many factors to what contributed to the airplane hitting the target.  Some of these included wind, airplane design, strength of throw, distance needed to cover, height, and the angle at which they throw their airplane at.  Below is a video of us documenting our attempts and noting that we need to adapt and tinker with our creations in order to attain our goal of hitting our target.  Enjoy our humourous attempts to hit our intended target.  Please note this is Part 1.



We will share Part 2 in an upcoming blog post.  The students have already started tinkering with their designs and throwing techniques.  In Part 2 we will share more of what they learned from their first attempt and what they did differently in their attempts to get more airtime to hit their intended target.


Enjoy!  My students would love to hear about your successes or challenges you had if you tried a similar challenge.







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Please Don’t Tell Me to Pick


I struggle with this as well. How can you choose when you have seen so much growth and success in each of your students? This is why we are not doing awards at our school this year.

Originally posted on Blogging Through the Fourth Dimension:

image from etsy

“…Please pick one or two students…” my heart freezes as I read the email.

Don’t make me pick, please.  Don’t make me single out one or two students, even if it is for recognition.  Why?  Because I don’t just have one or two students who deserve to be recognized.  I don’t have just have one or two students that have been representing our classroom well.  I don’t just have one or two students that are above the rest.  I have 27 students that all through the year have proved people wrong.  I have 27 students who all through the year have given me their best, even when they had no energy, even when they were lost, even when life threw one obstacle after another at them.  I have 27 who deserve special recognition, maybe not for the same things, but they all deserve the praise.  they all…

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Early Sports Specialization and Its Links to Education


I really enjoy reading Chris’ thoughts on education and youth sport. I believe in what he is saying. Raising life long learners and life long participants in sport is preferable to the burn out most feel in attempting to keep up with the Joneses. Enjoy… the parallels are striking!

Originally posted on :


Outside of work, I spend many hours coaching my kids and other parents’ kids in school and community sports.  There is a  lively debate right now in the youth sports community about the value of focusing exclusively on a single sport from a young age. I wrote on the topic in a 2012 post on the Multi-Sport High School Athlete, and in 2013 on Being a Sports Parent Today.  Part of what really draws me to this challenge in youth sports are the parallels and similar debates in education.

I find the conversation around sports and whether we should be keeping score and ranking players and teams from youth, akin to the conversation around the purpose and appearance of elementary school report cards. Letter grades are very much like keeping score; those who argue for them remind us of the competitive nature of the world we live in and the need to let kids know where they stand, with those opposed contending the…

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To Bammy Or Not to Bammy


I too wonder about awards and appreciate hearing that the “Bammy’s” will have more student voice involved. Pernille always gets me to think a little deeper and she does again with this post.

Originally posted on Blogging Through the Fourth Dimension:

image from icanread

I have been going in circles the last few days, thinking out loud, pulling my hair a little bit.  Nothing new if you ask my husband, but I am finally at a point where I feel ready to write about it.  You see, I was nominated for 2 Bammy Awards this year.  One as elementary education teacher of the year, the category I was up for last year as well, and new this year as education commentator/blogger.   To those who don’t know me or know this blog, this wouldn’t seem like a bad thing.  After all, being nominated for anything is an honor really. But the Bammys and I have a little bit of a history after last year.  And so I don’t whether to be proud or to hide it.  I don’t know what to think of this anymore, not after last year.

I had…

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Fortune Does Favour The Bold – My Genius Hour Presentation

This Blog was written in response to the December Precept from R.J. Palacio’s “Wonder” I am reading with my class.   In this post I wanted to model reflective thinking of the precept “Fortune favours the Bold” which is highlighted in the book by one of August’s teachers and deeply thought about from the perspective of the character Jack Will.  Here are my awesome student’s Fortune Favours the Bold reflections from the novel Wonder.  I’m sure they would love some comments and feedback.  :D

Here goes me being bold…

I have many examples in my life of when I was bold.  Being bold to me means that I challenge myself to be great.  One of the most recent examples of me being bold was when I presented 2 workshops at the Provincial Intermediate Teachers Association Fall 2013 Conference in Burnaby.  I found out shortly after registration had started that both the workshops I had agreed to lead were full.  This was exciting to hear but also nervewracking to know that the pressure was on for me to educate and entertain 2 sessions of 40 people for an hour and a half.  In that moment I kind of felt like this girl:

In the lead up to my presentations I was tinkering for late into the evening each night prior to the day of the presentations in order to make them just right.  One of the topics I was presenting on was Genius Hour.  I was reading on twitter that some people were coming from as far away as the island and Prince George to come learn with me during this presentation.  This is a lot of responsibility, and I was afraid that this was not going to go very well.  When the session started I immediately felt comfortable because I love the topic and I felt prepared.  The room was over capacity and they were there to learn about Genius Hour and my story with it.  As I presented I showed them videos, pictures, led discussions, and read their faces.  They were engaged and were feveriously writing down everything I said.  It was personally rewarding to know that people wanted to know my story and learn about awesomeness of Genius Hour.

Had I not taken the opportunity to present at this Provinical Pro-D Conference I would never have know if I was capable.  I would have always wondered if I had it in myself.  Since that conference I have been asked to lead other workshops on Genius Hour.  I have realized that I have an interest in leading workhops and would like to continue to be bold and see what other opportunities I create for myself.  It was scary, but I am so glad I did it.  I have learned so much about myself as a learner and it has given me a deeper understanding and respect for Genius Hour and to others who present to large audiences on a regular basis.

Here is a link to my Genius Hour presentation with embedded video links.  I look forward to learning from your boldness.

Thank you!



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