Transformation is Not About Technology but About Being Able to Tell A Story

This post started out as a Facebook post and morphed into something a little bigger as I was pecking away in my car before heading to a workshop this morning.

I got home last night from our Ignite Dinner Series Event that was being hosted by our Superintendent in Surrey Jordan Tinney and our district’s critical friend George Couros.  I was greeted by my 5 year-old who excitedly mentioned to me that I got home just in time for Story time. It was wonderful to hear the joy in his voice as we took turns reading the pages in his chosen book.  After his story I thought we were going to do our usual hug, kiss, goodnight routine when he asks,

“Can I sing a song to you about earth day?” He starts to sing, & gets nervous and is stumbling over the words.  He then asks, Can I have your camera to film me singing, so you ca see me sing it. He said, “remember just like I did with Grandma.”

I remember that day like yesterday. He was excited to read for Grandma but then he got nervous right at that moment when it was time to read. It was obvious that having multiple people watching him read to his Grandma made him anxious.

Understanding that I knew he would like to still share his reading with his Grandma I asked him if he would like to make a movie of himself reading in his room and then bring it down for her to watch in the living room. He was over the moon with excitement at this possibility.  He ran upstairs and I followed behind.  I could hear him saying, “I know where we can set up the camera to show me reading.”  I helped him set up the camera and was excited to see him in action as he filmed himself reading.  Two seconds later he asked me to leave too.  I guess he is getting an early start on his directing career.  Afterwards he wanted to write on his video and put applause in like Daddy’s student did in his video… so we did.  Here is his video of him reading to his Grandma:



He did this again last night only this time he sang this beauty after he again asked me to leave the room.  He ran over to our room when he was done, so he could excitedly share.  I gave him a little feedback that I loved how he moved to the music in that song, but I was having difficulty hearing him.  He ran back to his room, set up the camera and came back with the clip below you.  Happy Earth Day!



Happy Earth Day everybody!

Thinking back to my school days had I been faced with the same challenge my son faced I don’t know what I would have done.  I definitely didn’t have that strategy in my tool box when I was 5.  I probably wouldn’t have read and my Grandma might not have been able to experience the excitement and pride in my voice as I read to her.

I have learned through my kids and from voices like George Couros that technology can be transformational in the ways we tell stories and how learning can be shown in a multitude of ways.  If it is all about the technology then we lose out on the stories because students/teachers/parents feel intimidated that they may not know enough.  They will shut down and the conversation amongst stakeholders is over.  If it is just about the stories without technology then that story may become lost without any opportunity for others to learn from it.

I was reminded again today by George about the powerful words of Steven Johnson, “Chance Favours the Connected Learner”.  Technology has the power to connect us to ideas that are not technology focussed.  We are all tinkering with things and that little tidbit one person shares can/might have a profound impact on their learning and their life.  Technology has the power to connect our ideas, improve our practice, and show people that they do know how to sing the song “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”.

It is always & should always be about the empowering learning & telling the stories that celebrate the learning in our classrooms and providing opportunities for our learners to make choices in their learning, so they feel success.

Hugh McDonald


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Learning to Code Using Hopscotch – Engaging, Purposeful, & Challenging Learning

What is coding?

I didn’t know much about it either prior to December of 2014.  I learned that it is another language and knowing how it works will open up a lot of possibilities for my students and our classroom.  I saw Tom, a colleague at my school doing creative integrated Science/Math projects with a coding app called Hopscotch.  As soon as I saw his kids engaged in conversations without teacher prompting about how to make their projects/demonstrations/games better I asked Tom if his kids could do a brief mentoring of my students.  I thought what they were doing was innovative, yet I had no idea on how to start because I had no experience with coding myself.

Luckily for me expertise runs deep if you’re willing to release control and let play and experimentation into your room.  Soon after we participated in the Hour of Code and my students we hooked on creating games rather than consumed with playing them.  When we ran into a problem we couldn’t answer we searched youtube and the expertise of some students in Tom’s Class.  A few of my students have started Genius Hour projects that have them creating games and some have plans of creating Youtube tutorials for other students.  I connected a couple of my students with another class in Surrey and via skype they were able to give a couple quick tutorial sessions on how to use Hopscotch to code.  If you know of a few students who would like to learn about coding via Hopscotch I know of some keen grade 6 students who would be willing to share their learning.

Below is an account from one of my students on their experience with coding.  I encourage you to let go of control and see where the world of coding will take you and your students.  I am excited to see where the journey will take us next.


Hugh McDonald

Coding is like a language that tells something to do something if something happens. For example in flappy bird I know to jump and move forward when the iPad is tapped and the tubes know to send the flappy bird back to its start and say game over.  All of these things were programmed to do something.  Even every block in piano tiles were programmed to have sounds, be tapped or not to be tapped and to move faster or slower.  Coding is easy if you know how but apps or websites like Hopscotch makes everything simple for anyone to do.

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We started by using the Hopscotch tutorial to help us with the coding challenges ahead. After we tried to see what you could do by adding random things and seeing what happens when you tap or shake or even tilt the iPad.  After I learned the basics of Hopscotch I attempted to make a flappy bird game, but I struggled.  It was my first ever game that I tried to make, so I tried again and it got way better.  The game I created had scores and it was hard to win, so  finally I tried again but in a different way.  It had a blue background and when you didn’t tap the screen it said tap to start and when you tapped it would disappear and the bird would start flying.

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One of the best things about Hopscotch is that you can see what other people have made and see the codes that they have used.  This helps you with ideas when you are making your own.  When you are about to make a game, picture, or whatever then you can pick blank or one of these other games.  If you click one of the other games it brings you to the blank game screen but there is a video telling you that you have to make the game that you have chose. You can make any game you want if you just find code off the internet and the copy it into the game.  You can then change it to make it what you want.

Another helpful way to learn how to code is   It tells you every step of the way and it even try to see if you were paying attention and it gives you challenges and it says what do you think you need next to finish it off.  Coding is a fun way to tinker, learn, and challenge yourself to create something using language to get a computer to get what you want it to do.


Grade 6 Student

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Save Our Rhino’s Global Classroom Project: Using Our Voices to Raise Awareness

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On Wednesday, December 10th our class skyped with Karen Stadler who lives in South Africa. Karen started a project called the Traveling Rhinos Project. The Traveling Rhinos Project is a project that is helping raise awareness around the world to stop rhino poaching. The reason why people are poaching is because rhino horns are as valuable as gold, and they think rhino horns can heal you.

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Part 1 of our Interview with Karen

She raised awareness by sending out five stuffed rhinos to different classes in the world and they passed it on to other classes.  The stuffed rhino we got is named Siyanda. When we were skyping with her we all asked her a question. What I found cool is that she made the Traveling Rhinos Project and the website all by herself!  We learned a lot about her and it was pretty fun skyping with her to learn about Rhino horn poaching problem.

Part 2 of our Class Interview with Karen 

Students then created awareness posters and poems and shared them with our school and via our @mcdclassroom instagram and twitter accounts. Our next step was to reach out to local media with letters to the editor.

Below you’ll find a sampling of 5 letters written by Grade 6 students in our class. You’ll learn about their passion to help others understand this issue and give them information on how they can help. It would be great for them to see how they can effect change positively by their words and their actions. We are waiting to hear back from our local papers.


Mr. McDonald and Korinna

Here are the letters we shared with our local news papers:

I am a grade 6 student at Fraser Wood Elementary in Surrey.
I am writing because I recently came aware of what has been happening to rhinos. My name is Ava and our class has been learning lots about rhinos this year.

Rhinos are endangered animals that may soon be extinct, if we don’t change what is happening to them. I have been really concerned about rhinos lately because there are only about 30 000 left in the wild and to start with there where 500 000 rhinos. So far in 2014 they have killed/ poached 1020 rhinos. Now the greatest hazard to their survival due to their poaching and habitat destructions. I don’t think that humans should be the rhinos worst enemy.

Now is the time to take action and change the situation. Some things you can do are: stop buying rhino products, get informed about the issue by visiting, and donate to organizations. We need to work to stop the carnage before it is to late. We need to care about are rhinos because rhinos are pretty much just like humans but they are animals. Rhinos have enemy’s just like us,they eat food just like us and they especially have family’s just like us.

Every time a human poaches a rhino the rhinos family is torn just like yours. How would you be if you lost someone in your family?

Grade 6
Fraser Wood Elementary
To The Editor,

I am Korinna, a Grade 6 Student in Fraser Wood Elementary and I am writing to you to tell you about what’s happening to rhinos.

In the whole world there are only 2000 rhinos left. Do you know why there are only 2000 left? People poach rhinos for their horns. Their horns are as valuable as gold and people seem to think that rhino horns are vaccine to heal the sick. I know the rhino horns can sound really valuable, but they just cut the horn off and then leave it’s body on the ground. What if you were hurt and you were just left on the ground?

In my class we are part of a project called the “Traveling Rhino Project“. The Traveling Rhino Project is a global classroom project that’s raising awareness by sending out five stuffed rhinos to different classes in different parts of the world.

Help stop rhino extinction! Rhinos are being poached and their leaving baby rhinos on their own and getting themselves killed. It’s decreasing the rhino population. What if this happened to you? SAVE OUR RHINOS!


Grade 6 Student
Fraser Wood Elementary
To the Editor

I am Madysen of Frasser Wood Elementary and I am writing to you to talk about saving the rhinos and why they are being poached.

They are being poached for their horns because they are worth more than gold. There are only 5 species left of our unique and beautiful rhinoceroses. Rhinos are living creatures that are innocent and have a life just like we do. If rhinos go extinct earths future pedestrians will not get to experience rhinos. Horns are important to rhinos because they belong to them and no-one else. If you were a baby rhino how would you feel if your parents were poached just for their horns and medicine?

To find more information on the Global Classroom Projects and what other students around the world are doing to help the Rhinos go to


Madysen, Gr.6
Fraser Wood Elementary
Surrey, B.C.
To the Editor,

Hey my name is Andrew and I am a grade 6 student in Fraser Wood elementary school and my class is part of the travelling rhinos global classroom project. You are welcome to visit the website at I am writing to you because I am concerned that rhinos are going to be extinct pretty soon.

It said that if we don’t take action now they predict that rhinos will be extinct in 2022.There has been poaching rhinos around in South Africa, and other places where rhinos live. There are only 5 rhino species left in the world. So far, 1550 rhinos have been poached in South Africa. People are killing rhinos for the horns because they think it’s medicine, but scientists prove that they don’t cure any disease or illness. Kruger National Park has been a target for poachers because 80% of South Africa’s rhinos live there. 500 rhinos are killed only in Kruger National Park. Baby rhinos are orphans because poachers are killing there mothers instead of the baby because the babies aren’t grown up yet.

We can help rhinos not being extinct by raising an awareness all around the world. Which will get governments, and etc attention to help rhinos. In South Africa, the word spread that rhinos are going to be extinct, so there is a rhino on a dollar bill.

How would you feel if you saw your mother getting killed right in front of you?

Grade 6 Student
Fraser Wood Elementary
To the Editor,

I’m Jivan a grade 6 student at Fraser Wood elementary school. I am writing to inform you about what’s happening to rhinos in Africa and Asia. People should care about these animals because rhinos have been dying because of people poaching their horns.

People need to treat rhinos like their own because there are only 5 white rhinos left in the world. You can help save the rhinos by informing your friends and family and everybody else you can think of this terrible problem. If you want more information please go to and learn more about these beautiful animals.

Imagine when a rhino dies… it is like one of their family members dies. About 1 to 2 rhinos die a day so about 64 rhinos die a month and if that does not get you mad then imagine a rhino family member and every month 64 of their family members die. A sad thing to think about.

Save the Rhino Grade 6 student
Fraser Wood Elementary

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26 More Videos that Sparked Genius Hour Thinking, Collaboration, and Actions in Our Class

In my classroom over the last few years I’ve shown many Youtube videos to inspire resiliency, grit, hope, and discussion prior to guiding them in the creation of their inquiry questions about their passions and wonders during our weekly Genius Hour time.  This post is a follow up post to my post 23 Videos that Sparked Genius Hour Thinking, Collaboration, and Actions.  Many of those videos and the ones I am sharing now were shared with me through the wonderful connections I have made with educators learners on Twitter, Facebook, and at workshops.  I am continually inspired by the educators in my personal learning network.  Thank you to all of you who share your learning and inspirations daily.  You have helped me make sense of the ideas that are floating around in my head.  I am proud to say that students in my classes are constantly inspiring each other and their teacher.  Some of their work is shared on the list below.

Enjoy the list and please share your own favourites.


Hugh McDonald

1.  What’s Your Sentence

2.  Moonshot Thinking

3.  Dot Day 2014 – @mcdclassroom

4.  The Fairy Scientist

5.  Sara Bareilles – Brave

6.  Sweet Baby Experiences Rain for the Very First Time

7.  Audrey’s 20% Project Promo

8.  The Power of Kiva

9.  20% Projects 2013

10.  Random Acts of Kindness caught on film

11.  Carol Dweck on the Power of Yet

12.  3 Year Old Climbs a Chain Bridge 1 Step At A Time

13.  Rubik’s Cube:  A question, waiting to be answered

14.  Learn How to Dance – Hip Hop (Time Lapse)


15.  How Hot Does it Get in a Parked Car Dr Ernie Ward


16.  Toddlers Collaborate to Move A Picnic Table


17.  Audri’s Rube Goldberg Monster Trap

18.  Jessica’s “Daily Affirmation”

19.  TEDxToronto – Drew Dudley “Leading With Lollipops”

20.  Snap Your Joy

21.  Sylvia’s Super Awesome Mini Maker Show: Rockets

22.  The Invisible Bicycle Helmet

23.  Back to School!?!?! – Live A Little

24.  Try Something New for 30 Days – Matt Cutts

25.  Road to Mt. Kilimanjaro – Kitty McKay – TEDxGrossePointeSouthHS

26.  For the Heroes: A Pep Talk from Kid President

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I appreciate this on so many levels or should I say layers of me.

Originally posted on Vendramin's Views:

“Layers… Onions have layers. Ogres have layers. Onions have layers… 
You get it? We both have layers!”


IMG_7264I’m a lucky person!

I consider myself lucky for many reasons. Among these reasons are my health, the family I am part of, and the work I do in schools that allows me to make a positive difference every day. What more could I ask?

Most people who know me would also say that I am fairly laid back and that not too much bothers me. For the most part, I think that’s true.

I’ve been sitting on this blog topic for some time and it’s only until quite recently that my wonderful admin partner, Kelli Vogstad (@KelliVogstad), encouraged me to express my thoughts. So, here I go.

I sometimes feel misunderstood and it bothers me! There, I said it.

You see, I have been with the same school district for…

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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… and used comic sans font on my opening slide.  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.  Along with my teaching colleague Gallit Zvi we noticed 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, through skype and google hangout flatten our world for us and make the world 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 who along with her Kiva Ninjas inspired me that this was possible with learners in our district too.  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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