5 TakeAways from #DENsi2015 – Day 2

Today was a day of connection and reflection.  We got to connect with new and old Discovery Education friends through experiencing the historical city of Washington, DC together.  Nothing like remembering, honouring, (yes I spelled it with a “u”… I am Canadian. :)) and reflecting on the past while forging relationships with awesome people.   People who are so willing to give of themselves and share their personalities and wealth of knowledge and experience.  He goes…

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1.  I stood silently and in awe for a few minutes where Martin Luther King looked out from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and gave his powerful “I Have A Dream” speech to hundreds of thousands of people calling for the end of Racism.  It is a speech I present to my students yearly.  We discuss it, analyze it, and celebrate the person who gave so passionately of himself in calling for equality for all.

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2.  I learned Franklin D. Roosevelt was a man of the people, the only president to be elected to 4 terms of office, and was confined to a wheelchair because he had polio.  I was also awestruck by his words that were etched in stone, as I meandered through his (FDR memorial).  He words celebrated his fellow person and honoured the people who elected him.  I also loved the tribute to Eleanor Roosevelt as well.


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3.  I took a quiet reflective walk by myself through the Vietnam War Memorial.  It is humbling to walk the path that honours those who died or went missing during this difficult time in American History.  I am Canadian, and to be honest seeing the almost 60, 000 names listed on a beautiful reflective wall beside the path made me feel lucky I have never had to go to war and feel enormous amounts of respect and honour for those who did for a greater cause… their country and their fellow person.  Whether you agree with war or not… reflecting on someone’s purpose can help you understand your own in deeper manner than before.

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4.  After a morning of Memorials being able to walk through the Smithsonian Museum of Natural history with my friend/colleague Robyn and my new friend from Nova Scotia, Erica.  It truly was an impressive walk through this collection of historical artifacts and stories from early man, sea life, to the dinosaurs.  Seeing the Dinosaur exhibit with Triceratops, T-Rex, and the archaeologists working was a definite highlight of this visit for.  I wish I had more energy to continue on to other museums, but by 4 pm I was in need of a much needed nap.  In the future I would love to see the Holocaust Museum and the Air and Space Museum.

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5.  After the bus ride back to American University I took a much needed nap, grabbed a quick bite at the cafeteria and then took off with some cool new friends to ride the metro and see the White House.  It didn’t disappoint.  I even loved catching a little video of the fireflies that danced on the grass as we approached the White House.  I also loved being able to see the Washington Monument from any spot I stood in the city.  Amazing!

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I am amazed by the sheer number of monuments and historical places there are in Washington, DC.  It is the perfect place to reflect, connect, and learn.  I am extremely thankful to my district Surrey and Discovery Education who made this experience possible.

I think it is awesome that American’s honour their history in such a way.  I can’t help but reflect on my need to visit Ottawa with my kids and take them across our country in telling the story of the country they call home.

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6 Takeaways From #DENsi2015 – Day 3

Today was the first full day of sessions from DENsi 2015 and I couldn’t pick just 5 takeaways so you get 6 memorable moments from the sessions today.  It was chalk full of rich learning opportunities.  We had our opening morning session as well as 2 morning and 2 afternoon session that we were free to choose from.  These presenters are teachers and DENstars from around North America and England.

** (I recognize this is finished a little later, but I needed time to synthesize the learning I experienced).

1.  SOS Call for Digital Integration Session with Jannita Demian

Learning with Jannita Demian was a treat.  We discussed how not all technology is created equally and not all lessons are created equally.  Jannita discussed how our profession is to bridge the gap between pedagogy and technology.  I couldn’t agree more.  If you make the conversation about learning you connect us all.  However if you make it just about the “tech” or start with tech first then you risk losing the people you want to engage.

What I loved about this session was how Discovery Education has created a Spotlight On Strategies created by teachers.  They are accepting of more strategies and are adding and revamping this section constantly.  These strategies are flexible and able to be used across subject areas.  The strategies are searchable within Discovery Education and is accessible with your account that your district has.    Each strategy gives you examples of how to use it in your classroom.  They will also be sortable/searchable according to your purpose.  You can even save your favourite (I am Canadian) and come back to it another time. :D

Some Strategies discussed and shared at the session are:

Fakebook – Imagine a Facebook Profile that is editable within Discovery… or print one off and have your students fill out.

– AEIOU strategy

– Table – Top Texting

– Interactive Journals (draw something and then write out on other side)

– 3 Truths and 1 Lie

– Take images from discovery education and populate your screen savers

– 25 Things they didn’t know strategy … create their own boards using board builder or poster boards.

– SOUND CHECK is a Strategy Using ambient sound (have access to audio files)

Reading (or listening!) Between the Lines

Update their own Instagram Picture

SOS: Tweet Tweet!

2.  Another take away was listening to Lori McFarling – Chief Marketing Officer of Discovery Education speak at the beginning of the day.

One of the virtual field trips she outlined was Auschwitz 70 The Past is Present.  It was created from Shoah Foundation in connection with Discovery Education.  They shared the survivor stories from survivors around the world in their own words with the students in our classroom.  By getting these stories out there and connecting them to real life places for students you are giving them greater opportunity to build empathy and put the focus on the stories of the survivors rather than the ideologies of Hitler.  Bringing families of survivors with the survivors to Auschwitz.  Bottom of discoveryeducation.com …. lots of content available.  I know knew I want to attend the Echoes and Reflection session tomorrow.

3.  One thing that I found very cool was the 3M Young Scientist Challenge who with Discovery Education pair a young scientist up with 3M Innovator.  The winner ended up on Ellen in 2013.  This challenge was introduced to me by Kyle Schutt of Discovery Education.

4.  David Fisher – DEN Speaks

Meeting and learning from David was a treat for me this week.  He presented his DEN Legacy project by inspiring others to spend speaking 5 minutes on something they are passionate about in front of the 150 DENsi audience.  David’s premise was we have all kinds of students in our classrooms.  Let students who struggle do the same thing as everyone else.  Everyone is on their own journey and some just need more building blocks (teacher support) to continue on the journey.  It requires a lot of effort but the home run is worth it if your non communicable student walks up to you and says, “You taught me gravity.”  I was impressed by his perspective during our conversations and in sessions I attended.

5.  Creativity in the Classroom by Emily Murn

link to presentation: https://discovery.app.box.com/EMurnDENSI

Thank you Neene for compiling the notes below from this jam packed with ideas session.  I have added some of my thoughts below to her notes.  I loved the many ideas Emily brought to this session.  Some of these were new to me while others had me thinking… oh ya… I could have them show their learning this way.

What is Creativity?

The ability to transcend traditional ideas and create meaningful new ideas – a process that ebbs and flows

  1. Cognitive Abilities
  2. Behaviors
  3. Attitude – ability to have thought about the world around us
  4. Skills – combination of other three ways – ability to share out with the world

Are students re-creating or creating?

Devices can help our students be creative. Glitter and Glue and Scissors can now be even more sparkly with Digital Tools

Creativity is not new. It has always been around. It is just taking a greater step to the front.

It is now about thinking creative-ly in our classrooms.

Sir Ken Robinson – Creativity now is as important as literacy, and we should treat it.

Think Creatively.

Create new and worthwhile ideas

Padlet – http://padlet.com virtual sticky notes and can be used as a virtual word wall or collaborative space.  I love this idea on how to be collaborative outside and inside of the walls of a classroom.  In order to work as a team you need to be prepared to ask your own questions

Working in a group through kinesthetic learning.  Movement to songs such as Lodge McCammon – lodgemccammon.com and through DiscoveryEducation.com (search term “lodge” will bring up many).  Including music into my teaching practice is something I have done sparingly over the years.  I learned Lodge has many interesting songs about a lot of learning topics.  One of the ideas is pick one of his songs, pass on a verses to groups of students, have them think of ways they are going to act out the lyrics, start the video camera, and then have the groups roll through the screen acting out and dancing to their verse until it is done and then the next group jumps in.

Implement Creative Ideas

        Board Builder within Discovery Education is one tool that could be used. It was originally created with students in mind. They can add own text, video, and resources. Now group boards are available. Multiple students can edit the same Discovery Education Board Builder board.  It is a secure site and only viewable by other Discovery Education users. Teacher moderates the sharing to the Discovery Community. I feel fortunate that our district (Surrey) is a Discovery district.  I look forward to making sure my class is set up with their usernames and passwords near the beginning of the year, so we can take advantage of this tool.

  1. Teaching Creatively
    1. Go beyond identifying a word. Perhaps substitute another word. Be engaged, demonstrate understanding.
    2. Emily is presenting a list of verbs to bring our own teacher vocabulary up a notch – slide 30 from presentation –https://discovery.app.box.com/EMurnDENSI
    3. Consider writing an original poem that is inspired by the original but shares their own creativity
    4. Rather than just creating shapes, arrange shapes to create a new image/shape
    5. Spotlight on Strategies – SOS from Discovery Education offer many ideas for how to be creative in the classroom. There are over 70 strategies currently available. And more will be coming soon. [denblogs.com]
    6. Lively lessons series –http://blog.discoveryeducation.com/blog/2015/06/14/lively-lessons-interactive-resources/
    7. Virtual Field trips can spark engagement on interesting topics: inside the white house, egg farm http://discoveryeducation.com/events
    8. Webinars for teachers, administrators, and more ex: 5 Ways to Use Discovery Education webinar series.
    9. Join us on DENFriends group in Facebook – comment/post questionshttp://tinyurl.com/DENFriends

2. Teaching for Creativity

See slide 43 – https://discovery.app.box.com/EMurnDENSI : offer students choice, empowerment, scaffolding/coaching, be safe

Some quick ways to spark creativity in daily activities

  • Brainstorming – model is appropriately in daily activities Ex: create a quick list of things with one category hot? old? sour? animals that exist in the rainforest? Students will be able to go from the mundane to the instructional when the thought process has been modelled
  • Caption images – goal: help students think concisely and go beyond. Ex an image presented and look for caption that would summarize it. Consider exploring the “6 Word Story” SOS to integrate this concept in your classroom
  • Forced Associations – example How is a Window is like a pair of glasses? Teacher is like a dictionary? How is a number like a letter? Students may share things that need revisiting or further exploration
  • Brain Break Ideas: board games, drawing starters, moving
  • Get Moving – Go Noodle Brain Breaks – (I signed up for an account today and had fun dancing with my kids at home today.  http://blog.discoveryeducation.com/blog/2015/01/21/brain-breaks-with-go-noodle/
  • Brandon Wislocki shared with Emily how his students use paper and crayons and a camera to “present” their ideas and knowledge. Emily shared the video with the crowd.
  • Use songs as the backgrounds to student videos to interact, create, and share their learning
  • Heidi Morgan shared with Emily that no one app or tool did what they really wanted. So they started App Smashing to combine tools to create something closer to what they would like to really be sharing to demonstrating their learning  http://goo.gl/g3Cr2K
  • Karie Huttner’s blogs icreateilearn.weebly.com / DENBlogs.com Karie shares many resources and ideas through both her own blog and the DENblogs.
  • Creative writing with smartphones, http://goo.gl/hrSLBi
  •  – what makes an image something you like looking at
  • Think about careers – http://learnhowtobecome.org
  • Additional Resources will be forthcoming
  • Quote: “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” the more you are creative with students the more creativity will bubble up.
  • Follow @EmMurn to continue the conversation

6.  Hall Davidson spoke next prior to our sessions today.  He is a bundle full of energy and hard to keep up with.  However his energy is contagious and I love his passion for what he talks about.  In thinking about his presentation I think he talks with others in much the same way I do.  He speaks in tangents in an excited voice that you can’t help be energized by.  Besides his motto of the smartest person in the room is the room is something I’ve believed in for a while now and is a big reason to why Genius Hour is something I am passionate about.  Students bring their passions and knowledge to the classroom daily and share it with each other.  Often I find myself referring students to other students when they are needing help with something.  I am a big believer of the smartest person in the room is the room.  Hall is an engaging personality that goes off on quick and passionate tangents throughout his presentation.

He talked about many different tools to help students and teachers to ask questions make sense of their own learning.  Some of these ideas included:


Jet Propulsion Laborotory

– HyperDuino

Leap Motion

Google Cardboard

Osmo – Masterpiece

Download Quiver and draw in Osmo



Building Lessons using Pinterest

We all have the ability to use Powerpoint  and save them as pictures and airdrop them into ipad and use a lot of different applications on ipad to manipulate content in meaningful ways to learners.  Some ways he suggested were:

Puppet Pals

Puppet Pals 2

Kahoot – Game Based Learning in the Classroom – Goal to create questions that make you think. Answer the questions

Think Before You Link in School


Young Scientist Challenge – Mentored by 3M Scientists as mentioned above.

A link to the Discovery Education Virtual Field Trips


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5 Takeaways from #DENSI2015 – DAY 1

Shared by Lance Rougeux

Shared by Lance Rougeux

I feel extremely excited to be here in Washington, DC for Discovery Education Network’s (DEN) Summer Institute. DENsi2015 (DEN – ES – Eye). As a newbie I was welcomed into the DEN family with an inspiring and welcoming first day. I am going to attempt to document 5 of my takeaways each day for each of the next 5 days. Here goes!

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1. Getting the finger is a good thing. It is given to honour those who go above and beyond and inspire us all. We then cheer and wave our #1 finger in the air and woooooooo. Thank you to DEN team and the Leadership Council Volunteers who got us organized and helped this newbie and many others make their way through the day.

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2. RJ Stangherlin is inspiring and she had us in tears. She shared her story of conquering rare cancers and the loving support she received from her husband and she credits the DEN community who helped her beat them. The DEN is a wonderful place full of caring people and the common theme through the evening is that trust is built through experiences and support comes from your family. The DEN is a family, and I am honoured to be part of it.

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3. The power of connection, and conversation with new friends who seek to understand and appreciate your why as a teacher. Being a newbie to the DEN community I’ve learned the power of these relationships through the inspiring stories shared by RJ Stangherlin and Lance Rougeux. Lance talked about the power of family and support the DEN gave him during some difficult times in his life and the endless support the DEN gives to his passion project The Purple Feet Project and to the great lengths the DEN has gone to support him and his family personally. I am learning that the DEN is an amazing and supportive place.

Relationships and community first and learning about all the cool tech tools to support teaching and learning 2nd.  Without the first the second means little.  We want to do the best work of our lives.  This is why we are here… to learn about these from new trusting friends who we have connected with, and they share how they’ve used them with students and colleagues in their districts and schools.

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4. Trace Dominguez is a super inspiring guy who and creates content for DNews on youtube.  In a little over 2 1/2 years they have over 1.3 million subscribers (at least one more after I clicked the button) and well over 7 million views on their many entertaining videos they create each day. I learned I need to watch more of the videos him and his team create about a variety of questions and introduce them to the kids in my class and have them soak in what he has to say and engage in conversations about them with them.  Trace also mentioned the 3 question principle which is getting kids to ask the 3rd question about a topic before you ask it of them. Ask the first question, find the answer, then ask a question about what you learned, find answer, ask a question about the second thing your learned, and find answer. I’ve always believed in this form of inquiry, but I didn’t hear it stated as simply as Trace did today. The odds are if they get to the 3rd question they will go much further themselves on the question they were initially asking themselves on but on countless topics inside and outside of school. Trace is a learner and inspires others to be a learner too. Think of the modern day Bill Nye the Science Guy and that is who he is.

5. Lance Rougeux said amazing teachers don’t see what they do everyday as anything different than what other teachers do and don’t understand what they can offer to others by sharing. It reminded me of the Derek Sivers video above. “Obvious to You. Amazing to Others”.  I learned the power of the DEN is sharing learning stories and connecting on a deeper level with your colleagues. We all have something that is obvious about what we do but when we share and connect we have the ability to spark amazing in others together as a community and as a family. All this and it is only the first day.

I’m looking forward to Day 2!

Hugh McDonald


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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 code.org.   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 www.safeourrhinos.wikispaces.com, 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 www.saveourrhinos.wikispaces.com


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 athttp://saveourrhinos.wikispaces.com/HOME. 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 savetherhinos.wikispaces.com 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…

View original 381 more words

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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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