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

  1. This is an excellent and resourceful post! It overwhelmed me with ideas in a good way. Going back to reread.

    • Thank you! It has been a great journey so far. Lots of helpful and resourceful people in my learning network who I lean on for support. Love seeking more meaningful learning opportunities for my students.

  2. This is an excellent and resourceful post. I was overwhelmed with ideas in a good way! I’m going to reread.

  3. Stacy Turner says:

    Love the way you use technology and Genius Hour with your students to make it meaningful!

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