Bottle Flipping in Grade 6

I know I know more bottle flipping! But you know what? The kids love it and it has so much math.

I first got the idea from Jon Or who I think got the idea from Dan Meyer but their lessons were geared for High School students. This got me thinking what can I do for my 6’s. So this is what I decided to do:

After getting over the annoying factor of bottle flipping this was one of the best lessons that I have ever done. There was so much math and learning it wasn’t even funny. I know we all try to find these rich tasks but this was one that turned out great.

Take a look at the amazing week:

<br data-mce-bogus=”1″><br data-mce-bogus=”1″><br data-mce-bogus=”1″><br data-mce-bogus=”1″><br data-mce-bogus=”1″>[<a href=”//” target=”_blank”>View the story “October 24th to the 28th” on Storify</a>]

If you do this lesson would love to see your results or any other variation of it.

How do I get my Kids to reflect?


To be honest I have been thinking about this question for years and I don’t know if I am even truly there yet but I think my students are well on their way. However, it hasn’t always been that way.

I have said this before but reflection for me started off as that one off we did with our kids or some fancy worksheet that made me look like I was reflecting but you know you weren’t. I did the binder portfolios and all the things that we “had” to but to be honest it was more of a make-work project than really having reflection embedded into my daily teaching. I saw it as an extra and really couldn’t wrap my head around how to make this a part of my teaching practice. For this reason, I went totally “gradeless” and decided to only have feedback (this worked for me) but as I have been conversing with my fellow colleagues this hasn’t always been the case for others.

For this reason, I thought I would jot down some ideas that have been coming out of conversations with other colleagues.

  1. Start small

I know this may be without saying but if you find that students are struggling with reflection pair it right down. Start with a small sentence or even small pictures. An idea that I have done at the beginning is exit ticket slips, you can even do it with Google Forms. Sometimes I think as educators we move too fast too soon. We want our students to succeed and do what others are doing but sometimes they are not ready for it. Not only does this get us frustrated but I am sure the kids are too.

2. Set small and obtainable goals

One of the hardest things that I had to learn was that my goals and the kids’ goals had to be small and obtainable. Many of my students were making these lofty and vague goals and then never achieving them or they just let them by the wayside because it was taking too long to achieve their goals. For this reason, I have started to say in one week or next month what are you going to specifically do. No longer do I except I want to be better at math. I tell them what exactly do you want to be better at (e.g., patterns, fact recall, problem-solving, etc)?

3. Build it into a question or into your week

Time is always an issue. One of the biggest discussions I get is, this is taking a long time Jonathan. Of course, my answer is, yes, yes it is. Unfortunately, there is no way around this. Proper reflecting takes time and of course at the beginning of the year takes the most. I know I have to remind myself of this and that setting routines and procedures always seems so painful in September but by June it is amazing. I also have to remember that many of my students have never done this before. Reflecting and being honest reflectors is hard if students have never had their voices heard or honoured before. Some advice that I have been giving is why not set aside 10 minutes every day to do some sort of reflection, or sometimes I make one period every Friday for reflection. In primary, I made one of the questions a reflecting question so that it was part of the assignment. Breaking it into small time will allow you to make it part of your routine.

4. Keep it simple

I said this before but simpler the better. The more complicated the harder it is for students to feel invested in the reflection process. Also if it is to complicate it may be too hard for the grade level. You can always work up to a longer reflection but to start with it right away could cause discouragement. Sometimes the best reflection is the simplest question, how are you doing? Just don’t be satisfied with “fine”. 🙂

5. Video reflection versus written

I know for me many of my students have a hard time writing their thoughts down. It can be challenging for them, which is why I always give them the option of recording their thinking instead of writing. I use my iPad or phone’s built-in camera and then have them save it in their drive. On the computer, I use screencastify and the built in webcam.

Overall, the biggest aha moment though out of the whole process is reflection is not something that comes naturally for people. Sure we reflect and think but articulating our reflection process is not something we do. It is an internal thing that takes time to cultivate. Students need to be reminded why it is important to share and how to set appropriate and specific goals. I have also learned that students have to do something with their reflections to make it meaningful. It is great that you are making them write them and go through the process but there always needs to be more. What I have found is having an audience whether it be their peers or better their parents has been a tremendous help in making their reflections come alive.

I would love to hear and see what anyone else is doing with reflections. Just add your thoughts to the comments.

Going Gradeless Part 2

Last year I embarked on an amazing journey of going Gradeless. You can read about my starting point here. Now this was not without some ups and downs and I would by no means say that I am an expert but I thought I would record down some of my learning so far.

First, going Gradeless does not mean that I do not evaluate and assess students learning. I think the biggest misconception when I mention this is that I sit around and let students work and do nothing. This is far, far from the truth. In fact, I do more evaluating than I have ever done in my life.

Second, I know in my previous blog post I mentioned the benefits but here are some of the reasons why I did this:

  1. I have found that many of my students previously haven’t bothered to look at the feedback that I gave, they only cared about the letter. The same with the parents. The letter seemed to tell everything but yet nothing at all.
  2. To be honest having students reflect or gather portfolios has been a hard process for me. It has always been an add-on or something that came around during report cards. Going Gradeless has allowed me to embed reflection and portfolios into my everyday. Students are more willing to look at the feedback and think about their learning.
  3. My students care less about competition between themselves and more about the learning. This in itself has been the biggest reason I decided to go Gradeless.

So what do I actual do? The first step in making students reflect and think about their learning is to actual show them what they intend to learn. So before every project my students and I look at the curriculum, yes I said the curriculum. They look at the specifics and overall expectations and rewrite them to form standards for their learning. These standards go into a met or not met chart that they keep recorded of throughout the unit and project. As students learn they record down what piece of evidence shows this learning the best as well as any standards that they think they haven’t met yet.


Once the unit is complete the students then record a reflection down to show me there thinking.

A final step is a google form which asks them to self-evaluate themselves and also help prepare for a student conference that we hold for each assignment. During these conferences, we discuss their progress. It is a time to share my observations and how I have been assessing. Together we talk about their marks for the final report card.

We also write monthly report cards to their parents. This process is still in the works but it has been working well. Students are gradually removing themselves from thinking about marks and more focused on their own learning.

Would love to hear your thoughts on this process or if you are doing something similar.

Some reflections on assessment



I recently embarked on a learning journey on assessment in mathematics for my TLLP project. The goal of our project is to create a school-wide approach to assessment with a focus on mathematics.

It has been very interesting to collect data and observe and listen to my colleagues about assessment. Many concerns that they have I also have had for many years. These questions centered mainly around using learning goals successfully and around turning our conversations and observations into quantitative data to give to parents.

Recently, we had our assessment coordinator Kristen Clarke come in a start the conversation going. During this time we talked about what learning goals are, the board’s pedagogical model and then how we as teachers have been assessing. It was great to converse with my colleagues and hear what they had to say.

As I mentioned before the conversations centered around using our observations and conversations as marks. This got me thinking. I think we need to give ourselves the permission to use conversations and observations. I think that for the longest time we have seen assessment as evaluation only and that evaluation met some sort of quantitative number. But is that really true? Does evaluation have to be a quantitative value or is a comment just as evaluative as a mark?

I think as educators we have to get more use to using our comments and observations as proof that children are meeting standards. That when truth be told they hold more meat than a mark ever would. In Ontario, we have an assessment document called growing success. Personally, I think this is an amazing resource that discusses our three focus points for evaluation is through products, observations, and conversations. If you look at the mathematics this means observations and conversations take a 66.6666% of evaluation and that product is just 33.33%. It means that our observations and conversations we have with students mean more than what they produce on paper.

So the question that I have is, why are we so invested in the mark? Or feel that observations and conversations are not tangible enough for us to hang our hats on?

For me, there is more to assessment than evaluation and I think we as educators need to think more about that thought. In addition, assessment needs to be more than just giving students feedback. It needs to be embedded into everything that we do. It needs to be responsive and it needs to be reflective. As a school-wide approach, it is important that we have honest conversations about the importance of assessment and what role it plays in our school community. I know that my journey has just begun so stay tuned as we as a school and me personally delve more into our learning.

I would also love to hear your thinking about my questions or just your thoughts about assessment.

Every Child Wants to Learn and be loved


This is my daughter. If you have read my blog before then you know that Izzy isn’t always this smiley happy go lucky kids.  In fact, she is one of those kids that we often cause us the most stress as teachers, “the problem ones.” I know we all have them but it wasn’t until having Izzy that I finally have started to understand what to do.

Like many of us, I use to feel that classroom management was as simple as setting the rules and following with consequences.  Any child that couldn’t follow these rules were just difficult kids and needed a stronger hand of authority or stronger consequences. Then we had Izzy and boy were my eyes opened wide.

When we have these students we have two ways of approaching them. I know that we all have students like Izzy and we all welcomed them to our classrooms. We all love our students as our own but some try us more than others.

As I said we have two approaches. 1) Continues to keep that strong hand. You may talk to students but this is the rules and you better follow them or 2) Think about who these students are and why they are misbehaving. I titled the blog every child wants to learn and I will follow through with every child wants to behave if they know how.

Now you may be saying wait a minute if parents do their job then shouldn’t they know how to behave? Well parents do, do their job and students are learning but for many, they just lag those skills. I know I am very guilty of putting the cart before the horse and thinking that all kids should behave. I use to look at each kid the same. If they couldn’t handle routine then they were a problem and needed a strict hand.

As a parent I am slowly learning this doesn’t work. And as an educator, I am really seeing the benefits of understanding all of our kids. I think we need to make sure that we really get to know our students. Do we need to recognize what makes them tick? What makes them angry? What makes them happy? And how do they learn?

I have seen it with my own daughter. She may do things that you look at her and say she must be.doing this on purpose but in reality, she has no clue. No matter what the age is most of our students are the same.  Kids need to be taught socialization.

This year I have tried very hard to know my students. We have started you matter board, where we give compliments and talk about what makes us happy, we have community circles to discuss problem-solving strategies and ways of talking to one another and I listen to them to see what the real problem are. I feel that because I am able to recognize the problems I am able to divert them before they happen. Even better yet because they rarely blow up we have been able to talk about dealing with them so that they have started to self-regulate. Even better than that if they do blow we have a connection that I can easily diffuse and then talk. It’s really great having this type of relationship with your students.

So has we embark on a new year think about how you interact with your students. Think about what our ultimate goals are for the punishments and ways we interact. Think about the good in every student. Think about my daughter Izzy, who yes is lacking many social skills but there are reasons. Think less about, “oh they are a problem, and more about man they are really funny students.”

I hope your year is filled with happy children and amazing adventures.

It’s not about the Tech…..


It has been a while since I have written on this blog but life has been a bit busy for me, as I am sure it has been for everyone.

I recently was listening to a great friend, Rolland Chidiac‘s new podcast with Peter Skillen about innovation and using technology. Peter and Rolland are two educators that really look highly on. There was a line that I heard in the post that I just hit a big aha moment. Peter mentioned that the OTF Summer conference was titled “Pedagogy before Technology” and that he wasn’t fond of the title but that it was something that was current in education. Now we all know education is full of amazing buzz words but this is one that I have been saying a lot lately, so when Peter mentioned that he didn’t agree with this I was like hey wait a minute. I loved his response and really felt myself nodding, as I usually do, with his ideas. However, I still wonder about this statement.

In his, talk Peter mentions that it also should be about the tools as often it is the tools that drive our thinking and learning. Though I agree with this where I struggle is that I often find in my adventures is that the first question I get is, do you have an app?  My problem is that I feel as educators we are looking for what is current or what is trending in education. We often don’t look deeply and closely at the pedagogy for learning. Though I think that tech and new innovation is needed, we need to understand that nothing replaces good solid pedagogy. I know that Peter and Rolland would agree with me; however, this is why I think this is why I say this line all the time. I think that with all this new tech, we have forget what teaching really is all about. We forget that we have to think about being reflective practitioners. That we need to anticipate students responses, connect to the curriculum and really think about our assessment.

I say that it’s not about the tech because though technology is important we must always think about its use and why we are using it. When I hear do you have an app? I see that the same as walking into a library and asking do you have a book? Of course, we have books? but what book? What’s its use? Why do you want it? Will it help or hinder? These are all questions that we have to really think hard about as teachers. A great article that I have found helpful in planning is Stein et al. 5 practise of creating discourse. It is an amazing article talking about 5 things that we need to do when planing a math lesson. Though it is math it can be applied to any lesson.

  1. Anticipate: We need to think how will students learn this tool? What will they be learning? What problems will occur? How can I help them with it?
  2. Monitor: We need to monitor our students use? Assess their learning? Conference with them?
  3. Select: This is more math here but when monitor we are also looking at student work to showcase and show the learning goals
  4. Sequence:
  5. Consolidate: We need to always consolidate the learning no matter the tool. A tool is a tool unless there is some learning.

I know that as teachers we also need time to learn new tools and how they work but first and foremost we need to understand what their purpose is and why we would be using them in the classroom. Love to hear your thoughts on this and if you haven’t heard it already listen to Rolland’s podcast some fantastic educators on there.

My First Keynote

So I did a keynote. It was a while back but I am finally having some time to reflect on the experience. To be honest, while I was up on stage I had no idea what was happening. All I really remember was looking at the clock (as we were behind in time), a gentleman in the far right of me and a woman in the center who was taking notes. The conference held 1300 parents from all areas of Peel and they were all looking at me. It reminded me of the very first day of teaching when I sat down and looked at 25 grade 4’s who were all looking at me saying, “teach me” and I was looking back going thinking, “who are you waiting for?” It is nerve-racking to stand in front of 1300 complete strangers. However, I tell my students every day to take risks, to be brave and to just be yourself; so that is what I did.

Looking back and watching the videos it was one of the best experiences that I have ever had. Did I say everything that I was suppose to say, no. Did I remember what I written down, no. But I was able to share a big passion of mine and talk to parents as a parent. If you haven’t heard the presentation and have some time to spare I have included the videos for you to listen to. I hope you enjoy.


Promo Video: