A Little Spark

“Wow, I’m going to leave early today,” I say as I pack up at the end of a 9 hour day of work. Then I realize I am putting another 1-2 hours of work in my bag to do at home and that really is the only reason I’m leaving on time. But, hey, at least I actually took a 30 minute lunch break today!

How did this happen? Remember when I mentioned here my schedule of when to leave each day and how I don’t bring work home with me? Well I lost it… and I haven’t got it back. I think it got lost somewhere between that pile of marking, the resources from all the amazing pro d activities I’ve been doing, and the extracurricular volunteer work. Yup, that must be where the balance went!

And along with the balance I seemed to have lost some of my passion, enthusiasm and drive. Yes, yes, I know it is normal to get a bit tired and stressed at this time of year but the past few weeks I’ve been in a bit of a negativity rut that I just can’t seem to shake. It’s been frustrating because it just isn’t who I am as a teacher or a person.

A Little Spark

What did I need to snap out of this funk? A little spark of inspiration! I’m planning my next social studies unit (Ancient Rome) and was feeling stuck. So I asked around, and, as usual, I got lots of great ideas that started the ball rolling!

Finally getting to visit Pompeii after reading a book about it when I was 12 years old...

Finally getting to visit Pompeii after reading a book about it when I was 12 years old…

I’ve been to Italy and Rome twice and I was trying to remember all the things I would most want to share with my students – then I remembered the complete awe I felt wandering through Pompeii. And with a little research I’ve been able to come up with an exciting idea (I will blog about it later – promise!) that also requires some collaboration.

In the long run it didn’t really matter what the lesson was, I needed the reminder of my own passion and the opportunity to collaborate with someone new. That’s what I love about this teaching thing – You can’t do it on your own! It’s like a team sport, if you don’t receive a pass sometimes you aren’t really in the game…

I don’t know how long this spark will last but I really feel revitalized and excited again… Maybe even enough to tackle that stack of marking on my desk in the morning…

What is the “spark” that keeps you going when your feeling stressed or negative?


Teach it Tuesday: Quote and Note

The “Quote and Note” strategy is a very common one with read alouds, novel studies, and literature circles. We just finished a novel study in class and I felt for the first time that I really had a good system going for the quote and notes that we were doing. We did Quote and Notes about once a week for this novel study.

Note: A lot of these suggestions come from my friend Jess and Faye Brownlie’s Grand Conversations but I have also gathered lots of suggestions from other people and sources over the years, so thank you to everyone that has helped along the way!


Quote and Note Day 1:

Together we brainstormed what makes for a good, strong quote to choose. With this list in mind I read aloud a chapter and they all chose one or two quotes to write down and then they did the same with one more chapter one their own (three quotes total). I gave the instruction that a note needed to give more than just a description of the quote but also needed to tell why it seems important (What does it allude to? What does it make you think of? What connections/predictions can you make?)

When they handed in their Q&N sheets that day I noticed some good quotes chosen but a lack of meaning and depth in their responses. When I marked them I wrote suggestions for how to elaborate their notes and I also highlighted any powerful writing I noticed in student’s work.

Quote and Note Day 2:

I started the class by handing back the first Q&N’s and had any students with highlighted (powerful writing) examples who were comfortable sharing to read theirs aloud. I then did an example Q&N with the class based on one powerful quote from the novel but instead of just doing the one note I did three notes on the same quote: Good, Better, Wow! For the “Good” level I wrote something very similar to what most have them had done – I answered with an “I think this quote is important because…” For the “Better” note we brainstormed things we could add, like predictions or connections. And then for the “Wow!” level we talked about meaning and referred to our “What powerful writers do…” anchor chart. After the class example they had to choose one quote and do their own “Good, Better, Wow!” examples of notes.

The responses were much better this time and I did the same thing – marking, adding suggestions, and highlighting powerful writing.

Quote and Note Day 3:

We started the class with the same process of handing back the last Q&N’s and having students who were comfortable read out their examples of powerful writing. This time students were expected to do three quotes on their own (back like on day 1 except a lot more prepared).

I originally felt like I had failed with the Day 1 flop of not good writing but looking back I realize how much more powerful it was for them to revise their work from their own writing. Also, reading the students’ examples of powerful writing aloud before we moved onto the next Q&N was a great way to solidify their learning. It was also a great way for me to highlight different students – I tried to find powerful writing examples in my less confident students and I could see the surge of confidence they got with reading their work aloud.

Do you do Quote and Notes with your class?

How do you help students become stronger readers/responders during novel study?


Get Outside

It has been ridiculously beautiful in Victoria the past while so I thought it would be a perfect time to talk about how to get your class outside – and not just for a run around or free play!


On Friday we started our review at the beginning of our integers unit so I was trying to think of ways to keep the review fun, engaging, and meaningful. We were going to start with number lines so I thought we would grab some sidewalk chalk and take our number lines outside.


After they drew out their number lines (-10 to +10), in groups they walked    he lines to answer some mental math questions. It was a great way for me to see their confidence with integers – some kids were taking the lead, some were following, and some were asking questions. We had a lot of fun with this one and it was great to get outside and be active for some math.

Language Arts

Here are some of the times I have taken classes out in the past for Language Arts:

  • Silent Reading
  • Discussion groups
  • Readers’ Theatre practice
  • Writing poetry (especially Haiku’s)

Social Studies

For our most recent Social Studies project we were making videos (I will post more about this soon) and that meant that we were outside for a whole double block while they were filming “How to be an Ancient Greek” video. I love to see how kids use the environment around them to set the stage for the projects they are working on. It’s amazing how the slightly rolling hills become a battlefield and the trees become the perfect stage for their performance.


I haven’t done this one in a long time but it was a lot of fun the first time (original post here).

French Corners: For this game, I use four different verbs that they know how to conjugate (usually avoir, être, faire, aller) and put each verb in a different corner. With everyone in the middle I yell out a conjugated form of one of the verbs and they have to run to the corner with that name (e.g. “Je suis” and they run to être). If we are outside, after a couple of rounds for practice I have it become a race and the last one to the corner has to shout out the next conjugated verb from the middle (with help if needed).

Daily Physical Activity (DPA)

On the day we don’t have a PE block in our schedule we always do have a DPA time. Sometimes we do the weight room or yoga but lately with the great weather we have been getting outside for some games!

One of my favourite (originally from summer camp) games to play with them is called “Aces.” For this game you need 2-3 decks of cards shuffled and mixed together. Each team gets half the deck and each player gets a card. Your team’s goal is to have the most cards at the end of the game. You need to run and tag the other team and then you show your card to them, like the card game “War” the higher number keeps both cards and takes them back to their group leader. If you run lose your card or have two cards from winning you must head back to your leader to get a new card. The trick is if you get an ace (the lowest card) then you will lose to anyone BUT if you make it all the way to the other leader without getting tagged then you get half of their deck of cards to take back with you. This game usually lasts about 30-45 minutes in middle school I find and most kids are running the whole time!

What ways have you been getting your class outside lately?


Teach it Tuesday: Drawing Circles

A main part of the new curriculum in BC are the core competencies: communication, thinking, and personal/social. I have been trying to be a little more deliberate to incorporate these into my planning. Here is one activity that I tried the day before Spring Break, and considering the timing it went really well!


Each group needs:

  • Large paper
  • String
  • Pencil
  • Compass or geotool
  • Meter stick
  • Instruction sheet

Instructions: I took some of the bonus questions from a different resource that I can’t seem to find again. If anyone knows the source please let me know and I will update to include the link.

Document: Drawing Circles Challenge

Front – On one side of your groups paper you need to draw the following circles:
A. Circle with a diameter of 80 cm.

B. Circle with a radius of 10 cm.

C. Circle with a diameter of 5 cm.

D. Circle with a radius of 0.5 cm.

Back – Try as many of these challenges as you can:
A. How big does a circle need to be to fit two smaller circles with 4 cm diameter inside? Draw it!

B. Draw a quadrilateral (rectangle, square, parallelogram) and see if you can draw a circle inside that touches all four sides of the quadrilateral.

C. Using only circles, can you create a familiar shape (star, heart, etc.)?

How it worked for us:

Hard at work

Hard at work

For my class I gave very minimal instructions for this assignment. We reviewed briefly how to use the geotool to draw circles (slightly more complicated then a compass for some) and then I gave them the materials and sent them on there way. I really wanted this to be a collaborative problem solving activity and it became just that! It was very interesting to see how students worked together and came up with solutions.

Drawing the large circle with the string took longer than I expected but I absolutely LOVED the conversations about radius and diameter that came from the activity. Communication and creative thinking came out in full force for this activity! I also loved that the creative part of it allowed for different students to take leadership roles than normally occurs with math group work.

We used almost a full double block to complete this (two 43 minutes periods) but keep in mind that it was the Friday before Spring Break so focus was not the easiest… If I were to do it again I would definitely keep it in a double block and I would follow up with some meaningful reflection/discussion.

How do you bring the core competencies into the math classroom?

If you use this activity, I would LOVE to hear how it goes!