Guest Post: Math Teams with Nikki Lineham

We are very excited and honoured to have Nikki Lineham guest post for us today.  Nikki is a brilliant and masterful teacher in our school district; she specializes in teaching math using pictorial, symbolic and concrete methods, while keeping the learning process creative and engaging for both students and teachers.  Meaghan and I have worked with Nikki in various Pro D sessions and we have also both used Nikki’s math resources (available through her website Educating Now) in our respective classrooms.  Thank you, Nikki, for sharing your knowledge and passion for teaching math with us here on Tale of Two Teachers!  We hope all our readers enjoy Nikki’s post.

Firstly, I want to thank Meaghan and Karley for inviting me to be a guest blogger for Tale of Two Teachers; I’m honoured, as I have a boatload of respect for these two dedicated teachers and I love reading their posts and empathizing with their journeys. Although I’ve been teaching for 15 years, I still feel like I have so much to learn and try. This is one of the reasons why I love my job so much; I have the opportunity to try out new strategies and approaches that I read about. Not only that, but because I work with several teachers, I can try out these ideas in many classrooms, using trial and error to make the lessons so much better. Rarely do I ‘nail it’ on the first try, and having the opportunity to refine multiple times each week (sometimes even in one day) allows me the chance to share what I know really works with other educators. This is the approach I took when learning how to set up and use collaborative math teams in math classes. Trust me, there was a whole lot of trial and error before we figured out the recipe for success.
The reason that I’m so passionate about these math teams is that I saw, first hand, in multiple classrooms, how powerful of an impact they had on both teachers and students; teachers were so inspired by the level of student engagement and learning and they had time to better assess and meet the needs of their students during class time and they felt less exhausted after lessons.  I also feel very strongly that we ought to be focusing more on competencies (as we see in our new curriculum) rather than solely on the content, as we have been conditioned to do. When students are in these teams, the roles are assigned (based on Complex Instruction) and criteria co-created, students become deep thinkers, collaborators and excellent communicators. Here are some of my observations from the classes I had the privilege of working in.
In a grade 6 class, I was blown away by the questions that the students started asking after a few weeks of working in teams. Because of all the work we did around creating growth mindsets and developing criteria around the competencies, students changed from ‘doing’ math to thinking about math (they were also still doing math). They started asking questions like, “When does infinity start?” and, “Are there such things as negative fractions and decimals?”. Students became curious and excited about learning how the math worked and how numbers were connected. One lesson, when we didn’t give the students any methods for multiplying decimals, but rather asked them to make predictions and explore in their teams what it means to multiply decimals, they were literally begging us to teach them the method (how often does that happen?!).
In a grade 8 class, after about two months of working in teams, when we moved into learning about rates and ratios, we literally didn’t have to teach a single method of solving. Students used their math reasoning, communicating and conceptual understanding to solve rates problems based on what made sense in the given contexts; the students could clearly explain their procedures. This proved to me, once again, that if students have conceptual understanding they can develop procedures, conversely, if students have memorized procedures (without really understanding them) and then they forget the procedure or rule (which happens all the time), they have nowhere to go.  When students get stuck like this the learning stops and they become entirely dependent on you, or someone else, to show them the procedure again. To be honest, we gave them the problem on rates as a way to prime their brains for learning the procedure, not expecting them to actually solve them without learning the procedure. Yet again, my expectations were surpassed.
After watching in amazement how these teams transformed students into mathematicians, I wondered, ‘Why on earth aren’t we all doing this?’. One thing I realized is that, generally speaking, teachers tend to be control freaks and giving up control to allow students to struggle and problem solve on their own is a tough transition (but so worth it). Teachers are also incredibly busy with the gazillion other tasks during their days and it’s challenging to find time to frequently read articles and books. I did read a few articles and books on how to use these teams and still had a lot of trial and error, so it wasn’t a quick and easy change to make. This is why I spent my summer creating a course on how to use these math teams so that it can be easily done by any teacher. If you are interested in learning more, please join me for a free webinar that will give an overview of how to use the math teams and if you really want to dive in, then sign up for our 12 part course that provides detailed day by day support on how to set up and use these teams in your classroom.   We have a number of teachers signed up and taking this course already and are offering you an opportunity to sign up at a 25% discount (use code: TALEOFTWO). Course registration closes at the end of September.

Nikki Lineham


Guest Post: 5 Simple Tools to Enhance Wellbeing in the Classroom

Our guest post today is from Lisa Baylis, a Positive Educator and Counsellor in the Greater Victoria School District. She offers workshops that bring tools and strategies to educators in order to help them create wellness habits for themselves and their classrooms. Lisa also is a member on the BCalm Education Team, which offers 8-week mindfulness stress-based management workshops for educators. For more information on workshops, contact her at and follow along the journey in the Facebook group: Victoria Educators for Positive Education.

Congratulations!  You have made it through your first couple of weeks back to school.  By now you know who your students are, you can recognize them in the halls, and you are (probably) still bursting with summer energy.  Way to go!

Keeping that energy up throughout the year can be challenging, especially with all the demands on teachers these days.  If you’re like me, the expectations of what my job is and what I really want to accomplish aren’t always in line.  Because of all the demands in my job, I work hard at training my brain to scan the world for the positive. I want to create a culture of positive education.  By teaching skills that promote positive emotion, relationships, character strengths and resiliency, we achieve that positive culture, which also results in learning and academic success. To be able to create the positive education platform in schools, we need teachers who believe in this and live it daily.

Research now shows that when teachers are well, happy and energetic it reflects positively on students, creating healthy and happy culture in schools. Shawn Achor, in his book The Happiness Advantage, shows that positivity enhances creativity and productivity. Positive education is emerging in literature these days showing teachers they need to go beyond teaching academics towards equipping students with the knowledge and life skills to have flourishing lives.

Creating positive culture takes work and self-awareness. Happiness fuels success:  when our brains are set to positive outcomes, we are more successful in nearly every domain in our life.  Just by training our brains to look for greater levels of positivity and optimism we can change the way our students learn. With this in mind, here are five tools that every teacher can try daily to enhance their own wellbeing and help their students.


  • Slow down.  We live in a busy world where there is not enough time to get everything accomplished.  We are so busy planning for the next ________ (lesson, meeting, parent interview) we forget about simply being present with our students.  Stop, take a breath, and if you’re ready take this mindful breath with your students. Slowing down allows everyone to catch up to the moment.  There are mindfulness training workshops for teachers — seek them out to create your own practice first, your classroom will follow.
  • Find a moment for Gratitude.  I begin my day with an email or text that thanks a colleague or friend for the work and help they offer in my daily life.  By starting the day with a moment of gratitude, I often notice (and am looking) for the positive around me all the time.  Can you make this a habit with your students?  What would it be like to begin each day thanking one of them for something unique and positive that you can be truly grateful for?  How would they feel?
  • Smile. Our brains are wired to reflect the people around us.  Have you ever walked into a meeting feeling great and left because one person in the room sucked the positive energy right out of you?  Change this by smiling, by looking for the positive and by reframing the challenges.  A genuine smile can be a powerful tool.  Some students are starting the day with difficult mornings.  Walking into your classroom and seeing a calm and real smile may be just enough to keep them forging through another day.  The little things do make a big difference.
  • Be Kind.  Being kind to others actually makes us feel good.  An altruistic act actually lights up the same pleasure centers in the brain as really good food and sex.  Think about how good we would all feel if we were just kind to each other.  American writer Henry James once said, “Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind, the second is to be kind and the third is to be kind.”  There is a positive feedback loop between kindness and happiness.  I’ve come to recognize this correlation between kindness and happiness in my own life.  The more I give, the happier I feel.  The happier you (and your students) feel the more creative, focused, productive and resilient they are in their daily world.  Be kind.
  • Look after yourself.  Do you whatever refuels you.  Go for a run.  Have a glass of wine with a nice meal.  Take a yoga class.  Enjoy a walk with friends.  Laugh with your kids.  Whatever makes you happy, make sure you make time for it and be fully present during the whole time. Create positive experiences for yourself and let these experiences come into your classroom for your students to see.  Watch the ripple of your happiness filter into their lives as well.

Just as stress and anxiety are contagious, so to is happiness.  You can consciously spread happiness to your colleagues, students, friends and family.  If you are looking for more information on positive education (as well as tools and strategies), the next Habits of Happiness for Educators workshop starts on October 8th.  Using the current research, this workshop delves deeper into enhancing your own happiness and wellbeing to create a ripple of positivity into the world around you.

Guest Post: Assessment NOW

Our guest post today is from a local teacher in our district, Jessica Hoyt. Jessica works for the Learning Initiatives department of our school district and is here to share about assessment practices.

The invitation to write this blog post has allowed me to reflect and crystalize my thinking after the Solution Tree Assessment NOW Conference that was held in Victoria last week. The keynote speakers included Ken O’Connor, Anne Davies, and Damian Cooper. So, first of all, a big thank you to Meaghan & Karley for this opportunity to unpack some of my thinking…after my brain has had some time mull over assessment in all its glory. Perhaps my musings will spark a connection or question for you in relation to this messy and integral process in teaching and learning, called assessment.

attachmentMaya Rudolph has perfectly captured what my face probably looked like when someone mentioned the A-word, assessment, during my early days of teaching. However, over time, through conversations, reading and research, trial and error, I have become more comfortable, actually excited, to discuss assessment practices in education. It is that something that I keep coming back to, it’s that thing niggling at the back of my mind; I reflect on how I can make it meaningful, purposeful and motivating for my students as well as informative and helpful for parents. Overall, I try my best to keep assessment as the driver of my planning and instruction.

attachmentAt the conference, one of the presenters explained that the word assessment comes from a Latin word that means “to sit beside.” In essence, it is a conversation, an ongoing dialogue to communicate and help students along in their learning journey.

During the various presentations and breakout sessions there were some reaffirmations as to what I should keep doing in addition to some reminders as to what I should throw away, or stop doing in my practice. There were also some moments where the assessment clouds parted and I experienced new thinking.

Keep Doing

  • attachment-1

    Figure 1 Example of co-constructing criteria for group work and follow-up student reflections.

    Co-constructing criteria: Students partake and uncover what makes powerful, quality work, using exemplars at the outset and then their own work as the unit of study unfolds. When quality is identified during the beginning stages of the learning journey, students can use the criteria to goal-set and then search for evidence of meeting goals and criteria in subsequent pieces of work. Students as self-assessors = huge impact on learning and achievement! Anne Davies’ examples of co-constructing criteria reminded me of the agency and importance of slowing down to involve students in the assessment process right from the very start. This way, the students have been actively engaged in constructing the criteria, in their language. They know specifically what to look for in their own work (instead of me simply handing out a rubric, which makes sense to my teacher brain, yet a key ingredient is missing – student voice). Keep kids in the driver’s seat by involving them in creating criteria.


  • attachment-5

    Figure 2 An amazing resource by Moss & Brookhart to get the learning target party started!

    Create and post learning targets in student friendly language: use for metacognitive purposes and to unveil the mystery as to what skills, competencies and dispositions students are working on for each lesson/unit.


  • Performance Standards: use for baseline, mid year and end of year assessments as well as to communicate student learning along the way. Students need a clear picture of expectations and ways to increase proficiency (available for reading, writing, numeracy & social responsibility). I love these BC homegrown documents!


Stop Doing

  • If you give a student a mark and feedback, you are wasting your precious time. I always forget this one! Research shows that giving simply a mark has no impact on student achievement, but providing a mark and feedback also has NO IMPACT on student achievement. Why might this be? Once a mark is stamped on a piece of work, this is a signal to the student that the learning is over; however, I was reminded that if you provide feedback and NO MARK, this will boost learning gains by 30%. Thus, formative feedback, assessment for learning, is the best bang for our buck if we want our students to show increases in development and achievement over time; this ultimately leads to students feeling successful and therefore motivated. The following quote by Ken O’Connor resonated with me “Everything that is assessed and/or checked DOES NOT need a score AND not every score should be included in the grade.” In summary, the bulk of the learning is accompanied by ongoing, feedback (check out: Embedded Formative Assessment by Dylan Wiliam).


  • attachment-4

    Figure 3 How can we ensure students are able to participate and engage in the task, at their current level of readiness?

    Fair means equal: NOPE “Fair does not mean equal; yet, when it comes to grading, we insist that it does.” (Patterson, “Breaking out of Our Boxes,” Phi Delta Kappan (April 2003), p. 572).


Differentiated instruction is something I have been exploring and developing in my practice over the past six years. That being said, I’ve realized that I have some work to do when it comes to differentiating my assessment of learning. Damian Cooper’s Redefining Fair: How to Plan, Assess and Grad for Excellence in Mixed-Ability Classrooms seems as though it would be a good starting point for me to dig deeper into this issue that has niggling at the back of my mind since the conference. This leads me to my next point…


An aha! Parting of the assessment clouds

  • Tiered instruction and assessments: Damian Cooper made an analogy to ski lessons that illustrated the importance of working with students at their current level of ability. He explained that prior to ski lessons at Whistler, three ski instructors were positioned at the bottom of a hill and asked the students to take five turns down the slope towards them. Based on this performance, students were then grouped into lessons that would push them to the next level of proficiency. Tiered instruction and assessments are similar to the skill lesson scenarios: “Tiring is a readiness-based instructional approach in which all students work with the same essential knowledge, understanding, and skills, but at different levels of difficulty based on their current proficiency with the ideas and skills. Tiering enables a student to work both with critical content and at an appropriate challenge level” (from Integrating Differentiated Instruction and Understanding by Design by Carol Ann Tomlinson and Jay McTighe).


Damian Cooper also described the importance of Lev Vygotsky’s “Zone of Proximal Development.” Our role as teachers, like the ski instructors, is to know what is it that the student can do on his/her own and to then push to the next level. Thus, this does not mean that the ski students who are going down the green runs stay there the entire lesson; it means that this is where they start and this level will allow the students to build essential skills and competencies alongside the

Figure 4 Similar to a run at the ski hill, students self-select their appropriate level of challenge

Figure 4 Similar to a run at the ski hill, students self-select their appropriate level of challenge

instructors so that when they feel ready, the students can choose the appropriate challenge on their own. (Very conveniently, the three levels of challenge in the graphic of tiered assessments shown above align with the ski metaphor with green, blue and black levels of challenge). I still have hard questions about designing learning and performance tasks that allow for varying degrees of challenge as I want all of my students to have an opportunity to achieve at the “black” level in various aspects or domains of learning; this is my new wondering that will need to be explored further.

Questions to ponder…

How might tweaking some of our assessment strategies change the culture from marks and grading to a culture of learning?

What is a question in relation to assessment that you are thinking deeply about right now? What are you trying and what are you noticing?

Guest Post: Connecting to Nature Through Art

This week we have a special guest post from Meaghan’s teaching partner, Carol McDougall. Carol is a middle school teacher, author and now an education coordinator for a gallery here in Victoria. She will explain more about her projects…

I have arrived at a place that was very unexpected and yet it feels that many steps have brought me here. I feel very fortunate to be a part of something that aligns so much with what I feel is important – kids, nature, and the fine arts.

I am in a new role as the education coordinator for the Robert Bateman Centre Gallery. Not yet ready to leave classroom teaching, which I love, I have spent this fall combining these two jobs.

Several years ago I was inspired to write, illustrate and self-publish “A Salmon’s Sky View.” I wanted children to become engaged readers by participating in an art response. I used my book to collaborate with teachers who incubated salmon in the classroom during my graduate studies. I observed an increase in literacy, creative thinking, and understanding of the salmon life cycle through arts integration. In 2009 the Canadian Science Writers awarded my book as the best science book for youth. I offer workshops in learning through the arts.

As an educational consultant, I have been developing inquiry-based programs for the Robert Bateman Centre gallery, which are tied to the new BC draft curriculum. I have been piloting these programs and providing professional development. I am working with and reporting to a supportive group including Robert Bateman’s daughter Sara who is an educator. We have narrowed down 6 ideas to three themes “Birds” “BC Animals” and “Looking at Art”

There have been many highlights but two are outstanding. Firstly, I spent the morning with Robert Bateman at his home and studio. He is an amazing artist, a committed conservationist and a fascinating and generous person.

Secondly, I truly enjoy the field trips with classes. We have spent a great deal of time preparing for these and I soak in the pleasure of watching these classes sprawled and sketching with genuine artistic intensity. They all love the art but are drawn to what I call the bird song gallery, the African gallery, and the ‘you be the curator’ gallery.

African galleryBluebird sketchyou are a curator

They are connecting to nature through art and it makes my heart sing.


It was this photo of my principal, which really resonated with me. He is a very busy man who is so dedicated he has accompanied us as our much-needed chaperone. The painting ‘Vancouver Island Elegy’ mesmerizes him.  I want everyone to feel that deep connection to art and nature.


How are you connecting people to nature through art?

Guest Post: Ethan’s First Day of Kindergarten

Hi everyone! Meet my cousin’s son, Ethan.


Ethan on his first day of Kindergarten!

Ethan at three days old.  How is he in Kindergarten already!?

Ethan at three days old. How is he in Kindergarten already!?

Eight (ish) week old Ethan.  Again, Kindergarten!?

Eight (ish) week old Ethan. Again, Kindergarten!?

Ethan started Kindergarten this week and has been waiting a looong time for this special season! In the season of all things new, we decided it would be fun to hear about Ethan’s first day of Kindergarten in his own words.  I texted my cousin, Ethan’s mom, some questions to ask Ethan about his Kindergarten experience thus far.  This is what he has to say:

1) Ethan, tell us about your first day of Kindergarten:  We went on an adventure to the office to find Pete the Cat’s shoes.

2) What was your most favourite part, or the best part, of you first day of school?  The best part was snack time because I got to pack my own lunch!ethan4

3) Were you excited or nervous to start Kindergarten? Why or why not? I was nervous because I wanted to be in my friends Harper’s class and I don’t know if we will be together.

4) If you could give any advice to kids starting Kindergarten NEXT year, what would you say?  (He didn’t want to answer this question, he just kept saying, “No”).

5) Any other comments about starting Kindergarten? I can’t wait for outside time so I can play with my friend Cash who is in grade 2!


Sounds like Ethan is in for a great year of school! Have fun, buddy!




Guest Post: To Teach or Not To Teach?

Today’s guest post is brought to you by Naomi Keane, teacher, mentor, health-enthusiast, and dear friend of mine.  Naomi and I (Karley) met while working for ivivva, a children’s branch of lululemon, in 2009.  Our similar interests and passions connected us and we’ve been close friends ever since.  Naomi is a trained teacher, but she chose to take a different path with her teaching degree.  Read more to find out about where Naomi’s true passion lies and how her B.Ed helped her achieve her career goals and dreams.   i heart real foodI’d like to thank you for taking the time to read this post and for your ongoing support of Karley and Megan’s insightful blog. I have been asked by my beautiful friend to share about why I did not choose to go into teaching.  Without hesitation I said yes, but as I  sat down to plan out my post, I began feeling unsure about my decision to guest post on this topic. Not for one second do I regret my decision to pursue a different career path, but I do however hope you, my beloved tribe of educators, can feel my love, support, and pride I have for you and your sacred careers.

My name is Naomi and I was born and raised in beautiful Victoria, BC. As long as I can remember I have always wanted to be a teacher; rather I was born a teacher! Whether it was dance, fitness, or cooking, I would always find myself in these leadership/teaching roles. I also loved school, thus teaching was a natural career progression for me. Oddly enough when I take a moment and think back to my university experience I do remember stepping foot on campus and saying to myself, “this isn’t it.” There was something inside of me that knew this was only my beginning but definitely not my end. I grew up with an entrepreneurial spirit, and at the time of my B.Ed  I had no idea that my passion for small business would eventually become one of my ultimate life passions. I continued to study social sciences and Chinese with hopes of teaching both at the high school level. At this point I was already on contract for dance for grades 6, 7, and 8. I loved my life but something just wasn’t right. purple lulu   My love for movement transformed into a passion for group fitness and participating in fitness competitions. As you can imagine, juggling teaching, prep time, training, dance, aerobics, competing and a relationship, my life began to spiral. I always grew up with a busy schedule and large work load so it wasn’t so much how busy I was that was the problem, but rather how unhappy I had become. I wasn’t inspired, I wasn’t fulfilled, and I definitely wasn’t uplifting my community. Everything I was doing wasn’t because I wanted to but rather because I had to. I needed change and I needed it fast!

I left a loving relationship and disconnected from my everyday life. I remember being asked all of the time why I had left teaching. I hated that question! For some reason I always felt so guilty answering that question. Money! I would always say it was because of the money. I was making nearly double my teaching salary with teaching dance and fitness outside of school. So, money became my easy answer. Now let me make it clear, I always loved teaching and to this day thrive when I am teaching, but the entrepreneur in me was hungry to be challenged and I knew that I could make a good living doing what I loved on my own terms.

Over the course of six months I noticed I was still teaching heavily within both the dance community and fitness community and I was actually really happy! This was it! With the partnership of my sister we began Keane 2 Be Fit, a health and wellness company. Over the past few years we have worked hard to build a brand for ourselves. We have been on a mission to educate our clients and our communities how to live their happiest and healthiest lives possibles.   For the first time in many years I can say without doubt leaving my B.Ed was the best decision for me. I did indeed use money as my initial reason for leaving teaching; but today I would say I left teaching school because school wasn’t the best medium for me personally to inspire and help others to my full potential. I strive very hard to help my community feel and be amazing.

Today fitness and nutrition are my vehicles to motivating and inspiring. My passions, talents and core desired feelings motivate me everyday to live my best life possible. I am still a born teacher and will always spend my life teaching and coaching others. I believe that without proper nutrition and movement our bodies and our spirits cannot thrive at their full potential.   Once again thank you for taking the time to read about my journey. School teachers, I hope you are not offended but rather inspired by my courage. I love what I do today and wouldn’t give it up for anything. I know the world needs more amazing teachers! I thank you for the ongoing love and passion you have for your work and your students. In close, I’d like to ask you a few questions, how do you want to feel everyday? and not just feel, but REALLY FEEL? What is the first emotion you want to have when you wake up in the morning? Is your life serving you and allowing your core desired feelings to determine what you do everyday? I challenge you to incorporate this idea into your classrooms. Inspire your students and get them thinking now about what makes them happy and how will they continue to cultivate bliss in their lives as they grow.   Recipes:

Infused Water x4

Citrus juices are very alkaline and promote healthy digestion. Ginger root is a good
source antioxidants and has great anti-inflammatory properties._DSC9566

Blueberry Mint
1 1.5L pitcher of filtered water
2c ice cubes
1 cup frozen blueberries
1/2 cup muddled mint leaves

Mango Melon
1 1.5L pitcher of filtered water
2c ice cubes
1 cup mango chunks
1/2 cup sliced melon of choice

Citrus Ginger
1 1.5L pitcher of filtered water
2c ice cubes
2 slices grapefruit
2 slices lemon and lime
2 slices orange
2 large slices of ginger

Strawberry Kiwi
1 1.5L pitcher of filtered water
2c ice cubes
2 kiwis sliced
1 cup sliced strawberries

Combine all ingredients together into pitcher and allow water to steep for at least
30 minutes. The longer the water steeps for, the more intense the flavour will be.

Keaner Tip: Once you drink all your delicious infused water, just refill your
pitcher and let it steep for a few hours. You can reuse your fruit and herbs for up
to three days in the fridge.

Chocolate Coconut Disks

Servings: 12
Prep Time: 20 minutes

3oz finely chopped cocoa butter
2oz coconut oil
2oz coconut flesh
3 tbs cocoa powder
1/3 cup chocolate protein powder
1/2 tsp stevia

In a small saucepan, melt finely chopped cocoa butter, coconut oil, and coconut
flesh. Place all ingredients including melted coconut oil  into a food processors or
blender and blend until smooth.
Pour mixture into a small bowl and place in fridge for 3 minutes until mixture cools
and thickens but is still slight runny.
Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and pour chocolate into twelve equal disks.
Sprinkle with topping(s) of choice: dried fruit, coconut flakes, pumpkin seeds, date
powder, and cinnamon, course sea salt.

Keaner Tip: Have fun experimenting with any toppings of you desire. Fruit and nut
combinations, for example, are always a hit!

Guest Post: 21st Century Learning from the Student Perspective

We have a special post today from a student who has started blogging this year with an introduction from her teacher. If you can, please take a moment to comment and engage with this inspiring post from Kaitlyn – She has a question for you at the end!

I am honoured to introduce Kaitlyn Champoux, a grade six student in my Advisory class. We have been working on developing digital literacies and becoming active digital citizens this year by sharing our learning on Twitter and through individual student blogs. It has been exciting watching global connections forming through interacting with other classes and teachers using social media! Students are encouraged to write on topics of interest to them, and also to participate and post challenges to each other to extend our thinking or perspectives on other topics. The opportunity to write for a wider audience has made the writing process and exchanging feedback an authentic experience. The connections my students are making are memorable and meaningful. As a classroom teacher, the best thing to arise out of student blogging has been the willingness of the students to share the learning that occurs outside of regularly scheduled school hours!

Heidi James

Hi my name is Kaitlyn and I am 11 years old. I love to travel and I have 3 dogs. I just started blogging this year! Dance is a part of my life. I have been dancing since I was 2  and I love it! I do Jazz, Ballet, Tap, Body Rhythms, and Line dancing.


I decided to write about this topic because my teacher was talking about 21st century learning skills with us because we do challenges on our blog. She was telling us about what every skill means and these are the ones that were the most important to me. I also chose this topic because it sounded like a challenging level. In my life I make my learning fun, I do that by making my learning a game with levels. Each level is how to make me think and learn more.

Twenty-First Century learning is important to me because I still have a lot of years left in school. I will have to know these skills for jobs that will be invented in the future. These are the skills that I think are most important for students to have.

  • Imagination is a whole other world beyond life, if you include imagination in your learning it will help you think outside the box and imagine different solutions
  • Collaboration is important because if you can work well together in a group and accomplish something that is a way better experience compared to doing your work alone
  • Believing in yourself is important because if you believe in yourself you can accomplish anything you want to
  • Determination is when you let nothing get in your way. If something is hard, you deal with it and you make sure you are always doing the best you can as a Twenty-First Century learner
  • Self-regulation is when you regulate yourself and if you’re not concentrating on your work you move to a different spot in the room and if you’re so frustrated with someone you take a walk to the water fountain and calm yourself down. In order to learn to the best of your abilities you must be able to regulate yourself
  •  Adaptability is important when you are a Twenty-First Century learner because if something happens you have to deal with it and react in a calm way. You think of what you can do to help fix that situation or if your teacher takes out your favourite block in the day, you simply say “ok” and you deal with it. Another word for this is called is being flexible.
  • Effective writing is when you can write from your heart and if you can include emotions in your writing it will get to the readers’ emotions and that’s the best type of writing you can get.

Thank you for reading, I hope to be a guest blogger again sometime.

Question: What skills do you think are the most important for students to learn?


Please leave Kaitlyn a comment by clicking on the word bubble up top!




Guest Post: Project Based Learning

Our guest post today is from a friend and colleague in our district, Lindsay Cristante. I have had the opportunity to TOC in Lindsay’s class and she is a very creative, inspiring teacher. We are so happy that she was willing to share her Project Based Learning journey with us today.

As I began my sixth year of teaching I found myself wondering what this whole “PBL thing” was all about anyways. I had heard it tossed around at Pro D workshops and amongst colleagues, but didn’t really realize the similarities between my teaching style and Project Based Learning until I dug a little deeper.

I should backtrack just a bit first. I graduated from UVic in 2008 and was fortunate enough to start teaching in the Greater Victoria School district in 2009. I put lots of time in as a substitute teacher and have had a wide variety of temporary contracts, from Kindergarten to grade 8. The last few years I have been lucky enough to land jobs at the grade 3-5 level, my ideal! Now, feeling like I am finally standing on my own two feet – picture me starting my teaching career in the same way that Bambi learned how to walk – I am in a place where I can explore more teaching pedagogy. Which leads me to where I am now, teaching grade 4 and implementing Project Based Learning into my classroom.

Project Based Learning (PBL) refers to a student-directed approach to learning, which engages students by looking at real-world questions. Students develop critical thinking, collaboration and communication skills while gaining a deeper understanding of their question or topic. They take on more responsibility for their learning by making decisions and choices, and are given feedback and support to guide their learning. My favourite part of PBL is that the focus is on the journey, and not just the destination. I attended a district PBL workshop last week where PBL was simply described as teachers being Cultivators of Curiosity, with the 3 guidelines being: 1) curiosity comes first, 2) embrace the mess (if you have a Type A personality like me, this may be your biggest challenge), and 3) practice reflection. This really resonated with me because I feel this is how I stumbled upon PBL in the first place, curiosity. Thankfully, I have a few other curious colleagues who are also implementing PBL practices in their teaching. We meet weekly to share and reflect on our efforts, always reminding each other to “embrace the mess”.

Most recently, we were reflecting on a PBL activity we did with both grade 4 classes and a grade 2 class. Students created Expert Talks. IMG_2721They chose any topic to research (other than animals because we were already studying that in Science), and gave an Expert Talk to their peers (no longer than 10 minutes). The emphasis was on trying to engage and connect with their audience. We encouraged them to think of it as a talk they know lots about, rather than a speech/memorization. Students used artifacts, props, pictures or demonstrations and many used cue cards with notes to guide their presentation. Students were engaged and excited about their Expert Talks, and we covered tons of important learning outcomes, win-win!IMG_2720 I gave presenters written feedback, students gave peer feedback and I recorded them on my iPad so they could watch their presentation afterwards. As we went through the Expert Talks the students began to recognize what was engaging (interesting content, asking questions, using artifacts, making eye contact etc.) and their peer evaluations became stronger. After reading peer and teacher feedback and then watching their video on the iPad, several students had “A-HA” moments, actually understanding the feedback they were given. I can’t say enough good things about the PBL work my class did. It brought my weaker students up and, at the same time, allowed my stronger students to flourish.

Of course, there were also some things I learned through the process. I was so worried about “spoiling” the student-directed approach to PBL that I didn’t always give enough guidance to students that could have used it. Things that would have helped my students be more successful:

1) Examples of outlines to organize material. Some students had a hard time organizing their notes so that their presentation flowed from one sub topic to another.

2) Identifying the effectiveness of questioning earlier on in the process. During their presentation, some students asked a question about their topic to engage their audience. One student who did her talk on Deserts asked, “What comes to mind when you think of a desert?” Most students answered, “hot and dry”. She then went on to explain that deserts could be cold too.

3) Teaching strong introductions/hooks and conclusions (just like in our writing).

All in all, I would say our first official PBL activity was a success! I have a few other PBL activities planned for the rest of the year, but have also realized that PBL doesn’t have to be a specific activity, it can be day-to-day teaching. It can be as simple as giving students materials from the gym and asking them to create a cooperative game for the class (we did this too!). What I have found so valuable about PBL is that not only are my students engaged, but I am too. I’m constantly trying to rework traditional ways of teaching into PBL. I know I’m just at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to PBL, but I look forward to incorporating more PBL strategies in my classroom. How do you use PBL in your classroom?

This is a TEDx Talk that inspires me to engage students and foster creativity through PBL:

Have any of you used PBL with your classes?

Any questions/comments for Lindsay?

Guest Post: Canada vs. USA

Today’s guest post has nothing to do with Canada vs. USA when it comes to women’s hockey (although, fellow Canadian readers, how amazing was that hockey game today?! America, we still love you – thanks for the excellent competition!) This post has everything to do with Canada vs. USA when it comes to education.  Our friend, and fellow UVic trained teacher, Renee Jordan, writes from New York City, where she is currently completing her Masters Degree in Special Education at Columbia.  Here is what Renee has to say about her American educational experience thus far.

Hi lovely readers of Tale of Two Teachers,

My apologies in advance, this is a touch of a long read.  I even thoughtfully culled it down to highlight only the most pertinent information, but what was left is still a lengthy, detail, rich account of the differences between the Canadian and US school systems that I have experienced thus far.

Before I dive in I will begin with a little background on me. Like the (exceptional, beautiful, talented, awesome) authors of this blog I am a graduate of the University of Victoria’s B. Ed program and went on to snag a place on the Greater Victoria TOC list two weeks after I finished my last practicum.  I worked for SD61 until my husband got promotion the day after I landed a place in my long-shot master’s program at Columbia University.  These two events led us to pack up a car and drive across the United States, only to wind up in Manhattan, where I am currently undertaking graduate studies in Special education.  I am also working part time in a grade 3 classroom in an inner city Harlem Public School, as well as helping with a Saturday afternoon Autism Education program for new immigrant families in Chinatown.

The USA loves data

Data is a huge buzzword in education across nations, but it has heavy prevalence in US schools.  We Canadians tend to shy away from standardization and number crunching in education.  Whereas, in the United States the affinity for data leaves standardized testing massively prevalent (I know we Canadians have our own battles with the FSAs also).  To take it even further, often school post their “data” on school websites, which details teacher performance, the test scores they garnered, student achievement across grades and subjects and overall functionality of the school.  This ideology is probably baffling my fellow Canadian teachers, so for better understanding of what I mean you can review the statistics of my school here.  Another huge push in the USA data realm is the notion of teachers employing evidence based practices in their classrooms.

I do like theory behind these pushes for data, because I am excited that with it comes a push to explore and hone our understanding of learning and teaching.  However, at the end of the day I think there is more to good teaching than a data set can reflect. In my experience, so much about exceptional teaching is knowing your students, understanding their needs and realizing learning is individualized.  So although I do believe that data can help inform strategy, I also believe that at the end of the day all research studies are conducted on such heterogeneous (because really have you ever walked into two classrooms that were exactly the same?) that universal generalization isn’t always possible.  So as an educator, I tend to digest all the information the research has propagated and apply from it what works for my unique, dynamic groups of students.

The USA loves hierarchy and rankings

Stemming from the love of data comes a fixation on hierarchy and rankings based on that data.  There are websites, consultants and governing bodies all dedicated to ranking educational institutions in the United States from preschools through to universities.  My personal experience with this comes from currently attending an Ivy League University.  There is a type of prestige and superiority in US education that is not the Canadian norm.  As such, I had really no idea until afterward that what I set out to achieve when I applied for entrance to Columbia was such a big deal.  Since then I have been stopped in a SoHo clothing store to be asked by a parent what my parents did to get me here (the answer is just be awesome and love me) and queried by a waiter on how a girl from a small town, no named university with no inside connections got here because you can’t get in on merit alone (he was wrong).  The US’s idea of exclusivity in education baffles me as much as it bothers me.  My very Canadian belief is that a high quality exceptional education should be available to all, free of cost.  So as such, I think improvements need to be made to the state of US public education.  Although, as I proclaim such a lofty goal I have no answers on how one would go about achieving it.  The way I see it is that I am product of the Canadian public school system but also had the privilege to attend a private school for two years.  For me there was no difference in quality of education I received, the overall aptitude of my teachers or even the facilities themselves.  This is how it should be.  Education should not be a competition.  No one should be fearful that they would be limiting their child’s life trajectory by sending them to a public school.

The USA approaches inclusion differently

The US has a thing called inclusion classrooms, and it took me a good three months to figure out what they meant because in my home district (which I am biased to I think is amazing) all our classrooms are “inclusion classrooms”.  Whereas, in the United States you will still have the option to send your typically developing child to a general education classroom which means that no child with special needs will be educated in the same environment, or an inclusion classroom which will have some students with IEPs in the class.  Even so inclusion is still highly promoted and respected in the US educational communities, but it is still not the gold standard for all classrooms.

The USA loves innovation in education

My huge resounding love of education in the US is that people are passionate about it.  Education is a hot topic down here so people are talking about, entrepreneurs are pioneering ahead to make it better and venture capitalists are actually paying for it.  My undergraduate research for our Spec Ed Faulty at UVic revolved around Assistive Technology and this passion has seeped into my graduate education also.  So needless to say I am excited by how many Ed Tech companies there are in the United States that are devising amazing, new innovations that will no doubt change the face of education in the coming years.   One of my favorites as a special educator and Ed tech nerd is Goalbook.  Goalbook really takes the mystery out of IEP writing by helping educational professionals collaborate and communicate to devise meaningful, achievable goals for their students, as well providing amazing tools to track each student’s progress.  Their entire system is aligned beautifully with all US standards and UDL, while also offering instructional approach ideas to achieve set goals.  So, to all my US special educators, go check it out it will make your lives blissfully better (and save you a few hundred paper cuts).  As for my fellow Canadian teachers, hopefully one day they will expand to the Canadian market, but until then follow their blog for great resources and get excited that innovation is happening.

For more insight into my experience in NYC or if you to get in touch I can be found at .

Guest Post: Creativity in Late Immersion

We have a special guest post today from a teacher that we have had the pleasure of getting to know at a local middle school. Nora is a passionate French Immersion teacher and her post today is about her experience teaching Late French Immersion. Please read, enjoy and be inspired by her wonderful ideas!

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about my job as a grade 6 late French immersion teacher lately. I’m currently on leave from teaching, awaiting the arrival of my second daughter so it feels like a natural time for reflection. I have also done two information sessions about the program for the school district and for my school in the last couple weeks so when Meaghan approached me to see if I wanted to do a guest post about my experiences as a late immersion teacher it felt very timely!

I came to my current position in 2009 after about six years teaching high school French as a second language in BC and international schools in Turkey. To say that my new job as a middle school “generalist” teacher in late French immersion was an adjustment would be a massive understatement! I spent most of my first year expecting that I would try to get a contract teaching French in high school the next fall. However, over the course of the year, I fell in love with the program and began to see all kinds of possibilities in having the freedom to explore and promote language acquisition through all subject areas. Now I can’t imagine a program more suited to my own interests and background and I count myself as very blessed to have stumbled into this unique teaching situation.

For those who are not familiar with late French immersion, essentially students arrive in grade 6 with little to no French background. Over the course of their grade 6 and 7 years, they become “immersed” in French and receive no English language arts instruction. By grade 8 the late immersion students are integrated into the regular French immersion stream (which comprises of students who have been in immersion since kindergarten) and are expected to be able to function at the same level. As a product of the early immersion system, I must admit that initially I couldn’t really conceive of how students could develop the skills they would need to do all their coursework in their second language in just two short years. But most of them are successful and many continue to be top performers throughout the rest of their French immersion schooling.

I think that one of my favourite things about this program is that it enables me to be a creative and experimental teacher. I have worked closely with many of the other late immersion teachers in our district and know that everyone approaches the job differently and has different techniques that they rely on. This is of course true for all teachers but there are no textbooks for late immersion and the focus is, above all, on language acquisition and because of this most teachers create their own resources which reflect their teaching philosophies or styles. I draw heavily on my FSL background and I give my students a great deal of support in English until I feel they are ready to do everything in French. I usually start insisting that they speak French exclusively around March during select periods and by June they spend most of the day speaking to me and each other in French. It’s not always a pretty French, but, as I am getting to experience firsthand with my two year old daughter, that’s how language is acquired. I also made the decision, after my first year, to teach math primarily in English to ensure that the students aren’t missing any important concepts and also to enable me to use the “social learning” style of instruction that I find particularly effective for teaching math. When their French is adequate, usually in the third term, we start doing math in French.

Every January I feel as though the students haven’t learned enough French. I start to panic that I haven’t been forcing them to speak French as much as I should, that they won’t be able to function in French by the end of the year. And then there comes a time, usually in around March, where they make a huge leap forward. That’s when things start to get really fun. iles2 ile1 île3 They start to be able to really use the language to express themselves and I can doing more creative and personal writing with them. And then around May, we start our island project. Basically, the students create new identities. They revisit learned structures and vocabulary to create quite a complex biography of a francophone passenger on a cruise. They can choose to be male, female, old, or young. They write a background story for their character. They keep a journal. We do regular activities in class to get to know each others’ characters and then the relationships between characters start to surface. They eat, socialize and gossip on board until one day there is an accident and they are forced to evacuate via life boat. They find themselves on a deserted island with only the supplies that they were able to rescue from the boat with them. In due course they build homes, dream of rescue, have disputes, and hunt and gather the various animals and plants they have discovered. Once a student said to me, “you know Madame, this is so much more fun than French!” and I knew that I had discovered something wonderful.

It’s very satisfying to teach in a program where the students are generally motivated, where the teacher has a lot of autonomy, and where the outcomes are so easily measured. I feel fortunate to have a job I (mostly) love and to teach in a school where the program is supported by my colleagues and administration to the degree it is. Thank you to Meaghan and Karley for asking me to be part of your inspiring blog!