Things I Meant To Blog About…

When life gets busy blogging often falls to the back burner. Here are some of the things I meant to blog about over the past few months.

Rube Goldberg

We wrapped up our simple machines unit with a Rube Goldberg day. The kids planned, designed, and created some fantastic projects in our school’s Makerspace. Watch this video if you want some amazing project inspiration!

The one with the can and the light switch actually worked really well!

The Best PE Game

I found this online one morning when trying to plan a quick lesson for baseball… Now I can’t find the link for the life of me but basically in teams of 3-4 students line up and you spread hoops out all over the gym the first student in line runs and stands in a hoop. The next student throws them a ball or beanbag and if they catch it with two feet still in the hoop they bring the hoop back to their team. The team with the most hoops at the end wins! Super easy and can be easily adapted to many sports.

Rock the Salish Sea

Our school had the most incredible opportunity to work with Holly Arntzen and Kevin Wright to perform the “Rock the Salish Sea” concert. It was an amazing experience for the students and the show was absolutely incredible. Very proud teacher moment!

City Hall Visit

To wrap up our unit on government, we went on to City Hall and had a Q&A session with Mayor Lisa Helps. She was so great at answering all the kids questions (even the cringe-worthy ones!) and after they gave the students a snack and let them sit in the counsel chairs. It was such a cool experience for my students and some of the questions that came up were just incredible – I love watching them learn outside of the classroom.

And now back to paper writing, report cards, and field trip planning… Happy June everyone! We are almost there.


Math: The Struggle is REAL!

I have struggled with math for as long as I can remember.  In high school I was the one who attended grade 11 and 12 math help three mornings a week and still shed tears over it every other day.  Throughout my prerequisite math studies for my B. Ed. I failed a stats course (the only class I’ve ever failed…too bad it cost $300). Upon handing in my final exam I was certain I did not pass my Math 360 course, which used to be a mandatory B. Ed course at UVic.  My life has been filled with many frustration filled math related tears and over time I have grown to strongly dislike math.

I am proud to say that the times, they are a changin’ over here in Mrs. Alleyn’s math world and that is largely to do with Nikki Lineham’s fantastic math website, Educating Now. Nikki is a brilliant middle school teacher leader in our district; Meaghan and I are both fortunate and grateful to have had access to her website through our respective schools.  Nikki’s site is a business, and therefore runs by paid subscription, so I won’t divulge the inner workings of her lesson I’m blogging about today, but I do want to share how the lesson went for my grade 8s.  I also want to share how Nikki’s work has turned me in to a more confident math teacher, which is something I never thought I’d ever be!

Today in math my grade 8s and I were working on the concept of “preservation of equality”, that is: “What does the = sign really mean?” My class came up with all kinds of answers to this question, but not a single student was able to tell me that the = sign actually means to BALANCE both sides of the equation.  I was so pleased that no one was able to tell me that = means “balance” because it meant I had found a weakness in their understanding (and, my own understanding, if I’m honest!) We then worked with the concept of a scale/teeter totter and I ended up holding various objects in my hands, arms outstretched, pretending I was on one end of the teeter totter and Charlee, my 1.5 year old daughter, was on the other end.  We talked about what would happen and came to the conclusion that because I am obviously heavier than Charlee, the teeter totter would launch Charlee high in the sky.  We then discussed what might happen if Joel, my husband, joined Charlee on the teeter totter.  Obviously his added weight would raise me into the air.  We then discussed how we could even out the weight between my family on the teeter totter and decided that if Charlee came to my side, perhaps she and I would balance Joel.  It was so interesting to me to use my family in the analogy because I had never thought of the = sign this way before.

Let it be known that my grade 8 class has a very wide range in mathematical competency – I’m talking a range from about grade 4 to grade 11.  I think the best part of today’s lesson is what came next…

After some more work with numbers and teeter totters and balancing my grade 8s set out to complete their learning task, which was to create five questions solving for x, while using the teeter totter concept to help them answer their questions.  Check out the differentiation that occurred once my students let loose:

Are you freaking out as much as I am freaking out over how awesome this learning task is? My struggling learners were able to use the teeter totter to help solidify what the = sign means; therefore, bringing them to a deeper understanding of algebra. My very advanced learners were able to differentiate the task to meet their level of ability, while still being challenged by the pictorial component (let me assure you, my strongest math students are rock solid when it comes to doing math in a procedural manner, but they do struggle when they need to show their work conceptually, as you will notice above).

As I sit here writing this post I am in awe that I taught this lesson today.  I keep thinking, “I did this!? I understand this!?” Today’s lesson was a huge learning experience for me and for many of my students.  I was not taught math like this, but our redesigned math curriculum calls for concrete, pictorial and symbolic representation of student learning, which is why I am so grateful for Nikki’s lessons and teachings.  Nikki’s work has certainly made me a more confident math teacher.

P.S: Meaghan and I, along with a handful of our teacher friends, plan to take Jo Boaler’s new online, self-paced math course this August.  Click HERE to check it out and let us know if you want to join our math posse.  We are certainly interested in collaborating about math over the internet with our international teacher friends and readers!

Note: Tale of Two Teachers is in no way financially affiliated with Educating Now. We simply love their work and both use it regularly in our respective classrooms.This post was written with permission from Nikki Lineham, teacher in SD61 and part of Educating Now. 


No pencils, no papers, no problems

My grade 8s have a very exciting year end trip coming up! In a few weeks all the grade 8s in our school will head out on a paddling and camping trip, which they have been preparing for since January.  Our school is incredibly lucky in that we are situated right on the ocean – some classrooms even have a pretty sweet view – allowing us easy access to the water.  Our school is also incredibly lucky to have two very dedicated teacher leaders who have taken on and developed the Big Canoe program over the last few years.  Check out last year’s trip!

It’s been an interesting experience hearing about all the prep my grade 8s have been doing because indeed they are not only “my grade 8s” – I share them with my teaching partner, Amy.  Most canoe prep days have taken place on Amy’s work days, not mine, so it has been easy for me to be far removed from the program.  That said, in the last two weeks our final paddling “training” days have taken place on MY work days and I definitely cannot complain!


Happiest teacher in all the land.

Admittedly, most of my work days are filled with meetings before and after school and during breaks, two massive handfuls of behaviour issues, a handful of parent/staff emails to send, a handful of pencils to dish out (because while we can be prepared for canoeing, we are never prepared for math!), a handful of extra photocopying to do…you know what I’m saying?  There isn’t a lot of time to kick back and breathe in the glory that is these last few weeks of grade 8 with my students.  These last few weeks are precious.  Nerves are uncertain and sometimes behaviours come out stronger than ever (and with every behaviour being a form of communication, my goodness…So. Much. Communicating). The end of grade 8 is full of transition days to high school, final IEP meetings with families, ceremony prep galore, wrapping up assignments, report card writing, class party planning, field trips…it’s busy times.

Our days on the water these last few weeks have provided me with one calming thought:

No pencils, no papers, no problems.

During these last few weeks I’ve witnessed my (our) grade 8s work together in ways I thought were unimaginable back in November.  I’ve seen the struggling learners be leaders in the canoes.  I’ve seen my “usual crew” rise up and build shelters, row in sync with one another, and share chocolate treats with their friends.  I’ve seen the more reserved and reluctant students shine brightly as their confidence on the water grows.  There is just so much learning that happens out there with 13 bodies crammed into one canoe – we have no pencils, we have no papers, and we truly have no problems.  It’s beautiful.


I think, for me, the icing on the cake was being present with some of my students and staff at a recent town hall meeting where our canoe program was presented to local politicians.  Three of my students stood up to speak about how the canoe program has impacted them and influenced their learning.  Things like teamwork, resilience, creativity and perseverance were brought forward.  As I sat in the (very small) audience my teacher heart glowed with pride for these brave, young people who spoke truth about their learning outside of the classroom and who brought the importance of our school’s canoe program to attention with their testimonies.


I can’t wait to see what the next few weeks have in store for these incredible kids!


TEDx Victoria

This weekend I had the incredible opportunity to spend Saturday at TEDx Victoria!  I spent the whole day with my good friend, Jess, who is also a teacher.  Jess and I thought the entire experience was engaging and inspiring and we took pictures, Tweeted, ate good food and chatted about TED related things all day long.  TED stands for: Technology, Entertainment, Design (many of you likely have watched, or at least heard of, TED talks).  The “x” in TEDx stands for: independently organized TED events.  The energy in the audience was tangible and I felt so fortunate to be part of such a fun event.

A snippet of the great weekend Jess and I spent together at TEDx Victoria.

A snippet of the great weekend Jess and I spent together at TEDx Victoria.

The TEDx talks from this weekend will be posted on YouTube in the coming weeks, so until then I can really only describe some of my favourite presentations.

Adam Kreek: Adam is probably most commonly known to the public as an Olympic rower (gold and silver medals in Beijing and London, respectively).  Adam is hilarious, entertaining and full of amazing positive energy and his presentation on “Seeking Failure” caught our attention because the title of his presentation is exactly what most people don’t seek.  Adam presented right before the lunch break and he had the entire theatre engaged and laughing.  We were able to connect with Adam throughout the day via Twitter (oh glorious, glorious technology, what did we ever do without you?) and now I am in the works of planning to get Adam in to speak to my class about leadership and community. Yahoo!

Tiffany Poirier: Tiffany is an elementary school teacher, and an author, with a background in philosophy.  Tiffany presented an incredible speech concerning student inquiry and its role in the classroom.  Naturally, Jess and I ate this right up.  Tiffany provided samples of her students’ “Big Questions” and ideas via voice recordings and images and my goodness, do I ever feel inspired to dig deeper into the benefits of learner inquiry after listening to her speak.

Angela Moran: Angela is one of the farmers at the Mason Street City Farm here in Victoria, BC.  This presentation was a personal favourite for both Jess and I because of our shared interest in sustainable, local, organic food and farming.  What piqued my interest the most during Angela’s presentation was the idea about aquaponic farming – a technique using fish ponds, water pumps and raised garden beds to create a self-sustaining garden that belongs smack-dab in the middle of the busiest of any city.  Angela’s speech made me long for spring time; I can’t wait to get our garden going again!

Bob McDonald: Bob is the host of CBC’s Quirks and Quarks and is also a renowned science journalist (you can see where this is going, I know…)  Of course, I was super excited for this presentation because I am teaching science this year and ANY additional interactive science material I can get my hands on is definitely going to benefit my students’ learning.  Bob provided us with an engaging and entertaining presentation (he even used props!) I’m excited for his TEDx talk to be posted on YouTube because I know my class will love watching/listening to what he had to say about the world, galaxies, population, etc.

There were many other speakers at TEDx Victoria (we enjoyed all the presentations), but these four presentations in particular really stick out in my mind because I can relate them directly to my personal passions and teaching practice.  If you’ve never been to a TED event before you really should consider checking it out!  The annual TED conference is coming up during Spring Break 2014 and it’s in Vancouver this year!  I’m considering attending…anyone want to join me?


A Little Inspiration…

As you may know, I am currently a research assistant at our local university. We are working on a project about a type of self-directed inquiry called “Transformative Inquiry.” I joined this project in the summer before my final year of university and it has been an influential part of my teaching ever since. In our final year we take the Transformative Inquiry course and it is one of the first opportunities where we are able to really look at our place in this education system: what we bring in as a teacher, what we want to change, etc. Through this process I have really begun to understand who I am as a teacher and what I am going to bring to my students that I feel this world needs.

My "Path with Heart" from my TI Project

My “Path with Heart” from my TI Project

The freedom of being able to look a topic of interest was a turning point for me when it came to the delivery of curriculum in my own classroom. When I took my contract this year I knew I wanted to incorporate some of this style of learning but I wasn’t sure how.

After Christmas, I ventured into the personal inquiry project with my students and it began to take shape. Each student looked at a topic they were interested in and had to research it, talk to friends/family members about it, conduct an interview with someone, etc. And then we looked at their topics with a global lens to see how connections could be made worldwide. The students then had to do a personal, community, and global connections piece and a presentation for the class.

The project was far from perfect… We needed more time on a few parts that I tried to rush through and much less time on other areas. It ran too late into the end of the year and not everyone had the opportunity to present. Some students were confused about the process and very focused on an end result. Some lessons went off the rails pretty quickly and we had to switch gears… But in the end there was a lot of great connections and learning that came from the project and I am so happy that I ventured into the unknown with this one.

My subject connection was to language arts, although I believe you can connect personal projects to most, if not all, subjects. I think writing and sharing about their interests was some of the most effective learning this year. When the students were talking about something they were passionate about they seemed to get lost in their topic and speak from their heart. Their writing was deep and moving – well written and again, from the heart.

I learned a lot from doing this project but the thing that was most astounding to me was watching the students talk about their topics and share the information with each other. In June, when some of the students were presenting, I saw something come alive in the class. There were students sharing very personal information and the rest of the class appeared to be truly listening to their peers. I saw connection and understanding grow between many students. It was amazing to watch and I felt so inspired.

The beautiful words from a student...

The beautiful words from a student…

I received a note from one of my students on the last day of class that thanked me for the opportunity to present to the class about a topic that she did not feel she had been able to talk about otherwise. In this note she said that I had inspired in her a love for English and expressing herself through writing and then she said that she only wished I had found the same inspiration this year. Well all I can say is that I truly did… I am inspired to continue to have students complete personal projects and I am inspired by the passions and ideas that the students have. I have found more inspiration in watching these students share than I ever could while reading or researching anything on my own.

Do you do any personal projects or inquiry in your classroom?

Would you like to hear more about the specifics of my project?

Also, please share some of your inspiration from your students!


End of Year Q&A: Meaghan

Three favourite things from this year (because one is not enough!):

1) The first week of my contract back in October when for the first time I had the thought “Ohhhh I DO know what I’m doing!” Somewhere between the crazy planning over Thanksgiving weekend and the end of the first week with my students I had that realization that I would make it through and it was a great feeling!
2) Pushing myself outside of my comfort zone and making new professional connections and friends. I am shy – very shy sometimes… So every conversation and connection I’ve made this year has made me so proud!
3) Finding that balance between teacher and friend with my students and building relationships with each and every one of my incredible students. I’m going to miss them so much – I am so thankful for the best first class ever!

Worst moment from this year:

I’m going to combine a whole bunch of moments into one for this… The STRESS of not knowing if I’ll be working or not! Holy was that a steep learning curve for this girl! It took a lot of deep breathing, running and distractions to learn to be okay with the on-call thing. The first few months had me feeling as if I was pitted against my friends for my paychecks. I remember Karley and I both saying sorry over similar matters (i.e. “Sorry I went to YOUR school to hand out my cards”) and we both ended up laughing about it. In the long run, we get enough work and days off should feel sacred because come May and June I don’t think I had a second to breathe between all my shifts!

A mantra I continually used this year:

You are a teacher. You are meant to be here. There were so many times this year where I felt unsure of what I was doing or way too young to be a teacher (I could fill a whole blog with this “too young” perception I have of myself) . It took me a while to find my voice in conversations with other staff and to make decisions about what I thought was important or not in regards to my teaching and students. Reminding myself that there is a reason I am where I am was so helpful. I know I am a teacher in my heart and soul – it just takes a little reminder here and there 🙂

Something I wish I’d known last year at this time:

Man, Karley’s tip is pretty much right on the nose for me as well… I’ll add something else though! Please keep in mind that this time last year I was in a really bad place (think anxiety, unstable home environment, loss of a few people close to me, and just overwhelmed in general).

If I could go back and tell myself anything it would be that I will be genuinely happy at this time next year. That all of the hard times will help me to grow stronger and become more of who I am. And I would remind myself that it all happens for a reason because I truly believe it does even though we can’t always see the reasons until later on.

I cannot believe it has already been a year since we graduated!

I cannot believe it has already been a year since we graduated!

Going into my second year I plan to do _____ differently.

One word – assessment! I am still learning so much about assessment: what works, what doesn’t, how to organize everything, and on and on and on… I will take any and all tips and tricks you can send this way but I need to be more efficient and organized.

What I’m going to do during my first official summer as a teacher:

I will be doing a French course in July, running a leadership course for the first two weeks of August, and then taking some time off to enjoy my lovely new neighbourhood! Also starting my half-marathon training this week and playing some softball and volleyball. And my book list has grown unbelievably long this year so I have a good chunk of reading to do – stay tuned for the book reviews!

Plus I got a lovely bookstore gift card today... Uh oh!

Plus I got a lovely bookstore gift card today… Uh oh!


My June Survival Guide

So this has been my first year teaching in the month of June. And I think I’ve learned more about teaching in June than anything else this year! (Well that might be a bit of an exaggeration… But still!)

So many “wish I’d known that” moments… Here is my advice to myself for teaching in June

1. NO PROJECTS! Don’t assign projects due in the middle of June. The kids don’t want to do them and I sure don’t want to mark them while I’m trying to do report cards.

2. KEEP IT SIMPLE… I thought they talked too much in class the rest of the year? Just wait! June is the cant sit down, can’t stop talking, can’t pay attention month of all months! I am learning to keep my instructions short and virtually fool proof the closer we came to the end of the year.

3. TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF. No matter how much I am in love with my job by June I am tired! Soooo tired! Don’t plan to do huge, elaborate, takeshourstoplan lessons or activities! And please just try to get enough sleep because it will never feel like enough!

4. PLAY GAMES! I will never be more thankful for my 8 years of summer camp experience than I am in June. Games, games, games… My saving grace!

Field Games

Field Games

5. KNOW THAT TIME WILL NOT BE ON YOUR SIDE… Between all of the talking, the yelling, the assemblies, the field trips, and the craziness that June brings – I will never have the class time I think I have! Don’t plan too much and don’t stress when it doesn’t all get done… It’s June!

6. YOU’RE IN THIS TOGETHER. Remember that the kids feel done and so do I… I think reminding each other of this fact is helpful in remaining respectful to each other and somewhat productive.

7. IT’S FOR THE KIDS! In the end, those kids come first and matter the most. Soak up every last minute with those beautiful souls! Have those meaningful conversations and take time with each and every student!

So I had a lot to learn this June… But guess what? I survived! And although it was truly crazy and frustrating and joyful and stress-inducing… It was totally worth it! I’m so glad to have those last few weeks with my students and have the time to spend without worrying as much about the curriculum or marking or assessment.

In June, I got to enjoy playing games and chatting. I got to shake their hands as they graduated from middle school. I was able to reflect on those little things that matter the most. I built better relationships with my students. In June, I learned a lot as a teacher and a person… and in the end I had a great time!

Being new in the district I am unsure about job prospects for next year but it worked out so well this year that, although I’m a little anxious, I am mainly just excited to see what is up next!

Can you add to my list of things to remember in June?

How was your last month of school?


The Power of Play

This post is dedicated to the memory of Julien-Pier. DSC01386

My soul is aching while I write this because not only have I lost a dear friend but the world has lost an incredible person. JP taught me so much about caring for others and sharing the warmth of a smile with everyone. Most of my memories with JP involve play – making playdough instead of dinner, rushing to ride the roller-coaster at the mall, and  finding Christmas trees in Quebec City. Julien-Pier knew how important it is to have fun in life. I am devastated that I won’t be able to create more memories with him but I am going to share and cherish all of the memories that I do have.

In pre-school and kindergarten we all learn through play and curiosity and then somewhere between grade 1 and high school the play seems to disappear… Is it because we no longer learn through play? I doubt it, seeing as I still learn from playing as an adult. I think it’s easy to get caught up in the curriculum or the classroom lessons and forget about the value of play.

When I started teaching grade 8 this year I was nervous that I wouldn’t be able to relate to them, that they would be a lot older than the grade 6’s and 7’s I was used to. And then I took them outside – It was the last 10 minutes of the day and we headed out to the playground. They all stood around chatting for a minute and then the next thing I knew they were running full speed at the jungle gym for a game of tag. In this moment I knew that I would be okay because they wanted to play tag, because they were excited about life, and because I knew they were still “kids.”

Last year I saw a local researcher, Gary Anaka speak at a Pro D workshop. His saying was that “if your bum is numb, so is your brain.” This has really stuck with me and I try to think about it when I plan lessons – how can I get kids moving? Sometimes it’s as simple as putting articles they need to read in different parts of the classroom so they have to walk to read them. And sometimes it’s playing active games that involve concepts we are covering.

I think incorporating play into my lessons has resulted in some of my most effective teaching moments and I wish I had done more of it this year. One lesson that stands out in particular was a review game for some of the verbs we had just learned to conjugate in French. I took them outside and we played a “four corners” type activity in between the trees. (I will try to get this game up on TeachersPayTeachers this summer!) I surprised them by making the review activity fun and active, but they surprised me by really mastering the conjugations. There was a little bit of competition and a whole lot of teamwork, but mainly there was movement and a lot of laughter.

It’s going to be my goal to incorporate play into my lessons more often, no matter what grade I am teaching. Engaged students having fun with their teacher? I think that’s how it should be.

How do you incorporate play into your lessons and activities?
Any good stories about teaching new grade levels?