Pushing students to engagement

I strongly believe in skills – even when assessing outcomes, I feel the most important part of the curriculum is still the skills and front matter of the document. The knowledge piece (student learning outcomes) comes from the skills and assessment of these skills through out the process. By grasping the skills, the students gain the  knowledge component as they progress through the project/ inquiry process/ learning task.

If we want students to buy into to these tasks so that we can assess them, my job is to facilitate meaningful and creative ways for them to learn and apply these skills that show their understanding and knowledge of the topic.

One of my favourite activities is called a Q-Focus. It introduces a concept that allows the students to develop questions about a statement, relating to that topic. Last year, my students really struggled with this one, but I decided to try it again this year, in the first week of school with my students about Canada and the role it plays in our lives. This is leading into how Canada’s identity shapes our lives and how we (and our families) have helped shape a Canadian identity.

Imagine a world without Canada… What questions would you have?

qfocus brainstorm

Imagine a World Without Canada…

The students were a little hesitant as to what I wanted from them at first but once I added my own 3 questions, the board started to fill. The picture is only at the end of the first day. By the end of the week, I had no more whitespace on my board. It was amazing to see! The kids love adding to it as well.

Today we started talking about asking powerful questions. I had to give them the criteria this year – mind you we are only at week 2 and I did less lead-up activities, however with the criteria of “Open-ended, engaging, on-topic and respectful”, we interviewed a student who played the role of Santa Claus. Hilarious answers but we started to learn what an open-ended and engaging question was in comparison to a simple question. The students then were given a chance to interview me again. They were given time at the beginning of the class to interview myself. Next up is coming up with powerful questions to interview a classmate, followed by watching an episode of ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ to find out what kinds of questions the person could have asked. This will lead up to finding out our own family histories.

Maybe I’ll figure out an engaging way to teach sentence structure because I can’t figure out how to make Subjects and Predicates interesting – even when doing a whole lesson talking like Yoda to have them correct me. The thing about not so engaging ways of teaching, it really shows me the value of spending a little bit of extra time to come up with a creative way to learn.

From Class Blog: What does it mean to be a citizen?

Last week, I made a comment to the students that they were all citizens in our classroom. I forget what the reference was about but the students accepted this and continued on. As I was writing something down, someone called out “What does it mean to be a citizen?” The dictionary definition of “a legally recognized subject or national of a state or commonwealth, either native or naturalized.” wasn’t entirely all that helpful to us. As their teacher, I wasn’t even sure how to explain that definition. so I wrote the question on the board and asked the students to think about it over the weekend.

I had the fortune of being at a fundraising event with a number of politicians, so I decided to ask them what their ideas were so I could bring back thoughts and quotes from them. We also reached out to Cst. Lucas to see what his ideas were on the subject of citizenship. I posted the question on social media, and here are some of the answers we received:

Be a participant, be involved, educate yourself on the rules, the game is bigger than you and know what you are doing. The ultimate is not win or lose but to be a part of it. In voting, vote no matter who you vote for.
– Richard Feehan, candidate for Alberta NDP, Social Worker

Belonging, community, people who are born here and the people who choose to come here. As we braid together the two stories that is how we build our new country and our Canada of tomorrow. Responsibility to be a citizen and be an active citizen. Voting and knowing what you are voting for. Keeping up on current affairs, let your elected representatives know how you think. Relationship and have to tell because they don’t read minds.
-Laurie Blakeman, Liberal MLA

Have a responsibility to each other and you can get done more together rather than alone.
– Ben Henderson, Edmonton City Council

Contributing to the community you live in, interested in the voting process and voting when you have the chance
– Michael Phair, former Edmonton councilman

To me a citizen is a member of society. Citizenship is being recognized as that member. To me we should all strive to be “Contributing members of society”. You can still make an impact on a larger scale even though you have never left Spruce Grove. You need to think about what you want the world to look like. I always think of the golden rule. “Treat other the way you want to be treated”

If I was to use the example of cleaning up the environment. Your impact at home, in school and in your community will effect the rest of the world. It may be on a small scale but it will impact the other citizens around you. We cannot control what others do, but we can control the example we portray to others through our actions.

We are all citizens and role models for each other whether we choose to be or not. The only question is “Are we a good role model or a Bad role model?”

– Cst. Lucas, Community Liaison Officer, EPS

Actively involved, taking responsibility and providing input into anything that would affect their daily life. Maybe not all the definition, but an important piece I think.

– Danna Hawkes, Broxton Park Teacher

With all of these answers, we then pulled out some key ideas. (Shown in purple in the picture below) We broke into groups, discussed and added our own ideas of what citizenship meant to us as Grade 5 students (shown in blue in the picture below).

Mr. Petchel(our music teacher) also joined us to talk to us about the importance of voting. We talked about how not voting means that you don’t have the right to complain and that not voting means that you could allow 1/3 of the population to pick someone to represent you that 2/3 of the class disagreed with.

Here is how we represented this:

We have 23 students in our class with 2 students who were away today. Those 2 students represented the people who were not eligible to vtoe.

We had everyone wearing blue jeans sit down. These represented the people who were “Unable to make it to the polls” – too busy, mobility issues, out of the country, ect. We then asked the students who did not have their shoes on to sit down. These represented the people who “don’t care” or “didn’t want to vote”. This left 13 people. 1 student chose to spoil their ballot because they didn’t like either candidate (represented by the only person wearing a hat). 8 people decided to vote for Mr. Pechtel and his promise of Ukulele music (represented by the people on the right side of the room) and 4 people decided to vote for Ms. Albrecht who promised to try to make sure we have Art every Friday (represented by the people standing on the left side of the room).

12 people voted for a candidate, 1 person expressed their thoughts – that makes 11 people in our class who voted and 9 who did not. For voter turn out, 62% (13/21) of the eligible voters is higher than recent voter turnout in Alberta. We also found out that 8/23 people in our class made the decision for us. That about 1/3 of our class who chose someone to represent us even though he had the majority or the votes that were cast.

Mr. Pechtel then made a decision to take is promise of Ukulele music further and said everyone had to sing a song and play all the information in every class. A lot of students complained. If they were sitting down, they had to stop talking. This left the 4 who voted for Ms A, the 1 who spoiled their ballot and 3 Mr P voters complaining. 8 people who had a right to complain wasn’t very much (a minority in the eyes of the government) and now we were stuck with no Art at all, we had to hypothetically all learn to play ukulele and listen to Mr P sing about regions of Canada. That wasn’t a good thing but we let a minority pick someone to represent the majority who disagreed with these rules. The students suddenly realized that this was not good and why we need to take advantage of our right to vote and perform our civic duty to do so.

We decided that if there is an election called this spring, even if we can’t vote, as citizens, we need to be informed about what is happening and help inform people who can vote such as our parents. As their teacher, I am excited to see an election plays out in a room of grade 5 students but as a voter and citizen, I am excited to see a room full of engaged and active citizens who know more about voting and being citizens than some adults do.

This all lead up to what was going on in the world and the start of our inquiry into global issues and global citizenship but this lesson that started with the frustration of a terrible dictionary definition was one of the best conversations we have had as a class – and we have a lot of powerful conversations in our room.

Challenging Assumptions

My class and I have been looking at assumptions we have about people, places and things. The students have defined assumptions as  thoughts we believe to be true without question. 

Our next step is to challenge our assumptions. We are going to use the following questions from Flipside Thinker to see if our assumptions hold up.

1. What evidence exists to prove your assumption is true?

Is this something that has always been done or believed with no real evidence to validate or support it? Is there any real data behind the thought or idea?

2. What if the opposite was true?

If this assumption were flipped on its head, how would that impact your problem or opportunity? Would it make it worse or better? What would it take to reverse it?

3. What if your assumption was amplified ten-fold?

If this assumption was true, but was magnified 10 times (or 100 or 1000 times), how would it impact your problem or opportunity? Would it make it better or worse? What would it take to magnify it?

4. What if this did not exist or was not a possibility?

If this assumption or a part of it never existed, how would it change your problem or opportunity? Imagine no solution could have anything to do with it. What direction would you go?

5. Where would your assumption lead you in 3, 6, or 12 months?

Follow this assumption to its natural conclusion in terms of your problem or opportunity. What does the future look like in 3, 6 and 12 months? Good or bad? Does it create new problems? Does it present new opportunities?

6. How would a Grade 1 student view this?

Think with the wide-eyed innocence of a child, as if you know nothing about this subject. How would you explain it to a child? What are the most basic parts and are they valid?

I am looking forward to having the conversations with my students about how assumptions change our way of looking at things and how they change when we are provided more evidence or experience things in a different way.

From Class Blog: Goal Setting Conferences

Thank you parents for coming out to our goal setting conferences.

As a class, we worked hard to set our goals. We even came up with criteria for setting out goals. We were all proud to share these goals with our parents the last couple of nights. These goals will help direct our Best Year Ever here at Greystone.


We feel that goals should be:

  • Reasonable

  • Specific

  • Measurable

  • Challenging

  • Appropriate

  • Personal


A big thank you for those who added to our board of questions from the statement “A World Without Canada”. There are some amazing questions on there.

From Class Blog: A world without Canada

Today we were challenged by the statement “A world without Canada”. It left the students with a number of questions. Here is our brainstorm:


We would love to hear about what questions come up for you or what might change for you in a world without out Canada. Please leave a comment or use the hashtag #WithoutCanada and on twitter.


From Class Blog: Our September

We had a very busy September in LC 5A. We are still waiting to hear about the portables – but we are starting to get excited. More details to come.

In Science, we are working on our classroom chemistry unit. We’ve made slime rocks and are about to make ice cream in the next week. We know the difference between reversible and irreversible changes and we know where we can find them.

In Math we are working on Estimation and Benchmarking in our Whole Numbers unit. We played a card game for estimating sums and looking at the 3 estimation strategies.

In Language Arts, we have learned the proper format for writing a letter. We also looked at self evaluation and working with feedback in Google Docs.  We wrote a letter to our teacher telling us about what makes us the person we are. We also have worked on how to pick a good book to read, when to abandon a book, and how to buzz about the books we are reading.

In French we have worked on Months, Days, Time, Numbers, and Classroom vocabulary. We are currently designing our dream classroom.

In Social Studies we are worked on creating our own resource in Google Maps. We are going to be starting our inquiry project in the coming week. We started looking at what makes a powerful question and we have worked on our research skills. We are also working on interviewing people as we have found out that everyone has their own story of how they got to where they are.

We are continuing finding out what good digital citizenship is and how we can be good digital citizens. Our conversation with Cst. Lucas really helped!

Below is our Storify with out tweets and pictures.