Monday, November 11, 2013


smallThe reason I do inquiry in the classroom is for the students.  I know is seems obvious but implementing inquiry has taken lots of time and planning but the results and positive feedback from students has made it all worthwhile.

Here are things to consider along with your first classroom inquiry:

Why do you want to try Inquiry? 

When planning your first inquiry be sure to ask yourself what it is that you want to achieve and how you will know it is successful.  This is an important first step that is easy to overlook.


Find another teacher (or two) to join you on this journey.  At a middle school we are fortunate to have a common team preparation time to meet and plan on a weekly basis.  Inquiry is such a dynamic process that requires tweaks and check-ins with students and co-teachers to keep everything on track.

Make time

Inquiry is interdisciplinary by definition so you need to find time and lots of it for you and the students to get lost in the process.  When inquiry is going well it is extremely engaging for the students and they will likely be able saying, “we need more time to ______”.  While this is a good thing for teachers to hear, it requires time to be set aside to allow for this expansion.

If you only have a small amount of time then consider just a few classes where a new unit is started with a thoughtful question to engage and hook the attention of students.

Consider the role of technology

Technology can play a powerful and engaging role at all stages of the inquiry from mind-mapping, collaborating to presenting.  It can also be very distracting for students.  Decide on a role for the technology that is meaningful.

Pick a BIG idea

Last year our team used the theme “What would happen if everyone cared?”  There are obvious ties to social justice and the environment that connected students to their own personal inquiry topics with both historical and current events.

A broad theme can then be used to tie together the curricular connections to the subject outcomes.  We like to talk about teaching Social Studies or Science through Inquiry.

Scaffold the process

Students needs support all along the way to be successful with Inquiry.  It is easy for them to pick such a large inquiry project that they get lost in the process.  Have constant check-ins with various graphic organizers so that you and they know how they are doing.

We also used a process of designing 12 ‘mini-courses’ for students to learn more about themselves as learners and about inquiry itself.  These included: learner profile, Bloom’s taxonomy, Myer Briggs personality, learner style, multiple intelligences and more.  We felt that having this foundation of knowledge about inquiry would help students throughout the process.

Choose a single model and stick to it.

Our team decided to use the framework offered by the BC Teacher-Librarians called the ‘Points of Inquiry’.  There are so many great models out there that it can be confusing.  Having a single source really simplifies the process when designing the inquiry.  Other sources to further explore include: Alberta Education “Focus on Inquiry” [pdf], Mindshift Blog, BIE (Project Based Learning) or Edutopia.


I’m happy to share any resources that were created through the process.  Let me know what you what to know more about!

Thoughts and Comments

I’m sure there are glaring omissions and suggestions from other teachers.  I’d be interested in learning from others.  Post your comments here.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Back to School Laptop guide

As a parent and a teacher it is difficult to ignore the annual ‘back-to-school’ shopping ads.  One item that may be on your shopping list is a laptop.  While this might be one of the more expensive items on the list, it is important to make a decision that ends up with a tool that lasts several years.

creative commons photo

Here is my guide to choosing well.  Each item on this list is further explained below.

  • What type of device or laptop?
  • Cost
  • Battery Life
  • Weigh and Size
  • Software

Laptop or ‘Device’??

If you are considering good educational technology for the student in your family then the first choice is on the platform that suits your son or daughter.  While an iPad tablet my have the appeal, a laptop is the most effective tool for school.  More about this can be found in thisa rticle from Dave Truss, an administrator in our district:

As hybrid device that I tested in my classroom for the last few months is a Google Chromebook.  While Chromebooks can’t run all software and websites, the students really liked them and the cost is under $300.


I’ll state the obvious.  It should be as cheap as possible.  While the specifications that include processor, memory and storage always lead you to spend more, this doesn’t make it better for learning.  Any basic laptop purchased in the last two years will meet the needs of our students.  There are lots of 14 inch screen laptops in the $400-$500 range at our local retailers.

Battery Life

Charging a machine at school isn’t practical or safe.  Long extension cords around a classroom can be dangerous.  Find a machine with a 5+ hour battery life and the student can work at their desk all day.

Weight and Size

Light, small computers fit comfortable into lockers and backpacks to travel between home and school.  Also a smaller screen and laptop better fits on our small student desks beside a textbook or notes.  The less that hangs off the edge the less likely it is to get bumped to the floor.


Almost all software titles can be found online or for free.  The one exception is Microsoft Office suite of tools.  More about software from a previous post.

More information

Here is an article with good point on what you need and, more importantly, what you DON'T need to spend money on.  It is by Alex Cocilova at PC World.

This article suggests 10 great student laptops.  It also includes good criteria to consider.  Via Mashable 

Thoughts/Comments/Suggestions – feel free to leave them below.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Social Media in Education

imageThis posting is in response of our BC Ministry of Education work on the Communication Competency Continua.  The topic I choose to explore is social media by teachers in classroom.



  • With a public blog, there is an authentic audience. They can get comments from other students, parents and teachers.
  • With social media like the current darling, Instagram, students are highly engaged.
  • Communication is immediate and active.
  • Accessible anytime on any device (computer, handheld…etc).
  • Parent – teacher – school relationship that reduces barriers for reluctant parents.


  • Students see social media as their territory. It is very personal and they believe it is a unique world for them and their peers.
  • Students would have to follow the teacher or subscribe to updates. Would be challenging to get 100% uptake.
  • Hard to get attention of students in a model where student follow rather than being pushed the information such as via email.
  • Appropriate use needs to be taught, models and then reinforced when students make mistakes with digital communication.
  • Teacher use of social meeting needs to separate personal and professional uses to follow ethical guidelines.
  • District policy and procedures that may limit how and what teachers can do on social media.

New draft policy from our district:

When using Social Networking, Collaboration, Blogging, Media sharing tools, in relation to their role, employees are expected to…

1. use appropriate and respectful User Profile pictures, biographies, and other information to represent themselves.

2. not seek out and “friend” or connect with students without a clear educational purpose, a professional account and User Profile, and without first advising parents.

Case Studies:

A Girl in grade 7 who is very socially active in the class, school and community. She is a performer at local plays and musicals. She uses social media like facebook to connect and communicate with students from our school and other schools.

Hannah really enjoyed the creation and use of a class blog. My parents could see what I was posting.

From interview video:

  • Uses facebook 1-2 hours each day. Have Twitter but don’t use.
  • It would be cool to use some type of social media. For example, if there was a group in facebook for homework.
  • Students communicate and connect by texting, snapchat about homework and personal matters.
  • I’d have to make a different account for school use versus personal use.

A boy in grade 7 students with an amazing website that gets 1000’s of hits each month and has numerous subscribers to his podcast of the weekly radio show. He has collaborated with both independent performers and business like scholastic to have guests on his radio show.

From interview video:

  • Feedback from the site: I get emailed requests and links from the artists.
  • Youtube channel with homemade videos.
  • Collaboration with a band in Seattle.
  • Learning and presenting with videos at school is fun [motivating].
  • Teachers using social media is good because so many students are on it. It would be challenging to get students to follow.
  • Students only want to use technology for personal uses. I have a Macbook but I keep at home to make videos rather than bringing to class for school use.

Other Sources:

1. New Zealand has a site for teachers considering using Social Media:

2. “Did you know?” videos as a reason to use technology for student communication.

3. BCEdPlan ‘learning empowered by technology’ strand:

4. School District 43 (Coquitlam) Digital Citizenship


I’m looking for feedback about this post.  What makes sense and what else should be considered with students and teachers using social media for communication?

Monday, April 8, 2013

Professional Learning via Twitter

This week I’ve been working with the Computer Using Educators of BC on a professional learning event called Twitter Week.

The event was a way to have educators across our province engaged in great dialogue.  In short, it has totally exceeded my expectations.  This event was free, didn’t have any release time, was fully online and self-paced.  Teachers are sure a committed bunch to carve precious time out of their day to meet (online) and discuss what they like best about education.

Using a moodle server here are the topics we discussed:

  • Our learning intentions; the reasons we wanted to participate
  • Writing a great tweet
  • Twitter in the classroom
  • Technology integration in the classroom
  • Two starts and a wish for the next event

Here are some of the aspects of the event that seemed to work well.

  1. It was organized by a volunteer organization which is a provincial specialist association as part of the BCTF.
  2. Our amazing leadership team led be president Mike Silverton where able to setup a server capable of hosting such an event.
  3. Email advertising works but it is the personal connections and word-of-mouth that get people registered.

Here is our poster

Would be interested in thoughts/comments. What great professional learning have you enjoyed recently?  What aspects made it a success?

Monday, January 21, 2013

QR codes in the Classroom

imageWondering what those square barcodes are on posters and advertisements?  They are called QR codes and just like items in a grocery store, they can be scanned.  You’ll need a smartphone and an internet connection to use them.


Why Use QR Codes?

Getting Started

The first time I used them with my grade 6 and 7 students I gave them no warnings or information how to use them. I simply put the QR code you see above on a math quiz.  All I asked them to do was put their cell phone on the desk before starting the quiz.  It was amazing to see how students worked together to figure out how to use them and then enthusiastically answer the math question!

1. Create a QR code that links to a website.  Here is a webpage that lets you create a QR Code.


2. Copy the code to a document and print it so the student can scan.

3. Students need a SmartPhone and an internet access.  They need a free app to scan the code.  I recommend using I-nigma which is FREE from the Android Play Store and Apple iTunes.  Laptop computers with a webcam can use this QR code reader.

Optional step - create a simple webpage that displays on a smart phone.  Here is a document that I’ve created that can be edited in Microsoft Word.  You can then save this document to your website and send student directly there from your QR code.

Possible Uses in Education

  1. High tech scavenger hunt.  QR code to an online map with items for students to find.
  2. Links to key websites – QR code for the homework board or links to ‘how-to’ videos on doing a math concept.
  3. Put them in books so that students go to a site to post book reviews.

Other resources:


How have you used QR codes in your classroom?