Monday, 10 December 2012

Fun Writing

We spent the last week focusing exclusively on writing skills.

Our writing form of late has been personal narratives (based on a Life Event). Students completed a first sample in September, reworked that piece based on teacher feedback in October and now really get the chance to show their skills in a final version in December.

Skills we are working on include crafting interesting first sentences and titles, choosing better words over boring words, crafting more complex sentences, adding more specific details, more 5-sense description and more quotes and sound words to increase the drama!

As a fun way to practice these skills, I brought some awesome short films into the class.
PIXELS  video.
Order UP.
Plot Device.

We used these media narratives to assess effectiveness of titles and used them as a creative launch pad. Students were asked to write the narrative from different points of view, or to take a scene from the narrative and make it come alive, or to write what happens next, again, making it come alive by using the skills we have been talking about.

Students would then share and we would use student examples to examine effectiveness and ways to improve.

We also did some fun activities to better understand complex sentences and the importance of word choice.

For instance, students were asked to re-write these sentences.
1. The car went so slow. It was a red car. It was really small. It had a white stripe and could only fit two people.

We discovered that four sentences could easily be pared down to one or two. We also discovered that 'went' is a weak verb, and that even the word 'red' could be improved on: there's cherry red, fushia, fire engine red, flame red, burgundy...all different kinds of red that can be brought to the reader's mind for improved visualization!

Students were also asked to pick a scene, like a rock concern, a ski trip, a camping trip, the dentist, etc, and SHOW us how it feels to be there.

"A good writer can make ANY life event interesting, dramatic or funny! You do not need aliens, space ships or explosions (though, those can also be dramatic or funny in a fictional narrative) but you do NOT need them...and a bad writer could make an alien zombie invasion impossible or uninteresting to read!. Your life experiences (auto biographical, non fiction) all on their own are worth sharing and can be interesting to your reader if written well! The point write EFFECTIVELY!" so says Mrs. J!

To prove this point, we watched Bill Cosby's classic A Trip to The Dentist from 1983. This is a performance piece rather than a written piece but proves that any ordinary experience can be turned into a rich narrative...he also uses some of the skills we have been discussing (sound words! quotes!).

This week, students will be given class time to focus on completing their final assignments (4x45 minutes). There will also be time for one to one conferencing with students about their writing. Students will be following the writing process to complete this assignment (brainstorm, first draft, edit, final copy) and a peer feedback session is built into this process as well. The final piece is due Monday, December 17.

Details for this assignment (which will grow to include a media and oral language task) are on my download page. Also, the checklist of criteria for this writing assignment can be found HERE.  Students have been given this checklist to self monitor their work.

PS. Due to the rescheduling of the dance to Thursday afternoon, we lost a 45 minute period of literacy this week. The due date has thus been extended to Tuesday, Dec. 18th. However, students are being asked to complete the first draft (if they have not already done so) so it is ready for peer review in Monday's class. Students are also welcome to submit their final draft early (on Monday) if they are so inclined.  Thank you, Mrs. J

Students, please remember:
-use the checklist of criteria provided while editing. This is also available online HERE
-your final copy is to be submitted on a loose, separate piece of paper tucked inside your writing assignments work book.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Using Media in the Curriculum

Today we used a variety of on line videos to discuss three different areas of the curriculum.

An algebra joke! 
First...algebra! We used Khan Academy videos to discover 'what is algebra' (via a video happily titled "The Beauty of Algebra") and then we explored an example of a linear growth pattern translated into an algerbraic equation. We only needed to watch the first few minutes of these videos (we stopped after the simplest examples so as not to overly confuse ourselves) to get the idea that algebra is used to make a "generalization" (we also looked up what that word meant). The analogy I gave is that the letter (like 'x') holds the place of a number. It is like the understudy in a theater production...they stand in for the actor/number. Sometimes it stands in for  the answer...sometimes it stands in for any number you want to use in your calculation. Using algebraic equations with patterns helps us make predictions about the you can see if you watch the 2nd video!

By the way, Khan Academy is a great resource for review of math concepts. If there is ever an area of math that needs review at home, try searching for it at

Second...bullying (our health particular, the various roles in bullying and the impact of bullying on those individuals, plus strategies). Two days ago we studied a variety of PSA commercials about bullying and today we looked at two songs and their corresponding music videos to see what they had to say about bullying. The two songs were "Mean" by Taylor Swift and "Is Anybody Out There?" by K'Naan and Nelly Furtado. We looked at/listened to the lyrics and aimed to answer these questions:

What does each song say about particular, what does it say about those who bully, those who are being bullied and about the bystanders? Is the message aimed at one in particular?  What is the impact on each role from the episode of bullying? (in particular, interpreting media representations and judging their effectiveness). When looking at the music videos of "Mean" and "Is Anybody Out There?", we listed the various images that they used and determined the meaning behind them (ie: girl sitting alone in a park = sadness, loneliness). We evaulated how well those images conveyed the lyrics and discussed how effective or ineffective those images were. We also noticed the different portrayals between the two videos/songs: "Mean" has a positive outcome, presents a success story for the victim  and a resolved ending...while "Is Anybody Out There?" does not. Instead,  in that video, the character who is bullied remain alone...which emphasizes the importance of needing connection. We discovered that both videos had effective and ineffective aspects...and students did a great job arguing their point of view by using evidence from the text/media!

Monday, 19 November 2012

Gaming in Education

If you read my biography page, then you know I like to incorporate gaming into learning activities.

Two years ago I conducted a research project using Mario Kart in Gr. 2-5 literacy and numeracy tasks. I found that it increased engagement levels and also supported work outcomes, especially for boys. I documented both my results and my activities on a blog.

I also had the good fortune to be interviewed by CBC radio. Click here to hear my interview and more of my thoughts on game based learning.

Last year in Gr. 7/8 we used gaming as a foundation for writing persuasive essays. We will be doing the same in this class later in the year...

But in the meantime...we will be using games to collect data for our math lessons! Following in the footsteps of such teachers as Dawn Hallybone from the UK and Mark Cunningham from Scotland, we will be using games to collect data for lessons on Mean, Median and Mode.

Let the games begin!

PS. They have begun! Here we are, gathering our data...I swear, I never saw such enthusiasm for a math class before!

Monday, 12 November 2012

Writing Samples Sent Remembrance Day & Writing as Personal Experience

As mentioned in a previous post, a copy of student writing has been sent home for review and signature. This was their 'base line' assessment from September. They have since received specific feedback from me on how to improve those writing pieces so that they are better organized, more specific, easier for the reader to visualize and better convey a sense of drama, etc.

A copy of this revised piece will be sent home this week and I know you will see improvement in their writing! Students should be proud of their achievement.

There will be a third and final writing assignment (Personal Narrative) where students can further improve their current piece OR can apply skills learned to a new topic.

On a related note, as a tie in to Remembrance Day we took a break from our usual literacy program to take a look at two poems/lyrics: Flanders Fields by John Mcrae and A Pittance of Time by Terry Kelly.

Interestingly, both of these pieces were written by people responding to a personal experience. They were just 'ordinary people' who were moved by a moment and wanted to convey the moment to others. Thus, they started scribbling away on a piece of paper...from that evolved one of the most famous poems of all time, and a song.

This is how most writing starts: with a need to share an idea or an experience.

You'll notice both pieces are strong in mood/emotion. Both have strong images which are easy for the reader to visualize.  With the above pieces, we read the poems/lyrics and then answered the following questions:

  • What is the main idea/theme?
  • Choose 5 images you would use to convey the main idea of Flanders Fields in video form.
  • How effective was this video images in representing the song's lyrics?

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

The Raven...Fun STUFF!

If you take a look at the proceeding blog post, you'll get an idea of what we did today! We had some fun creatively exploring Edgar Allen Poe's spooky and sad poem THE RAVEN.

To get started, as a whole class, we did a writing activity where we each wrote from the raven's point of view. It can really broaden one's experience of a narrative to play with point of view, to see the story from different view points. Several students shared what they wrote. Generally speaking, the raven was mystified as to why this guy was yelling at him and getting so upset! Or the raven was a bit of a trickster, goading the man, and wanting to make him upset. Or the raven was a minion of a deeper, darker purpose...BWAHAHAHAHAHA!

Then students broke into pairs and chose from the activities listed in the previous blog. I very much enjoyed the variety of short plays, the movie posters, the alternative endings, and the song!

You know you understand a piece of writing if you can re-interpret it in your own words and with your own style.

I thought I would list the song lyric here, it is just so fabulous! It was presented as part song, part rap.

raven flew in my window one day out of the blue
in the bleak december and this I just barely remember
but it spoke to me ya he spoke to me through demon eyes

never more never more 
raven landed on my door
I really need my dear Lenore
I can't take it anymore

but some things aren't what they seems
and this isn't in my dreams
dear Lenore dear Lenore I really need my sweet Lenore

And I said nevermore 
need you Lenore

raven flew in and landed at my door
I can't take this anymore and I really
want you here tonight

by CO, EJ and SB

Monday, 5 November 2012

Having FUN with The Raven

While reading The Raven, several students asked if they could 'act it out'...and someone else wanted to play around with 'what if' other words, alternate endings. This made me realize that we needed to have some creative fun with this poem! I am thus devoting one class to 'creative adaptations'...students can choose an option from the following list...or create their own, subject to teacher approval.

-perform the Raven as a 1 minute play
-write an alternate ending
-write it as a rap or song lyric
-write it from the Raven's point of view
-create a movie poster...who will star in it?
-draw it as a 4 scene comic

And we will share our creations with each other.

BTW here is the Simpson's version of The Raven

The TELL TALE HEART by Edgar Allen Poe

We will soon be reading The Tell Tale Heart, a story referenced in the class book we are reading (Skeleton Creek).

It is on youtube as an awesome audio play.

These are the youtube Tell Tale Heart videos we will watch & compare to the original text.

Modern Adaptation

Lego-mation Version


In Less than 2 Minutes

I love the creativity the creators of these videos have brought to their retelling of this classic tale!

I wonder which one captured the essence of the story the best? WHY? Justify your answer!
We will use these as a media activity in terms of the media curriculum expectation: "evaulating effectiveness of the presentation of ideas".

Lastly, did you know the writers of Sponge Bob Squarepants created a version of this as a TV episode, Squeaky Boots? We will look at the script! 
PS I have taken some EAP books out of the school library...graphic novels of his short stories! Check out our class library if you are interested in reading these!

THE RAVEN-A SUMMARY-whole class creation

The whole class created this today in literacy. We edited and improved our original sentences, adding more detail and more complex sentences to come up with this final result!

THE RAVEN: A summary

First, the narrator, who is feeling sadly over the loss of Lenore, suddenly hears a tapping at his cold, chamber door. He thinks it is just some visitor but no one is there.

Next, he hears a tap at his window and, scared of what he might find, opens it to find a raven flying in.

Then the man, who is greiving over Lenore, pleads with the Raven while the Raven taunts and torments him with the word Nevermore.

Finally, he begins to think the bird is a demon sent to torture him for the rest of his life about the loss of Lenore and he goes completely crazy. The bird never leaves.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Spooky Poe for Reading & Media Study!

This time of year is inherently SPOOKY and it is thus a great time of year to read Edgar Allen Poe!

As mentioned in a previous blog, Poe is  referenced numerous times in the novel I am reading aloud to the class (Skeleton Creek by Patrick Carmen). It references both his poem The Raven and his short story The Tell Tale Heart, among others.

I was originally going to just brush through these Poe pieces and use them simply as a matter of comparison to Skeleton Creek...but I have instead decided to linger awhile. They are just such fabulous works, beautiful crafted. They have influenced other writers for over a hundred years and they still resonate in today's culture. They are well worth lingering over!

Thus, we are going to read through both The Raven and The Tell Tale Heart, translating the 'old fashioned language' into our own modern day language and adding a picture to help us visualize the scene.

Then we are going to work on writing summaries of each, determining the main idea/theme of each, plus use each as a way to determine characteristics of narratives (all three areas are often referred to on CASI reading comprehension assessments...the next of which is administered in December).

Then we will take a look at media representations of each work. There are some clever youtube adaptations! (Not to mention that both the writers of The Simpson's and Spongebob were influenced by these works, enough to do their own cartoon adaptations!).

This ties into the media curriculum...interpreting media images (by comparing media to media and media to text).

We have also been looking at book cover design as a form of media/advertising. Students will get to choose either The Raven or The Tell Tale Heart and craft a book cover design. I hope to post these in the hallway and will include a picture here when I do so!

Monday, 15 October 2012

More About Writing

"Writer's Voice" is one of those things, like inferencing, we understand best in context. We usually need an example to help us see what we mean by 'Writer's Voice'.

This week, I provide three samples of writing (written by me) to demonstrate Writer's Voice. In the interest of saving space, here are two:

Sample A
In the summer, I went to Iceland. It was awesome! I took an airplane to the capital city. Then we took a bus to the hotel. Then we booked into our hotel. We had a view of the downtown area and the ocean. We took lots of day trips. On one trip, our car broke down in the middle of nowhere! I also saw a geyser explode into the air, strange extinct volcanoes, and lots of black lava rock.  We went to the Blue Lagoon, which is a famous hot mineral swimming pool. The food was really, really good! I really had a great trip. It was so awesome!

Sample C
Don’t Panic!
The wind was so strong that day on the west coast of Iceland . We could barely stand upright. We took our pictures of the stark lava rocks, the vast, stormy sky and the waves crashing to shore at the beach in the distance, and then hurried back to the car.

“Are we almost there?” asked my youngest son from the back seat. We were touring around the Snaeflellsjokell peninsula, a remote, rugged, mountainous area about two hours from the capital city of Reykajvik. He was getting bored and hungry.

“Just about!” I exclaimed.  The restaurant we hoped to stop at was about a ten minute drive down the highway. “I just want one more picture!”

I pulled over at the side of the road. My husband was the first to open his car door. WHAP! It happened in a flash. The wind pulled the door right out of his hand, tugged it back in the opposite direction, smashed into the side of the car—and then hung there, broken.

“Forget taking a picture,” I said. “Let’s get out of here!” I turned the key. Nothing. I turned the key again. Nothing. The car wouldn’t start!

“I don’t believe this!” I said. We were in a foreign country, stranded in the middle of nowhere, in a powerful wind storm.

Outside, cold rain started to pelt the side of the car.

Luckily, we had a cell phone and the emergency number for the car rental agency. We called and in an hour a man came to pick us up. He couldn’t fix the car but he did drive us to the nearest town so we could get a new one.

Both pieces discuss my trip to Iceland...but I'm sure you noticed in sample C:
-a more specific focus with increased detail
-vivid description
-inclusion of quotes and 'sound words' (WHAP!) (official term: onomatopoeia) to bring drama to the event
-more intriguing title which raises curiosity in the reader
-opening sentence raises questions in the readers mind (I didn't give it all away!)
-repetition builds suspense
-it is organized into paragraphs

In terms of Writer's Voice, I think its clear that Sample C has more 'sparkle' than A.

I like to sum up Writer's Voice as: personality and vividness.

Students have been reading novels or short fiction pieces in class. They have been experiencing 'Writer's Voice' and also the power of vivid description (reading comprehension strategy: visualizing a scene).

Now, as writers of a personal narrative ('Life Event'), they get to create that for other readers to experience.

Below are the curriculum areas this current task addresses, as posted in my classroom:

Students are currently revising their Life Events to include more vividness and 'writer's voice'.

I am looking forward to sharing their revised pieces with home! A copy of both versions will be eventually sent home so you can see their progress!

PS For more information on 'writer's voice', check out this great site!

Technical Difficulties...

Just to make you aware, we have been having internet access issues at the school, as have other schools in SCDSB.  The IT department is working hard to resolve this issue. It does mean that I can't  currently access my blog, media/tech and web links while in class! Hopefully this will resolve itself soon, but in the meantime, I may be asking students to puruse those links outside of class time.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Extension Material for Skeleton Creek! POE & THE RAVEN!

As mentioned in a previous post, we have been reading the novel Skeleton Creek.

In this novel, there are references to short stories by Edgar Allen Poe (House of Usher, The Raven...and there are more to come!)

Nearer to Halloween, we will be reading the famous story (and listening to the radio play retell) of Poe' The Tell Tale Heart and looking more closely at poem The Raven.

In the meantime, I'm asking students to extend their learning at home by:

a) reading about the author Edgar Allen Poe here on Wikipedia
b) watching this you tube video retell of his poem 'The Raven' (as read by Vincent Price) OR try this version (with text) as read by Christopher Walken
c) watch this youtube animated version of the poem (I love how this 'ordinary youtuber'  has been inspired to retell the poem visually)

Here is the full text version if you'd also like to read it.

Poe has inspired countless authors...and as become a part of our culture.  Even the writers of The Simpson's included The Raven in one of their Halloween episodes. 

Patrick Carmen, author of Skeleton Creek, has similarly been inspired. He is including Poe references VERY deliberately in his book. They are there for a purpose and I'd like us to go deeper into what that purpose might be.

The 'raven' seems to hold specific significance  It has been mentioned more than once and in fact, a future book in the series is called 'The Raven'.

We can't really discuss it properly without understanding Poe, who he is, his body of work...and his poem, The Raven.

Students, next week we will be shifting our literacy focus to writing for a few days....but we will return to reading by weeks end (hopefully, by Thursday) please review this material at home to support future in class discussion before that time!

Thank you!

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Preparing for Math Quizes! Math Games!

Our current math focus is on decimals and fractions. We are comparing decimals to decimals and decimals to fractions...and also making sure our fraction answer is a 'simplified fraction'. We are also going to start looking at percents!

Next week there will likely be a decimal-fraction-percents quiz!

One way to study is to use the math links I provide. Here are some great online sites for practicing decimals/fractions/percents!

Comparing DecimalsCompare Decimals Game,  All About Decimals

 Fruit ShootConverting Fractions to Decimals,   Millionaire version    Jeopardy version

You might also want to watch this Khan Academy video on comparing decimals or  this Khan Academy video on converting decimals to fractions.

Another way to prepare yourself is to use the Frayer 'math dictionary' sheets like we use in class. Pick definitions related to the topic, such as 'decimal', 'comparing decimals', 'simplified fraction' and review your knowledge by filling out the sheet. You can always compare your answers to the math dictionary bulletin board in class, where all the Frayer math dictionary entries are posted!

Extra copies of the Frayer math dictionary sheet are available HERE on my download page for easy download and use at home.

A fourth way to prepare yourself is to look up previous math questions on my math page, such as the ones on Oct. 4 and Oct. 9 etc. and give those a try at home.

Remember to consider the four criteria when working on an answer to those questions:
Knowledge and Understanding

These are defined in a previous blog if you need to refresh your memory! But we will continue to look at samples in class to refine our understandings of how to use these four criteria to achieve 'better answers' in math.

PS Before we do the decimal/fractions/percents quiz, the previous quiz will be returned to students so they get feedback on what they have done thus far. This should also help them refine their understanding of how to best communicate their math ability. As usual, this will go home for parent signature and review.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Skeleton Creek & Reading Comprehension

As part of the reading curriculum, we are pursuing this learning goal: identify and use a wide variety of reading comprehension strategies. 

I have posted on the wall a wide variety of reading comprehension strategies. Recently, I added CASI type questions to the list.

On a regular basis, students individually read their chosen novels and then pull out their reader notebooks to try one of these strategies. Then we share and discuss them as a class!

I am so lucky to have a class full of avid readers! They love to read and discuss books, just as I do, so this time of day is pure pleasure. In the context of this discussion, we also typically examine a variety of book covers (as a form of do they promote the book? What inferences can be made about the book based on the images and text on the cover, etc?). The tricky part is knowing when to stop this 'book talk', or we risk running out of time for anything else!

To further model the various comprehension approaches, we are also in the midst of a class read aloud. We are reading SKELETON CREEK, a very spooky mystery story by Patrick Carman that also includes media footage to complement the text (in the form of Sarah's on-line videos that you access via a password protected website).

I read a section aloud and then students again turn to their readers notebooks to try out a strategy. This time we do the same strategy and we again discuss our responses. I complete my version on the board to show, for example, how I might make a prediction, an inference, define and prove character traits, etc. This is a good way for me to model the strategy, so students get a sense of what an effective response looks like.  I often accompany my version with a 'think aloud', sharing my thought process on how I approached the strategy and the text, etc.

To find out more about Skeleton Creek, click HERE.

Friday, 5 October 2012

The Solution to the Imail Mystery!

I have solved the mystery as to why no one can log into their imail from home! SCDSB IT services has informed me that you cannot log in to imail without first logging onto the network at school. Because our laptop cart has not been available for class use, we have not logged on yet as a class! However, today or next week I will grab us a couple of extra laptops and get us logged on so students can access their email properly!

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

What Do I Mean By 'Deeper Connections"?!?

Students in this class know we are working on 'inferencing'...meaning the ability to develop a logical conclusion based on known facts and our own knowledge. It is way of interpreting, making meaning out of the context clues provided.

We started inferencing right on Day 1...with the Who is Mrs. J? game (see page link above or click HERE). I provided pictures and students had to infer something about me based on the facts those pictures contained.

We infer all the time, in all levels of literacy: in what we read, what we see (media texts) and hear (oral texts) and we create inferences when we write.

We started with 'stating the obvious'. If a book cover has a dog on it...probably the book is about a dog!  (We have been using book covers as our main source for inferring media images because students in this class love books and we have so many samples at the ready!)

But what DEEPER CONNECTION can we make about this 'dog book' based on the evidence on the cover? What kind of dog is it? What is the pose? Anything else on the cover? What does the title imply? What colours are used and what are the associations with those colours?

I  want students to make deeper, more complex connections. Today, I returned their CASI reading comprehension assessments...many of the questions require students to INFER. We looked at the difference between level 1 thru 4 responses. The higher end responses typically involved an inference that was MORE COMPLEX. So, yes, we can infer that a character is athletic because they play basketball but a more complex inference is to say that that character is responsible  or trustworthy because they fullfilled a promise to return to college. The first example is an obvious connection...the second example less so.

Here is another great example of a DEEPER CONNECTION that happened in class this week totally by accident.

As our reward for Terry Fox fund raising, we watched a movie and had popcorn. The movie we watched was "We Bought a Zoo." I asked the students to notice who wrote the screenplay...too often, the writers are overlooked and go unnoticed in media, though they are the backbone of the entertainment industry (no script = no movie!). We ended up looking it up via google and ended up at the imdb movie site...where we saw THIS movie poster.

"Hey!" One of the students exclaimed. "Why isn't the son in the poster?" The teenaged son, Dylan, is missing from this poster. Why was that?! Spontaneously, we started to look at the poster critically, as if it were a book cover. What message is this trying to convey? What meaning is assigned to those images? Why is the cute little girl so prominate but not the gloomy, moody teenage son? What do they want the viewer to INFER about the movie based on this poster? Some of the associations included: family (man, woman and child), happiness (they are smiling, the girl is in yellow, which is associated with happiness),

Someone in the class noted that the girl was 'like the sun'. BINGO! Level 4 connection! Yes, she is like the sun! She is in yellow, she is high in the sky. What do we associate with the sun? Explain what you mean by 'the sun' and you have inferred at a DEEPER level.

I love when learning happens spontaneously like this. It wasn't something I planned but our interest took us there and we extended the skills we have been practising outward, to this movie poster.

We will continue to look at inferences in reading, writing, media and oral texts and I will continue to push students to look beyond 'the obvious'.

PS. The screenwriters of "We Bought a Zoo" are Cameron Crowe and Aline Brosh McKenna, in case you were wondering!

Just a few updates...

Those of you that are trying to log in to imail at home...I understand it is not working for you! I have put a request into the school board's technical help desk to find out what is going on! Stay Tuned!

Today a letter went home about the CASI. Please review, sign and return! Thank you!

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Math Assessment

Tomorrow we are having our first math quiz on comparing fractions.

Before we do the quiz, I wanted students to understand how math is being assessed...and consequently, how one can obtain a level 3 (expected level) or higher in math.

Today's lesson thus focused on how math is assessed. We looked at specific student examples and assessed them according to the criteria explained below.

In the past, math has been assessed primarily based on one's knowledge and understanding: i.e. did you get the answer right? But in real life, there is so much more to our use of math than just the 'right answer'.

Often, we must communicate our methodology for achieving that answer (think of the example Ms. Abernethy provided the other day to the class: "Mrs. Johnson, how did you get that percent for my mark on the report card?" I better be able to explain my reasoning!).

Often, we must apply our math knowledge to different contexts. Often, we must creatively problem solve.

Math is thus assessed according to four criteria:

  • ·      Knowledge & Understanding: demonstrates knowledge of content and concepts
  • ·      Thinking: uses planning and problem solving processes
  • ·      Application: applies and transfers knowledge and skills in different contexts; makes connections
  • ·      Communication: expresses & organizes math thinking; uses proper terms and conventions
These are clearly outlined in the Math Curriculum document provided by the Ministry of Education. Here is the link to that document. The rubric and levels are on page 22-23.

Students were given a copy of this rubric and we used it to assess some of our previous math responses that we have done in pairs in class. Some scored a level 1 in one area (such as communication); a level 4 in another (such as application).

This is the sample we decided was the closest to a level 3 in all areas. It is now posted in our room, along with a few others I selected. Now I'm hoping students will look at these samples, look at their own work, know what to look for, and shout BINGO! I got it!

Sample 1
Sample 2
Sample 3
After school today, I added this feedback to the samples, which notes the areas of success...and includes some suggestions for improvement. Students, tomorrow I'd like you to take a 'gallery walk' and see what I observed about them!

We will continue to do this kind of self/peer assessment through out the year and will continue to refine our understanding of level 3 and also start to better understand level 4 work.

You'll notice these samples share common characteristics and I think as a class we need to look more closely at what those shared attributes are...we will do this another day.

Students were informed that questions on tomorrow's quiz will be clearly associated with at least one of the four math criteria  (the criteria will be noted in the margins)  and levelled accordingly.

One's total math mark on the report card in January takes into consideration these levels and also progress made over time.

Once any quizzes/tests  have been marked, it will be sent home for your review and signature (and please return to class so they can be placed in the in-class student portfolio.)

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions about this assessment process! My email is

Current Learning Goals

In case you did not notice, I include the month's current learning goals in the sidebar. Please scroll down to see what we are focusing on this month.

This gets updated on a monthly basis. Please continue to check back to see what the latest goals are!

Math follows a course of study laid out by SCDSB. A copy of this course of study is available HERE on my downloads page.

My overall literacy plan for the year is also available for download HERE.

Please keep in mind that the pace of instruction and learning is fluid. I respond to how the students respond to the material. It is thus not cast in stone but by its very nature must remain flexible.

As always, please email me if you have any questions!

Monday, 1 October 2012


Our class pledged to raise $100 for last Friday's Terry Fox Run...and we surpassed that goal, raising $133!

The reward for obtaining that goal was "movie and popcorn".

So today students are going to watch a movie in the afternoon...with popcorn!


Monday, 24 September 2012

Exciting Writing!

Recently, I asked students for a 'writing baseline'. I asked students to write me 'about a life event of your choosing.' I did not give any further criteria than that at this time because I like to see in this first piece what is their natural inclination.

For instance, if asked to write, what do they do? Do they naturally brainstorm before beginning? Do they naturally break their work into paragraphs or do they write a solid block of text? Do they add specific details, proper capitals and punctuation, sentence variety, interesting words, etc?

From their sample, I can then see what is the area of need for each student and also what are the most predominate needs of the class. This then creates the criteria of my expectation for their next writing pieces. 

The next writing task will have very specific criteria laid out as I guide students towards improvement in their written communication.

I have started reading over these samples and am very excited to be working with these young writers. There is so much potential in this room for funny, clever, detailed, interesting pieces!

I look forward to returning their samples and getting to work on the revision process. I am using this form to assess where they are at in September and as you can see, it provides quite specific feedback on where they need to take their writing next.

You'll also notice that these feedback points are adaptable to a wide variety of writing forms...both non-fiction forms and fiction forms. We will likely thus be working on these writing skills all year long. 

We will also be looking at the Gr. 7 writing exemplars to see what a typical Level 1 through 4 looks like by year end.

To quote a cool T shirt I once saw: WRITE ON!

Friday, 21 September 2012

Oral Language: Improv Everywhere!

Continuing our oral language study, we watched another interesting TED TALK, this time a presentation given by Charlie Todd of Improv Everywhere.

As with the previous TED TALK, we will return to this presentation at a later date to examine both the method of the presentation and the structure of its content (as a form of persuasive argument)...but for now, we are just wanting to practise recording key words and then crafting a really, really good, concise, specific main idea sentence based on those words.

Here is the link to the Improv Everywhere TED TALK.

I told students I would link to  examples of other Improv Everywhere activities which are on the Improv Everywhere youtube page, such as:

Star Wars on the Subway
Spontaneous Musical (Food Court)
Spontaneous Musical (Grocery Store)
Frozen in Grand Central Station

More On Line Math Games

As in my previous post, here is a list of some fun on line math games. These games focus on comparing fractions.


..Gr. 7 Compare & Order Fraction On line Quiz , Compare Fractions Word Problems Online Dolphin Game (locate highest value), .plus check out this comparing fractions link!

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

On Line Math Games

Currently we are reviewing material on fractions.


Here is a list of online games/sites that promote practise in making fractions equivalent (equivalent being just a fancy math term for 'of the same value').

For example, 1/2 is of the same value as 4/ has just been divided into smaller pieces (eighths instead of halves).

If I cut you 1/2 of the cake and 4/8 of the cake, you will still get the same size cake!

Knowing how to convert fractions into equivalent counterparts is essential when it comes to comparing fractions and adding and subtracting they need to find a common denominator in order to make it easier to compare, add or subtract.

I've suggested students give these sites a try at home as an extension to classroom review.

Go on, give them a try!

Gr. 7 Equiv. Fraction Quiz Online,  Fraction Target GameMatching Fractions GameFinding the Lowest Terms

More games to come as we ease back into comparing fractions...and eventually, comparing decimals, etc. 

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Oral Language: Continuing with the Main Idea!

We continue to work on explaining the main idea in oral texts. Today we watched Kevin Alloca's oral presentation on "Why Videos Go Viral" from TED TALKS.

This is a great presentation...and we will be turning to it again, particularly when we start creating full persuasive essays, as he provides an excellent model of a persuasive essay format (you'll notice he provides an argument, supports that argument with 3 key points which are in turn supported by clear evidence/proof and then thoroughly explained...but that is something we will explore later in more depth!)

The focus of today was to again note down a speaker's key words and then look over those words to determine what is MOST IMPORTANT. What is MOST IMPORTANT typically leads to the overall main idea. When writing about the main idea, it helps to use those KEY WORDS in our explanation because that keeps it very SPECIFIC. One of our goals in explaining our understanding of an oral text is to be very specific to the text and also to be very CONCISE and to try to explain ourselves in one sentence.

I like to combine oral language and media studies because typically when giving an oral presentation people use media as well (such as a powerpoint or prezi) to clarify their ideas. In this talk, he puts key words on screen. Students, this is a clear indication that they are important! Not only is he saying them, he is showing them as well. He is emphasizing them.

Student will eventually be giving presentations of their own. It is helpful to see a model of a good presentation.

Also, the work we are doing now in crafting specific and concise main idea sentences will impact later study in literacy--for when we start explaining the main ideas in our readings, for example (also known as 'themes' in works of fictions), or when we start developing introductions to persuasive essays. The skill of being specific and concise is one that is needed time and again in the process of communication--whether we are speaking or writing. This is our first foothold in the development of that skill!

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

New: Math Page!

I have added a math page to this class blog. If you look along the top row of my blog above, you will see the MATH tab. The link is also HERE.

Please take a moment to check out this page.

I have included many links that explain the new direction of math teaching that I will be taking. This direction is one that emphasizes math thinking (aka the 'math processes), creative problem solving and math communication in many forms (talking, writing, reading, drawing about math).

This approach takes math beyond the textbook and beyond the simple right answer/wrong answer or right solution/wrong solution. My role is to act as a guide or facilitator to assist students in exploring math concepts and methodology with an emphasis on math's BIG IDEAS.

To learn more about this approach, please check out my math page links.

On my Math page you will also find a list of our math goals which will be updated monthly.

I also list our plans for each math class. This is primarily to organize myself in class (I use this blog every day in class as a daily agenda and as a form of communication. It takes the place of chart paper and blackboard). However, you are also welcome to read up on what we are doing daily, keeping in mind that this is a rather fluid process.

I love the class blog as a means of communicating daily class practise. I am a big believer in making the classroom transparent...what goes on here should not be shrouded in mystery!

No longer can your child say 'nothing' if you every ask your child what they did in school today...because all the details are on the blog if they need to refresh their memory!

Friday, 7 September 2012


Spelling is one of those things students (and adults like me) find boring and tedious...but it MUST BE DONE! 

First: as a MATTER OF PRIDE. Your ideas are important and deserve the respect of being properly presented.

Secondly: because you don't want to IRRITATE YOUR READER. If you spell words wrong (especially common words) your reader will notice the errors and it will irritate them--especially if it is so poorly spelled, they get confused as to your meaning.

Writers want to entice readers to keep reading their writing. They don't want to annoy or frustrate them so they toss the writing aside and yell in aggravation: "I'M NOT READING THIS! THE SPELLING IS SO TERRIBLE I CAN’T UNDERSTAND IT! I GIVE UP!"

It is an expected part of the grade 7 curriculum that students are able to spell common words correctly. In this class we will be looking at the 200 most commonly mis-spelled words in the English Language as our starting point.

I myself am guilty of mis-spelling these words on occasion (though I am a novelist in my spare time, and I love writing, spelling is not my strong suit. I must work hard at this like most other people do).

These are the words that we use again and again and that readers will notice when we get them wrong.

So let's get them right! Together, we are going to ace these words!

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

How School is Like A Video Game...

As you will see in the side bar, I like to list the current focus for each month so everyone knows what we are doing and what we are  planning to do in the near future. September to me is all about establishing where students are at vis a vis the various curriculum areas and setting goals from there.

Once I know where students are at, I can give feedback to guide them in obtaining the skills that they need to progress. I presented this idea to the class this week in a cute little analogy that compares Video Games & School. Students were also asked to write down what they thought was the main idea of my presentation (thus, providing me with data on their ability to demonstrate an understanding on an oral text--a key component of the oral language curriculum!)

A Screenshot of a Gamer Profile: Zelda:
This is the prezi I gave on comparing the effective feedback in video games to the effective feedback in schools.

A Screenshot of a Student Profile: Literacy
The point of this activity, as I mentioned above, was two fold.

First, to discuss the idea of 'effective feedback'. What is it in video games? (tool inventory, health meters, maps, rankings, etc).

What is it in schools? (report cards, comments, conversations, notes from the teacher, regarding various subject areas & skill sets, etc).

And, in both cases, what is the purpose? To inform your next steps, to grow in 'gamer points & skills' or student ability and skills so that you can proceed to the next level.

Your 'gamer/student profile' should be different from the start of the year to the end in the various areas. As in the video game, we expect you to grow..but instead of growing in health hearts, we want growth in curriculum areas. Teachers also need to take base line data (samples of reading, writing, oral language, spelling, math ability at the start of the year so we can determine your profile 'starting point'. This provides a point of comparison so you can see your progress over time!

Secondly, to see if students could aptly explain the main idea of my oral text!

Most students were able to explain afterward in writing that my talk was a comparison between school and a video game, or they noted that both were about progressing...but it was clear from these student samples that they could grow in this ability. Most students in this class need to work on these skills when answering a comprehension question about an oral text:

-restating the question (the main idea is...)
-being more specific ('games and school are the same in many ways'...should include more specific details other than just saying 'many ways'!)
-being more concise! (some students were repetitive, and wrote their response over many sentences. The main idea should fit into one sentence! It can be tightened up!)

Students have now set personal goals based on my feedback.

I realize I have gone into a fair bit of detail here about baselines and this first baseline sample but I want to demonstrate how the process of obtaining a baseline sample and providing feedback based on clear criteria helps students know which skill area to focus on next so that they improve in those abilities.

Just as a map on the Zelda game screen tells you where to go next, so too do I, as your teacher, tell you where you need to go next so that you may progress!

Monday, 27 August 2012


GoAnimate.comOnly Connect... by JJohnsonn

Like it? Create your own at It's free and fun!

"ONLY CONNECT"... These two simple words, (the epigraph to E.M. Foresters 1910 novel "Howard's End") have stuck with me since I was an undergrad at University studying English in the 1990's.

They sum up the essence of literacy &, I believe, the purpose of school. We are communicators. We read, we write, we solve, we learn, we share through a wide variety of mediums. The technology age has only enhanced this aspect of our human nature. We tweet. We blog. We facebook.  We continue to read, write, learn and share in new ways and as such are becoming digital citizens.

I post blogs on a regular basis so be sure to check in often. The purpose of this site is:
  • to provide digital connection between myself, students,  parents, the community & other educators or interested parties. It acts as an online newsletter for everyone to know what AWESOME learning activities are going on in this classroom!
  • to act as a teaching tool in this class as I post & connect learning items. I often post material on this site that I use in the classroom. I may also co-write blogs with students or have student guest bloggers (a great way to model digital citizenship!)
  • to organize material. I will be posting downloadable documents related to assignments on this blog that can be downloaded from home.
  • to act as a portfolio of student work (including a link to an on line writing portfolio page which will develop as the school year progresses and track student gains over time).
As you can see, there are several pages, blogs and links. This site will grow as this class grows through the year.

Please explore the site & let me know if you've any questions, concerns or comments! I always welcome feedback. My email is

Julie Johnson, teacher

PS I also created a comic based on the theme 'only connect'...

Monday, 18 June 2012

Oral Language

The oral language curriculum includes creating and presenting oral language material (like presenting a dream vacation, as students did earlier this year) and also the skill of taking note of a speaker's key points.

Through this year I have been the speaker, telling stories of my life (like how I prepared for my job interview to be a teacher, for instance) and as I speak, students are asked to jot down the key thoughts that they hear, then share at the end. I have also sometimes asked for them to identify the most important point...this, in turn, is the main idea.

Being able to jot down the key points of a speaker is a skill we use later in high-school, college, university and work environments (I still use this skill at meetings!).

This builds on skills taught earlier in the year in reading...namely, trying to find the key points in a non fiction text...and underlining or highlighting then.

Besides myself, I have included other 'speaker' material. Once again, the interent is able to provide a diverse and interesting material.

Here are some of the speaker's we have listened to:

TED Talks
Kevin Allocca from YouTube "Why do Videos Go Viral"
Erik Johanson, photographer "Impossible Photography"
Charlie Todd from Improv Everywhere "The Shared Experience of the Absurd"

How Matt Harding Got People to Dance With Him  for which you should probably watch his around the world dance video first. 
How Mystery Guitar Man made the 4 iPhones video puzzle
How Freddiew made the special effects in 'Skydiving out my Front Door"
Ross Capicchioni Survival Story Part 1 and Part 2 (a teen in detroit survives a shooting. This is an amazing story of strength in the wake of adversity; dealing with stress; the importance of positivity in life)

National Film Board of Canada
The Rise and Fall of the Great Lakes

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Reminder to Parents: Online Writing Portfolio!

Dear Parents,

Students have now completed three major writing assignments. Each assignment built on the last, with the techniques and form growing more specific. Each writing assignment came with very specific expectations outlined. These clear criteria were always handed out to students and posted within the classroom.

Assignment #1 -- a game review
Assignment #2 -- a movie review (Romeo & Juliet related)
Assignment #3 -- a review of a game, movie or book of student choice

These assignments incorporated the full writing process: brainstorming with graphic organizers, drafting a first copy submitted for teacher feedback, and then creating a final draft based on feedback.

The first two assignments are on line. The third has been recently marked...and will be coming soon!

Many students showed progress over time.  Looking these samples over, you will likely note growth in the use of transition words (ie: using lead ins like 'first, next, then' (and others) to organize points for the reader), specific details, diverse word choice, sentence variety, and clear(er) explanations/reasoning.

These particular writing skills (transition words to organize, being specific, choosing 'wow' words, not being repetitive, editing for clarity, etc) are adaptable to many different writing forms, not just the review. This process is also adaptable to the sense that you would apply the same skills to answering reading comprehension questions...

I chose to focus specifically on the review, however, because I like how reviews include an expository section (summary/explanation) and also persuasive paragraphs (opinion section supported by proof)--both expository and persuasive writing are very common in high school--and real life.

A review makes a comfortable arena for practising these skills because it is very familiar to us as a 'real world' writing genre...we read reviews all the time in real life.

These final reviews needed to include a clear, detailed summary section, an opinion section with three clear criteria, and a personal connection section (the three beef patties, to use my hamburger analogy). They needed an intriguing introduction at the top (top bun) and a short conclusion recapping main points and rating at the bottom (bottom bun). The opinion section needed to have three, clear criteria, well reasoned and supported by specific examples.

If you would like to see these writing samples, please click HERE. And remember, there are more to come as the third sample gets added soon! So remember to check back!

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

YouTube as Teaching Tool

Honestly, I don't know what I'd do with out! I use this site for all sorts of literacy writing prompts (prompts for summaries and main ideas of narratives, study of character, making connections)...we've used it for poetry, lyrics, music videos ('visual poems'), media interpretations of Poe stories and Romeo & Juliet...really, the list is endless!

Lately I took to youtube again to source out commercials. Part of the media literacy curriculum for Gr. 7 and 8 is to interprete how media makes meaning...for example, how images/music are used to convey a particular mood or idea.

There is a list in the sidebar of commercials that we have thus far reviewed. We have defined what is being sold, who the  audience is (aka demographic), what mood or feeling is being connected to the product through the images/text/music (typically, a sense of satisfaction, perfection) and then providing specific proof from the commercial to support that connection.

"Use Irish Spring and you can
be urber-sexy like me!"
Some are very obvious (If a man uses Irish Spring, he is apparently instantly attractive to women! For example, in the commercial we see women swooning over a guy using Irish Spring body wash, and in fact he is so unbelievably sexy/hot, lighting stikes! Wow! So Irish Spring is supposed to = instant sex appeal!).

But others, like the Pes shoe commercial, are more subtle in their approach. In this video, Wear these shoes and you can be magically powerful and an awesome skateboarder! For example, we see that the boy wearing the shoes has been transformed into a skateboard! So if we buy those shoes we will also experience power and originality! Or so the ad would have us to believe...

Commercial are meant, at the heart of it, to manipulate convince us that we NEED that product (to be attractive, to be original, to be creative, to be...FILL IN THE BLANK) which means they should be watched with a critical eye...but they are also creative art in their own right and should be appreciated as such.

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Lyrics Poems and Visual Poems aka Music Videos!

We are well now well into our lyrics/poem unit and I must say, this has got to be my favourite unit of the year! This is for a number of reasons.

First of all, I love making connections to real world literacies! Poetry is all around us, for example, on the radio and our mp3 players! Also, I really love how students are making connections between old and new: poets of 1800's connect to poets/lyricists of today. I also love discussing metaphor, symbolism, imagery... as written in texts and as expressed through visual means (like in a music video or a 'visual poem' interpretation). I have pushed students to 'think deep' about what is being constructed for them both in songs and on TV.

Last summer I create a website that gave examples of lessons that combined modern day lyrics, old fashioned 'traditional' poetry,  music videos, and youtube visual interpretations of poems. This site is called I have built upon that premise in this unit, using more variety and more current examples.

Our focus has been on determining key words and 'main idea', determining mood, point of view, discovering and explaining figurative language, and creating personal connections to the texts. We often compared the text/poem/lyric to a visual version, assessing whether the visuals chosen were a 'good or bad' representation of text meaning.

Before we got started, I asked students for input regarding favourite songs/lyrics/artists and I incorporated these into my plans.

So far, here's what we've done:

The 'Hope/Survival/Personal Strength' Playlist
Katy Perry's 'Part of Me' & music video (where upon Katy 'shows' her strength by joining the marines! The visual thus acts as a metaphor/simile of the song's main idea which is her personal strength in getting over a break up...In visual form, she is as strong as a marine, running through obstacle course, lifting logs, etc)

This song was compared with the more 'traditional' poem, Emily Dickenson's Hope is A Thing With Feathers, and with additional lyrics: Gloria Gaynor's I Will Survive, Mac Miller's Live Free (clean edit) and Eminem's Lose Yourself (clean edit).

The Grade 8's spent some extra time with Eminem's Lose Yourself lyrics. Whatever you may think of Eminem, his writing is deft, playful bordering on cheeky (sometimes bordering on crude...but that's not the case in these particular lyrics) and full of figurative language and imagery. We spent some time with the line:

tetter totter, caught up between being a father and a prima donna

to explore how the image of the tetter totter provides clarity into his struggle between fatherhood and stardom.

The words provide the image in our minds which then clarifies the idea or adds to the mood as we bring our own associations to it. 

The 'Choose Wisely' Playlist
We started by looking at Coolio's 1990's hit 'Gangster's Paradise', comparing it to the video (which is mostly from the 1995 movie Dangerous Minds). When we look at a video, I ask students to make a list of all the images they see. Then we compare the images to what we have already discovered about the lyrics...does it match? how well does it reflect the mood or main idea?

We went through the lyrics closely, documenting all the aspects Coolio lists about gangster life, and came up with this main idea (as one student succinctly put it): 'being a gangster ain't no paradise!'.
The general consensus with the video is that it did represent the song very well...though some students disliked the pacing (too fast!), which is another component of media (and one which students have explored themselves in their own media creations in Frames 4...but I'll save that for a separate blog post!). 

The scene where Coolio removes the sunglasses off the boy, we realize that this is meant to represent the removal of the gangster life. The sunglasses are a symbol of gangster life and Coolio is saying he doesn't want that for the boy.

We then compared this lyric to Percy Shelly's 'traditional' poem 'Ozymandias'. (We stopped briefly to look up Shelly on wikipedia, as we do with all the poets we study). Again, we read this poem closely and I drew a little comic on the board, showing two legs, a face half buried in sand and the speech bubble that said: "I am Ozymandias, the mighty!" to which a student cried out: "not so mighty now! HA!"...which sums that poem up exactly...where did his 'sneer of cold command' get him? Like the gangster in Coolio's song...his life ends, he becomes buried in the sands of time...was his cruelty and violence worth it? Did his power last? (No!)

There are some really great 'remakes' of Shelly's poem on youtube...we watched the one where the face in the sand slowly erodes as the waves wash in...a great visual interpretation of the impermanence of life. 

We then briefly looked at Red Hot Chili Peppers "Under The Bridge', which I have asserted is 'the best visual poem ever created' (students are welcome to prove me wrong!). In these lyrics, the lead singer documents the lowest moment of his life, and how he turned away from that negative choice (awesomely represented visual in the video by showing him running away from an explosion...or as one student put it 'it is like he is running away from death'). 

The 'Everybody Hurts' Playlist
We looked at the Nelly Furtado/K'Naan's song 'Anybody Out There?'and 'Bad Day' by Daniel Powter, again comparing the lyrics to the videos. These two songs are very similar in concept, but the main idea (and thus the ending to the videos) is very different and has a very different message. One ends with hope and connection, the other, with continued isolation. We started to get even more precise in our observations: for example, Nelly and K'Naan are wearing very dark clothing, and kakhi/army like does that contribute to the representation of the lyrics? etc.

We also looked at again at 'Under the Bridge'--which documents a feeling of loneliness and isolation (and taking comfort from a sense of place/location). One student asked 'why isn't he wearing a shirt?' (the lead singer is shirtless for a large part of the video) to which I asked what that would symbolism: a few answers: 'freedom, exposure'. And how did that relate to the lyrics, hmmm?

Looking at the video encourages students to look even more closely at the related text to analyze, compare and then ultimately judge how well it is being interpreted in images.

I love all the 'deep thinking' going on in this unit!

Next up! Lyrics as Narrative: songs & poems that tell stories! This will include The Cremation of Sam McGee (Robert Service) and The Devil Went Down to Georgia (Charlie Daniels Band), as well as Skater Boy (Avril Lavigne) and Bohemian Rhapsody (Queen).