‘Schools to Sea’ Marine Environmental Program Established

The days were numbered and my time was ending in Mombasa and I was FINALLY given the go ahead to complete the Marine Environmental Program I’ve been dreaming of doing! To say the least I was rejuvenated. I was first … Continue reading

Dear Student Teachers: Go Outside.

The bell has rung and after a flurry at the door you’re left with an almost empty classroom. There are a few scragglers (as always) still trying to fill in their planners or stack their chairs so you don’t waste any time; you look around the room and start compiling your mental to-do list that seems to grow and grow but never be ‘to-done.’ Even before you finish making that never-ending list, even the most distracted student finally needs you to sign their planner. You do so, reminding them not to forget their gym strip on Monday– and boom – like a flash they’re out the door.

My advice to you? Go outside.

Walk the playground. Join in on a basketball game. Play hop scotch or jump rope. Ruffle a few tops of heads and talk to the kids out there. They’re the reason you’re here and when you’re Continue reading

Observing a New approach to Composition Writing Lessons

GVI Volunteers have these students up until Standard 6. After that, our volunteer presence is lifted and shifted back into Kenyan teacher’s hands.  Once they reach Standard 8 they have to take a national exam, their KCPE,  to see if they can move on to Secondary School. Without passing this exam, the students cannot move on in their education or have a certified & documented education. The attainment of certification means more open doors from documented jobs to bank loans. This certificate means a lot in guaranteeing a bright future for our students.

Not all of our students will pass this exam, attain certification and move on. But we’re hoping Continue reading

An Orphanage is not a Tourist Destination nor am I in ‘Africa’

I took a week long camping safari with Intrepid Tours where I traveled from Nairobi through to the National Parks and sights. I was more than happy to see the Maasai Mara, the Great Rift Valley, Hells Gate – among … Continue reading

Promoting Education Through Community

Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Olives Church in Bombolulu is a busy, busy time. We have Madam Grace leading her Kiswahili Lessons, and we have volunteers teaching Maths, English, Computer Literacy, and Creative Arts to the adult members of the … Continue reading

Volunteering Abroad as Professional Development for Teachers

Having done a teaching practicum in China, being a teacher in Canada, and now having volunteered in a Standard 3 classroom here in Kenya, one thing is clear: teaching abroad is a worthwhile opportunity for professional development.

In a grade one classroom in Xi'an, China where I taught in 2011

In a grade one classroom in Xi’an, China where I taught in 2011

The obvious aspect of professional development that comes with teaching overseas is adapting to your new environment. No electricity, limited resources, and bright eager students. At times I wondered how easy it would be if I had a document reader or an interactive whiteboard, but instead you have a few textbooks, a blackboard, chalk (sometimes), and an always disappearing eraser which is actually a small plush kitten. You realize quickly that without technology or even an adequate number of textbooks you can still be an effective teacher and find ways to reach your students in the best way you can. Continue reading

Exploring the Complexities of Kenya/Canada Comparisons with ‘The Giving Tree’

My group reading session today had my girls looking at, ‘The Giving Tree‘ by Shel Silverstein. Before reading the book we did a pre-reading activity that asked the question: “If you could ask a tree to give you anything you wanted, … Continue reading

A Metacognitive Approach to Science & Inquiry

A students hilarious but true commentary on how to use the Scientific Method - please note the lack of thinking!

A students hilarious but true commentary on how to use the Scientific Method/ how to “do” Science! *Please note the inherent lack of thinking

In reflecting on the Science Fairs that I’ve attended I can’t help but ask: Whatever happened to inquiry in Science? It’s part of our standard PLOs in BC but this is one thing I found to be missing in all of these projects that test a hypothesis. I usually ask “Why did you do your experiment? How did you come to your question?” And what I usually get back is either a blank stare or  “it was in the package/online.”

The emphasis of science then, ends up on the doing but not the thinking, which I feel is the biggest shame. The essence of science and of learning is the thinking! Experiments (the doing) are done because of questions – the how and why – inquiry! Yet can be ignored in some science classrooms.  The process of thinking and questioning is being overlooked or underemphasized.

So often students are asked to use the scientific method. Which they do quite effortlessly once they’ve found an experiment from a quick google search. But how can we have our students try doing the first step on their own when they haven’t been given instruction on how?  Asking questions is a skill to be taught and explored before we ask students to even start using the scientific method in a deeper way.

An activity I would like to try is taking a metacognitive approach to science. A student would take a scientist, inventor, creator (whoever who has used the scientific method to test a hypothesis) – and instead of replicating how they came to their conclusion, dig around and discover how they got their essential question/ hypothesis and what the process of thinking is like.

This way, whoever the student chooses will act as a model for how to think. The student will have to research the life of that person, what affected their scientist enough to form that question, what connections, observations and reasonings their scientist would have made. By examining the process of thinking and question making, students may begin to understand what they must do when forming a question of their own and how this process creates the meaning behind the experiment. Why does it really matter if an egg floats or sinks in salt water? Why was answering that question important in the first place? It all comes down to the scientist and how they thought about it. Their thinking made that question an important one to answer.

Having students think about their thinking while their reading is a skill we teach day in and day out of our literacy programs (especially with the use of Adrianne Gear’s Reading/Writing Power kits). Metacognitive readers are good readers! But.. good thinkers make good scientists! 


The iPad Crate Experience at Heath Traditional

An iPad Crate was delivered to Heath Traditional Elementary in the Delta School District earlier this month under the care of Sherrie Bennett. Because technology and inquiry are the hot button topics in this District’s ‘Big Bold Vision,’ these mini iPads had to pack a big enough punch to fill these heightened expectations. Boy, did they deliver!

“I always thought my students were engaged, but since the iPads entered the classroom – it’s spiked 3000 percent!”
– Sherrie Bennett

iPads provide an accessibility and a convenience very hard to come by in other educational tools. Without the wait time for other devices or the headaches of compatability issues, the iPads have given students at Heath Traditional a chance to create and showcase their learning in an exciting way. Engagement in Bennett’s classroom has taken off into directions that has her buzzing with excitement. Her energy about how these students are learning is contagious.

Student reflections on the iPad experience

Student reflections on the iPad experience

Bennett understands that iPads can only be successful in the classroom if they are implemented with a carefully thought out objective and lesson design. For each of her assignments she has set out a criteria that includes student choice, clear purpose, and just the right amount of structure to focus learning; but not so much as to overwhelm and stunt her students creativity. The rubrics she has created and assessment formats she follows provides accountability from her students. Even those students who seem to inherently struggle in regular classroom tasks were excited by the iPads and were willingly (and without teacher prompting) following criteria. This attention to detail is missing in most of their school work and is a delight to see here in moments of creation and learning.

Some of the most exciting and heartwarming iPad moments have been with students who struggle throughout almost (if not) all of their core subjects finding success with these iPads. These students have been able to shine and take ownership of their own learning. They now have something that they can be proud of and that they can teach others how to do instead of being the one always asking for help. A welcomed change for all of these students and teachers.

Student reflections on the iPad experience

Student reflections on the iPad experience

When a Gr. 3 student, whom has an abundance of one-on-one learning support time for basic literacy, was able to use the iPad to prove her competency – it brought happy tears to their classroom teacher’s eyes. Throughout the year it was believed that this student wasn’t able to read on their own and always needed assistance. With the simple recording button on the iPads camera, this student was able to record themselves reading. Their classroom teacher upon hearing their small voice read words they’ve struggled so long to read, she broke down in tears. Here was audible proof of their achievement. This moment was captured on the iPad and now they have proof of the ability they believed for so long they didn’t have.

Engagement in learning does not come with just handing a student an iPad and saying ‘here, go and learn!’ Often I am at schools where iPads and apps are being used in a way that I find misses the point of this technology. It’s meant to help students create and learn – not be a digitized, glorified worksheet keeper. But even with these apps that mimic worksheets, the students will be very excited at first with the novelty of the iPad, but then boredom will inevitably follow.

Instead, Bennett has picked out apps and focused students on creation. For each of her subjects she has found ways to have creation be the focus of student learning. What follows is a breif overview of the assignments she has had her students do.


Students used the iPads camera to snap photos of Math found in our everyday lives to prove that “Math is everywhere.” Instead of having students just complete drill activities on these devices, she had students thinking of how Math fits and functions in our everyday life. Sure a clock is Math – but how! A definite question that leads into inquiry based learning – and in Math at that!


Students were to create their own books on ‘inferring’ via the app, Book Creator. Here students are finding images to explain how they infer what is happening in the image. Because of the iPads useability, this eliminates the issues of connecting to a printer (which is always an issue), saves paper, no cut and paste (huge time saver), and no poster board that no one wants at the end of the year (less waste). The iPad gets all of those details to move out of the way for the main purpose – creation, creativity and learning.

Students are to find images (or take ones) they can infer about – which means they’re scouring google for that perfect one they want. By default, these students are inferring with all the other images they come across.  Here the thinking of inferring is the focus and not just definition and matching.


Because this is a Gr. 7 class, she had her students have free reign of choice on apps for their assignment (There are 4 experiments, choose 2). They had a day to play around with apps and find one that is inspiring to them. But, upon spending some buddy time with the Grade 2’s who shared how book creator works and all the things they’ve been able to do with it, the Gr.7’s were inspired. They knew then that they wanted to use the app shown to them by the little ones for their own assignments. An indication that some apps when used for specific purposes are engaging for all ages.

Student reflections on the iPad experience

Student reflections on the iPad experience

Their experiments involved the concept of ‘density’ and because of the ability to video record and the neatness of the experiments they had more reason to be engaged. They dove right into the ‘science’ part of it by wearing lab coats and being very thorough with their experiments. Because of the recording, they were very “involved in the moment” as Bennett explains. “Because they were able to view their experiments over and over again and show others, there wasn’t just the idea of follow instructions and do this and that and get it over with. Instead they were being very careful and detailed in their experiments. They were almost like mini Bill Nye’s while explaining their experiments! It was fabulous!”

Reflections and Feedbacks:

Students were required to complete a reflection as well as a self evaluation of their learning. The bulk of the reflection asks studetns to think about their learning, challenges, problem solving, purposes and future changes in their process.

As well, Bennett was able to give students consistent feedback on their projects. She was able to do this because the iPads are handed in to the crate after every class. Because of the ease of access to the charging crate, it was easy for her to go through assignments and give quality feedback. This is much harder to do with laptop carts used for multiple classes. The ‘instant on’ capability and app consistency among these iPads is a definite time saver. These iPads have helped Bennett use her time more efficently and effectively. I feel that these iPads are only this effective when they are a set for an individual class as this access would be much more difficult to achieve if they are a school set to be shared amongst all divisions.

The experience Bennett and these students have had with these iPads has been a refreshingly positive one. From having struggling, discouraged students find their forté with technology, enabling students with a way to show their progress, to having students create their learning instead of going through the motions has me excited thinking of what more they can do given the time and freedom to do so! I even had a chance today to see these students at work and to see their bright, beaming faces when they figured out a neat trick they could do or when they showed off their tech-savvy projects.

It really is wonderful to see kids proud of their learning, especially when it’s coming from those who have struggled for so long. I look forward to seeing what comes of this school next year with their tech grant and how these students will find more successes in their learning. It’s exciting to imagine what would happen with class sets of iPads and a more thorough use of them – since this was only a brief but meaningful dip into all that technology can offer.

A Classroom Activity with zenpencils.com

Recently discovered zenpencils.com and now I check it almost daily for a new post. http://zenpencils.com/comic/90-ira-glass-advice-for-beginners/ What a beautiful concept – take a quote that is already inspiring and gripping, and lay over top of it images in a comic format … Continue reading