The ‘Swimathon for Textbooks’ Success Story

There’s nothing more inspiring than seeing children who have never swam a full lap in their life be determined to swim four just to fill their schools with textbooks. On November 8th, our Swimathon began in a typical drizzle that … 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

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

Lets Teach our Students how to be People – Not ‘Boys’ & ‘Girls’

This past week I was acting Teacher Librarian in a school and was left “Once upon a Motorcycle Dude” by Kevin O’Malley to ready to the little ones. Partway through reading the story I was getting upset because of the stereotypes being portrayed and reinforced throughout the book. But, much to my relief, was pleasantly surprised.

"Once Upon a Cool Motorcycle Dude"

“Once Upon a Cool Motorcycle Dude”

We have a Princess in distress because her ponies (almost all 8 of them) are being stolen by a mean giant. The story is being told by two kids (a boy and a girl) who just can’t agree on how the story should go. In the boys story instead of a Prince it’s a ‘cool motorcycle dude’ who only helps the Princess if her father agrees to have the Princess make gold thread every day for him. He agrees and the Princess is left to “just sit there and make gold thread” while the ‘cool motorcycle dude’ gets filthy rich!

The girls story includes a princess who has all these Princes trying to help her, but to no avail they cannot. She decides to “go to the gym and pump some iron” to become a ‘Warrior Princess’ and to fight the evil giant herself.

The two characters creating this story end up agreeing that they could fight the evil giant together. But then the female character adds that they fall in love and get married and have a little baby girl, which the boy ends up changing to be a little baby boy.

While I’m not 100% on board with the message this book brings as I still feel it’s reinforcing unfair stereotypes  .

Females… Males…
– Concerned about love, marriage, babies, ponies and want things to be pretty/ cute – Don’t care about love, marriage & romance in stories and want to look cool and tough
– Are passive and cannot choose for themselves – Don’t need female help
– Need men (father, prince, motorcycle dude) to help them. – Take from others for their own gain (money)
– End of the story has the female’s pony being saved by the male & a wedding. – End of the story has the male being “filthy rich” because the female makes him gold for the rest of his life.

I do like how it tries to break through some of them and has the Princess choosing to help herself and be strong. Although, the story doesn’t change much of how males are being unjustly represented.

What was interesting and very bothersome to me was the reactions of the kindergarten and grade 1/2 students upon hearing this book. Most boys only liked the male characters point of view and really liked the tough motorcycle dude. These young boys also found the girls story to be silly and unbelievable since it would “never happen” and is “wrong.” The girls reaction was positive to the princess being the heroine in the story.

Princess saving herself and giving the option to the Prince to make his own thread, but does not have him indebted to her like he did in the Boy's story.

Princess saving herself and giving the option to the Prince to make his own thread, but does not have him indebted to her like he did in the Boy’s story.

It’s alarming seeing how early stereotypes and notions of what’s considered normal or outrageous are set into these young minds. It’s totally normal to have a ‘cool dude’ only do things to become rich and take things from a woman who now has to spend the rest of her life spinning gold thread for him. Yet it’s completely outrageous to think of a girl fighting a giant on her own and saving herself. We need more examples of what’s normal for men and women in the books we read  to these students and in the lives around them.

It’s bothersome to think that a story featuring sensitive but strong Prince who is saved by a sensitive but strong Princess would be “wrong” to a child. Perhaps the focus should be being good people and not being a ‘good boy’ or a ‘good girl’ whatever those stereotypes might be.

Boy's definitely wouldn't be interested in "love" or have that be part of their story

Boy’s definitely wouldn’t be interested in “love” or have that be part of their story

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.