My Roadtrip with PBL (Part 2)


Since my last post, our team has continued on its journey to prepare for September with our first installation of learner-centered Project-based Learning (PBL). The last couple of months have meant planning with the support of LRSD instructional coordinators, something that has looked different for each group.

Our first team of Grades 5 and 6 teachers met with Robin Plouffe-Hingley in May for Round 1 of their learning. They began the session by grouping curricular outcomes in Science and Social Studies to come up with common themes that they might want to delve into with their students. From here, they developed their ‘Big Ideas’…in other words, specific learning that they wanted to ensure that their students grasped when in PBL-mode. They then came up with project ideas that would meet our students’ multiple levels of intelligence as they pertained to these ‘Big Ideas’. This took a half-day of collaboration.




(An example of completed work by a Grade 2/3 team that was working along with us…easier to read than our copy!)

In the meantime, our Grades 7 and 8 team went at this in a different way. They chose their big themes, based on subjects in the Grade 8 curriculum, with the help of Derek Acorn, our Teacher-Librarian. They then came up with their driving questions that they felt would capture the interest of their students. This was followed by breaking down the curricular objectives into each category to ensure that they would be covering those essential learning outcomes.

Takeaway: Each method was different, but neither method was incorrect, nor was one better than the other. The first tour with the Grades 5/6 teachers involved principles from the Universal Design for Learning model to ensure that curricular outcomes were being met. This did not mean that the Grades 7/8 team was wrong in proceeding the way that they did. What we learned is that each team has to do what works for them in order to fully wrap their brains around the process.

Our next step was to have both our Grades 5/6 and our 7/8 teams working together with Robin and her partners. This time around, they began by sharing their journeys so far with each other. Then, breaking off into their respective teams, our Grades 7/8 teachers went over their curricular outcomes groupings to pick out key words and then develop their Big Ideas to support student learning with each theme. Then, they tweaked their essential driving questions based on these ideas, and came up with possible projects that would support student learning.


While they were working on this, the Grades 5/6 teachers reviewed their Big Ideas, pulling out key words. They used these words to develop their essential driving questions for each theme. They then came up with other ideas that would work as projects and learning activities for these themes.

Takeaway: The options and learning opportunities are endless, but this is a huge learning curve for teaching staff. Why? Because everybody is at a different stage in their own learning, and that’s okay.

As a collective group, the teams then came together to look at assessment needs and triangulation of evidence. With Robin’s support, they were better able to understand what their assessments could look like so that they could respond to the required report card evaluations. Designing these rubrics will take time, but with a collaborative approach, it will certainly be less daunting. At the same time, formative pieces are equally as important, and need to be planned for to ensure that students have that opportunity to grow.

Takeaway: Have I mentioned that designing quality rubrics to meet the needs of a PBL approach will take time, but once in place, will be game-changers. At the same time, ensuring that teachers are providing ongoing and timely formative assessments is crucial to supporting a student’s growth.

Over the next few months, while the teams move forward with their planning, our teacher-librarian, Derek Acorn, will be developing co-teaching lessons that will focus on different pieces that students will need to learn in order to thrive in a PBL environment. He will support the team in infusing these ideas into the students’ learning within short-lived PBL assignments, as they get their feet wet with this idea in September and October. This will provide some much-needed support to our teachers, as they weren’t sure how to go about presenting this to their students, given that this is new to everybody here.

Takeaway: Collaboration is key to all things here!

Now our team is working to develop their first round of themes for their PBL world. Stay tuned!


MAG Day of Play

Wanting to take part in the Global Day of Play for a few years, we finally decided to go ahead with our own version this week…our first ever MAG Day of Play. Being surrounded by electronic gadgets of all sorts, and dealing with students (and adults) who have great difficulty functioning without their iPhone or iPad by their side, we thought that this would be a great opportunity for our community to be creative in an unstructured way without the luxury of SnapChat, Instagram or Twitter.

Our rules were simple…there were no rules, other than the stipulation that students were not to use any electronics, including cell phones, iPads, computers or any games that were battery-operated. Students could play games, build, draw, create, move and just breathe…and the same went for our adults. To make all this possible, students brought in games from home, or other materials that they wanted to work with during the day. This included a crazy selection of sheets for fort-making, and a variety of board and card games, as well as art supplies.


To get our students engaged in outdoor activities, we prolonged our recesses so that all students had a full 90-minutes outside (30 minutes in the morning, 30 minutes at lunch and 30 minutes in the afternoon). Our Phys. Ed. teacher brought out and set up equipment that both students and staff could access, which allowed all members of our community to stay engaged in play. While students were moving and playing during this time, it was also great to see the adults participating in a number of games, including a ‘friendly’ game of bocce ball. The rest of the day was spent engaging in creative play, collaborative games or ‘building’ in their classrooms, music or art rooms, learning commons or gymnasium. I saw forts of various sizes, makes and models, umpteen different types of board and card games and unique designs made with building materials, Legos and blocks. Others were drawing and developing their artistic talents, while some were climbing, jumping, kicking balls, flipping and cartwheeling. The options were endless and the engagement in these activities very real.


From my perspective and the feedback that I received from students, staff and parents, our Day of Play was an absolute success. One highlight for me was walking into a Grade 2/3 classroom to see what was happening, only to hear one student exclaim, “Mme, we get to play ALL day and we don’t have to learn anything!” He was sharing this little nugget of information with me while using his math skills to play a card game…and when he couldn’t accurately calculate 52+49, he used a strategy that his teacher had taught him to make sure he was on the right track. I LOVE IT when students aren’t learning anything!


So why do it? We know that students have less and less time each day to actively engage in play, with their after-school activities, family commitments, sports and homework. And sadly, we are doing a disservice to them by structuring everything that they do throughout the week. By providing students with opportunities to learn through play, we foster their creative thinking, problem solving, independence, and perseverance. We also address their developmental needs for greater independence and ownership in their learning, opportunities for physical activity and creative expression, and the ability to demonstrate competence (Conklin, March 3, 2015). This is what we want for our students, something that was made very obvious by the level of engaged play that we saw in each classroom, and the relatively few behavioral issues that needed attending to throughout the day.

At the same time, we want this for our staff members as well, as opening ourselves up to the possibilities created by play takes a shift in our way of thinking for many of us. A case in point… after hearing that some students were being told that they could play IF they had completed their work, I had to get on my bullhorn to ensure that teachers understood that this wasn’t a golden carrot to push the students to work, nor a reward for having done so. For a few, the idea of play meant that students were either not learning or the teachers were in store for unreal chaos with an unstructured day before them. So it was important to emphasize the need for an open mind, as the opportunities for learning were in abundance, in particular those soft skills that students need to master.

As one of my colleagues stated, the entire concept was exceptional, as students were learning while engaged in play activities and at no time did she have to intervene with students who might otherwise have needed some guidance. Conklin (March 3, 2015) supports this when she says that ‘when classroom activities allow students to make choices relevant to their interests, direct their own learning, engage their imaginations, experiment with adult roles, and play physically, research shows that students become more motivated and interested, and they enjoy more positive school experiences. Based on what we witnessed last week, I’d say she’s right on the money.

Looking forward to our next MAG Day of Play 2.0!


Conklin, H.G. (March 3, 2015). Playtime Isn’t Just For Preschoolers-Teenagers Need It, Too. Time. Retrieved from

When You Combine Passion With Perseverance


I am blessed with some extraordinary young people in my life, namely my daughters, my niece and my nephews. This is the story about what happens when one of them combines his passion with motivation, perseverance and grit.

Jordy is a couple of months younger than my youngest daughter, and when he was born, he was basically twice her size, and twice as loud. So while Brooklyn was cooing and smiling away, oblivious to his needs, the first year of Jordy’s life was a whirlwind of screaming, colic, more screaming and the odd nap in between. Most times, we were ready to poke our eyes out. But then, one day, it stopped, and our little man’s personality began to shine through. That, and his passion for the game of hockey, a love for a sport passed on by his father, but even more so by his grandfather Elvin, a man who lived and breathed the game.


This love for hockey was made painfully obvious when I was asked to babysit both boys one weekend. Having put all 5 kids to bed by 8:00 p.m., I was enjoying a fabulously sound sleep…we’re talking deep REMs…the ‘don’t bother me for days’ kinda sleep. Yet, at around 1:30 a.m. on a Saturday night, I woke up to the sounds of ‘Thwap…thwap…thwap’ somewhere in the house. I went to investigate, a baseball bat in hand just in case, and there was Jordy, practicing his slapshot in the basement. Now, keep in mind that he was 18-months old at the time, and was decked out in his diaper, skates and a soother, with his mini-stick in both hands. Somehow, he climbed out of his crib, turned on the lights in the basement, put on his skates and proceeded to work on his technique. So, Auntie Paula and Jordy had a few rounds of mini-sticks before I convinced him that it was time to get back to bed, so that this trooper could actually sleep before I had to feed the masses at 6:00 a.m. Now, I don’t believe that this was the first time that this happened in their household, and it was certainly not lost on me that even at such a young age, he was devoted to getting better at something he loved.


As he grew older, Jordy was always the first one out the door to practice on their backyard rink, and the last one in the house, despite those frigid -40C Manitoban winters. In the summer, when he wasn’t playing baseball with his buddies, he was either playing street hockey or working on his slapshot against their poor puck-marked fence with his friends and brother. They got so good at it that one slapshot careened through the net, ripped a hole through it and then took a chunk out of the fence behind it. The looks on their faces when they realized what had just happened made it even more difficult to keep a straight face…but then again, it wasn’t my hockey net, nor my fence, so I could afford to laugh…alot!

Over the years, Jordy kept at it…he trained on the ice with his teammates and his coaches…he worked with trainers…he made the most of dryland training opportunities…he played in whatever tournaments were made available to him and he worked his butt off to be a part of very competitive teams. He wasn’t always lucky, and he didn’t make every team that he tried out for, but it didn’t stop him from continuing to work at improving his craft. What it did do was push him to work harder, so that the next time, he would be successful. He did so by listening to his coaches…reflecting on his practice…and constantly trying things out so that he got better each time he stepped on the ice.

This work ethic lead him to a junior career in the WHL, which saw him play first in Calgary for the Hitmen…and then again for Prince Albert Raiders. Unfortunately, after only 9 games in his first month with this team last year, he was injured and sidelined for the remainder of the season. True to form, however, instead of looking at this as a major setback, he worked his butt off once again following his surgery, and came back stronger than ever for his final season in the WHL. And what a season it was! Sadly, it came to an end last night after a loss to Moose Jaw in their 7th game of this playoff series, and with that a certain level of sadness for us, as we loved cheering him on over the years from his Timbit stage to the Juniors. That said, his team did an exceptional job against the first-place team in the league, and when it was all over, he conducted himself with class.

Now, I could say that hockey was the be-all and end-all for Jordy, but that certainly isn’t the case. Hockey is his passion, without question. But his approach to working hard, taking risks with his learning and giving everything his all is something that he lives by in all areas of his life. He worked hard to maintain his grades in school, because his philosophy was that if you could do really well and be successful with your studies, why settle for mediocre? So, he studied…and reworked his essays…and listened to the advice that we gave him so that he could improve, despite how difficult some subjects may have been for him. And because of his perseverance, his tenacity and his unwavering belief that he could be successful, he has been just that. Every setback has been a learning experience, and every learning experience has taken him one step closer to where he wants to be.


I do not know what his future holds with this game that he loves so much, but I do know one of two things. He will keep working at it, because that is who he is. And secondly, and most importantly, I am so very proud of this boy…he has brought immense joy to our lives and taught us so much about what it means to keep fighting, to keep working at getting better and to believing that we can. This is what happens when you combine passion with perseverance, and if I could bottle his spirit and spread it around, I’d do it in a heartbeat! Keep on working at what you love doing, buddy, and I guarantee you that it will pay off!


My Roadtrip with PBL (Part 1)

Part 1 PBL

Kristin Nan recently shared her blog Beyond Flexible as part of IMMOOC Season 4, which resonated with me in a huge way. When I think about my learning experiences in elementary and high school, there isn’t much that stands out for me, other than a history project that involved researching my family tree (still love this memory) and an outdoor ed class in Grade 12. Both were hands-on, both involved experiential learning and both pushed me out of my comfort zone. Now, some of this lack of memory could be attributed to my age, but when I push my much younger colleagues to think of their extraordinary learning experiences as children, they can’t come up with much either. Unfortunately, we were all taught to learn through one experience, and for most of us, this meant compliance, something I aced growing up.

I want so much more for my students and staff than the blah, blah, blah. As we wrestle with our learning, I want those opportunities to be flexible in ways that meet our needs, and by our, I mean both our students and our staff members. The upside is that teachers every where are continuing to move away from the one-size-fits-all means of instruction in different ways.

In comes project-based learning, an idea that we are tackling with our middle years programming. In our infancy with this approach, this is going to be tricky, for any number of reasons. How do we ensure that our students are not only engaged in their projects, but that they are becoming critical thinkers, that they are expanding their learning, that they are becoming more resilient and that they are becoming problem-solvers? How do we ensure that they are developing their writing and reading skills and that they are proficient and engaged in math? How do we foster their creativity and questioning? How do we ensure that this is more about the learning than about the show? How do we support our teaching staff so that they feel challenged to do this work without feeling insanely overwhelmed? How do we meet them where they’re at so that they aren’t losing their minds?

As we work through these questions to ensure that PBL is not simply a pocket of innovation in our schools, here are the first steps that we’ve taken.

Do your research.

My first step as an administrator in this process…I read…a lot…about anything that I could get my hands on that spoke to PBL. Being involved in all four seasons of the IMMOOC definitely helped, as it gave me access to countless resources, in both human and written forms! If you aren’t already, follow John Spencer @spencerideas. His blogs are inspiring and really help me to see the bigger picture. Loved his latest blog, What can food trucks teach about project-based learning? (! The Buck Institute for Education also has great resources to support a start-up with PBL. You can follow them at @BIEpbl or connect with them at We have also purchased a number of books for our team as they go through this process as well. These include:

My take-away. There is no right answer. This work will be messy…it will be challenging…and teachers will need to be seriously fluid with what is going on in the classroom. Some of it will work beautifully, and some of it will suck exponentially. When that happens, be prepared to redirect…not once, but frequently. What I also learned is that I will need to be very creative with the schedule for this to work, so that our teachers can develop their ideas, at times individually and at other times, with their team members.

Observe…Observe…& Then Observe Again.

It is one thing to read about PBL in blogs, articles or books. It is a completely different ballgame when your team has the opportunity to see this work in action. We reached out to Shauna Cornwell, an Enrichment and Innovation Consultant with the Winnipeg School Division and were put in contact with Jon Paintin, a STEAM Support Teacher, who runs two STEAM classrooms (@jppaintin or @WSDSteam) at both Pinkham and Rockwood Schools (@steamrway). He accepted to meet with us, so a team headed off to Pinkham School for the morning to observe his Grades 4 to 6 students at work. There were design challenges, thought-provoking questions, collaboration and critical thinking integrated into math, science and languages. Their focus for the morning was to develop a water filtration system to address challenges brought about by a water boiling advisory that has been in effect in Shoal Lake for close to two decades. We took notes, asked questions and spoke with the students.

Our take-away. Relatively few behavior challenges…student engagement and excitement were very evident…curricular objectives were being met…8- to 11-year olds were thinking critically and blowing it out of the park with their iterations.

We then spent an afternoon at Nelson McIntyre Collegiate (NMC) (@nmcLRSD) in the Louis Riel School Division to observe two Grade 9 PBL classrooms. We first met with Charlene Smallwood, Vice-Principal (@crwsmallwood), to get her perspective on the program. She took the time to answer our questions and share their experience with us. Then, we spent time observing students in two different classrooms as they worked together and individually. The teachers responsible for this program collaborated to work on the same driving question, but approached it in two very different ways, one from a humanities perspective and the other from a science perspective. Follow Matt Fabbri @FabbriLRSD for more insight into the work that his students are doing. We then spent time with the teachers responsible for the Propel program (@propellrsd) for Grades 11 and 12 students, a more passion-based/interest-based initiative, and learned about the impact on high school students who could develop their passions, while meeting curricular objectives in certain subject areas.

Our take-away. 1. Even with the same driving question, each teacher doesn’t have to replicate exactly what his/her teaching partner is doing. 2. Thanks to Charlene’s insights, we learned that we don’t need to launch the program in one fell swoop. We can and should work at it progressively, so that we take the time to develop our ideas, without burning out. 3. The students are engaged in the process and empowered throughout it.


With all this information coming at us, taking time to reflect and to ask questions is essential. Following our last school observation at NMC, our team of teachers and administrators met to discuss what we had seen, learned and felt about our experiences. This led to more questions and concerns from all team members, as we unpacked what had taken place. As we discussed, we highlighted areas that we need to work on, further information that we need to gather and collaborative processes that we need to work through to address those areas of concerns.

My take-away. 1. Staff voices are essential to ensure that their concerns are heard and that they are part of the process. 2. Not everyone is going to be at the same starting point, and that’s okay. 3. We will need to work together to support each other, in order to make this happen. 4. Reflection and sharing is a key component to this process, for students and teachers alike!

Our Spring Break ends tomorrow, and as of Monday, we will be back at it. I will keep you posted on the next leg of our journey!

Student Voice = Awesomeness

Student Voice

As I follow the news about the ‘March for Our Lives’ campaign, I can’t help but be impressed with these teenagers’ strength and courage, although I am not in the least bit surprised. This reminds me of my experiences as a teacher/administrator working in a high school and the reactions of those around me when I told them what I did for a living. The comments varied over the years, but the general gist of their reactions fell into the category of, “Are you insane?” They couldn’t wrap their heads around the fact that I love what I do. I am guessing this had a lot to do with their own angst with their teenage children, as the questions that followed were fairly common, such as “How can you handle the ‘disrespect…rudeness…laziness…mood swings’?” Absolutely, teens will push us…I should know, as I was one of them…but…and here’s the important piece…if we give them a voice, hmmmm, imagine the awesomeness! Just look at the global movement that these young people in Florida have started.

Now, working in an elementary school for the past three years, a whole new world to me, I can say the same thing. Whether they are teens or little ones, the work is admittedly hard…this is definitely not a career path for the faint of heart. That said, these students’ needs are similar, despite their age differences…and if they are given a voice, and an opportunity to act, our world becomes a much better and brighter place.

These are some of the experiences that I have had in only the past 6 months with many students who have wanted to make a difference.

Socktober. One student in a Grade 3/4 class had been bothered by the homeless people that he saw on the streets, and asked for permission to start up a campaign to collect socks for Siloam Mission. His goal was to collect 500 pairs of socks. With the help of his class, and his teacher who incorporated this fundraiser into their classroom learning to support this boy, he collected close to 1,300 pairs. He has asked to start up April Showers to round up toiletries for the same organization. His teacher will again incorporate this into their learning, so I am hoping that his campaign is another success.

Project Recycled Runway. Our Grade 6 students collected garbage in and around our community in the Fall, gathering data as they went along. They wrote letters to the local politicians, school board members and business owners to share their findings and to offer solutions to help curb the problem. When these businesses and politicians responded, they went further with their research on the different materials found during their clean-up, and used recycled materials to make clothing items. It was amazing! They then presented their findings and their newly-made ensembles to their parents and our school community, with informational videos created using Adobe Spark, as a fashion show. The parents weren’t sure what to expect with this evening, but were blown away by the students’ professionalism, and their knowledge on the subject. Using their voices, these 11- and 12-year olds were able to impact a larger community to make changes.

EQAM. An acronym for Élèves qui aident le monde or Students Helping our World, these Grade 5 students have come together over the past three years to raise funds and awareness for different organizations in Winnipeg. They have organized bake sales, school dances, popcorn sales and awareness campaigns to support organizations such as Siloam Mission, Winnipeg Harvest, RaY, Take Pride Winnipeg, CancerCare Manitoba, and the list goes on. Most recently, their popcorn sale raised money for two former students who lost their mother in a fire over the holidays. Their passion for our community is inspiring!

Dance Club. Two Grade 7 students wanted to start up a dance club with students in Grades 5 to 8…so they did. 25 students between the ages of 10 and 14 come together twice a school cycle under their leadership to practice their dance numbers in preparation for different performances. It gives them an avenue to express themselves and to think outside the box. This is extraordinary!

During my time spent in high schools, many students did more of the same, whether in their environmental or social justice groups. When passionate about a cause, these teenagers organized fundraisers, and informational evenings for our communities. Add this to their food drives, the sleepless nights in support of homeless shelters, the community information evenings focusing on diversity…or trauma…or parenting…or drug use, the community dinners for Thanksgiving, and fashion shows to inspire students’ creativity and well, you get the idea. One Leadership group supported Breast Cancer Awareness with a street hockey tournament, as this team was made up of hockey players, while one of their teammates’ mothers was undergoing treatment at the time. They combined their passion for a sport with a cause that they were passionate about, and through their campaigning, they did an extraordinary job of involving the school community, raising awareness and collecting funds for research. Add that to their immense pride in themselves when they were able to present a cheque to the National Breast Cancer Awareness Foundation through our local hospital. Twelve years later, this student’s mother is still cancer-free.

My whole point in all this is that whether your child is 8, 12 or 17, if given a voice and an opportunity to try something and to take risks with their learning in an authentic, relevant way, I can guarantee you that these children will stand up, they will speak up, they will act and they will be heard. This is true whether they are teens, pre-teens or primary school-aged children and is something that I have experienced over and over again throughout my career! And the beauty in all this is that I am witness to their extraordinariness each and every day! This is why I love my job!


Fostering a Culture of Learning (Part 2)

Slide1Feedback following our DIY Bingo PD

What went well?

Overwhelmingly, staff loved this approach. It’s flexible, allows for a variety of choice, provides authentic opportunities for collaboration, and gives them a chance to share their expertise with others. Above all, it permitted them to develop professionally, based on their strengths, needs, and interests.

What needs work?

The timing! As we just learned about it, I really wanted to try it out (kinda like a kid in a candy shop)! Perhaps right after report card writing wasn’t the best time! Teachers prefer to work on their personal bingos at a less hectic time, so that they don’t feel as overwhelmed. Others would also have liked a longer window of time to work on these activities, rather than the week given.

Solution. Distribute the bingos in late September/early October, and again throughout the year. I’m not sure about the time frame mentioned in Jennifer’s post, but some suggested two weeks to a month to get more out of the process.


Voice! Two suggestions: Ask the staff for ideas on what to include on the Bingo card. Offer a ‘free choice’ to allow them time to work on something of the ‘Genius Hour’ variety. Definitely doable!

Time for collaboration with teams. One suggestion: Schedule a specific time into the day for collaboration with grade level teams. As this approach was very personalized, teams were not always able to work with their colleagues, based on people’s availability. Also doable!

On a personal level, I love this approach. But, I also understand that it needs some minor tweaking to make it even more effective for our staff members. For a first time, though, it went really well!



Fostering a Culture of Learning (Part #1)


Looking for innovative ways to offer personalized PD opportunities to foster a culture of learning, we went with a DIY PD Bingo for our latest PD day, based on Jennifer Gonzalez’ Cult of Pedagogy post. Bingo cards were developed with choices based on school goals and initiatives, focussing on ideas that are relevant to the work that we are currently doing. A more condensed version was developed for our educational assistants.

The DIY PD Bingo card was sent out to staff a week prior to the PD event, giving everybody time to start working on ideas that appealed to them. For a Bingo, they could complete an ‘X’, a ‘T’ or a box of any 9 squares. Two stipulations: At least 50% of the work completed had to be done in collaboration with others and they were required to attend a minimum of two of the sessions offered.


When the day came, following a pancake breakfast, staff members met to plan their day, and organized meeting times, based on the schedule provided for the day.

Our in-house experts facilitated sessions on topics pertinent to our own PD or interests, such as Optimal Learning Model, TylerSIS parent portal and assessment tools, AdobeSpark and FlipGrid, trauma in children, MyBluePrint, Mindfulness and physical wellness. Each block ran for a maximum of 45 minutes, with no two sessions offered at the same time, allowing presenters to participate in other workshops as well.

Throughout the day, staff attended sessions, collaborated with colleagues, and worked individually on their specific projects, based on their flexible schedules. Staff members then returned to the library at the end of the day to reflect on their learning and provide feedback to our Admin team about this approach and ways in which we could improve on it the next time.