It’s Their Education. Not Mine.


 Zippo photo credit: liber via photopin cc

As the months have ticked by and my students have slowly grown into the big shoes that Grade 4 holds I have noticed something interesting happening in my classroom. My students absolutely love teaching each other. Now I know this is nothing new but we are currently experiencing a major shift in my room.

It all started earlier this year when one of my students came to me asking when we would be studying the Canadian government. You see, he had heard via the grapevine that it was something that Grade four’s always learned and he couldn’t wait to get started. I let him know that we would be exploring the government in January – February and thought that’s where the matter would end. Well, I was wrong. Almost on a weekly basis after that I was asked when we would be starting and why we couldn’t start sooner. Clearly I had a Canadian government aficionado on my hands.

One day as I was peppered with more questions about what we would be studying I had an idea: would he want to kick off our unit with a presentation? I posed the suggestion to him and he jumped on board but before he started he had two questions for me: 1) What should he do his presentation on? 2) What were we ‘supposed’ to  cover? I pulled out my curriculum document and said: “You have free rein on what you want to present on and here are the topics we are ‘supposed’ to cover. He asked if he could add in extra topics: the privy council, how supreme court judges are nominated and the history of the various positions within parliament. Sure, why not? If it interested him I said and it is within the big topic he could go for it! With a route to follow and a spark of inspiration off he went ready to do his research!

The weeks ticked by and I watched him diligently research and tinker with his presentation. Every now and then I was asked if I could look over his work and perhaps give him another look at the curriculum document. As things starting winding down to winter break I let him know it would be time to present in January once we got back from our break. I could see the excitement and nervousness building. I too was excited to see how this would all pan out.

When the day arrived and as he walked up to the front of the room we both took a deep breath. As he worked through is presentation, I was blown away. The depth and level of research was incredible. Best of all, he spoke at the level of his peers and in terms they would understand. (He even had a full bibliography. Something I had worked hard on with them earlier this year. Yay!) As he wrapped up his peers cheered and clapped. They asked insightful and thoughtful questions. This was the best kick off I could have asked for.


Fast forward a few weeks and another member of my class approached me. He was wondering when we would be studying rocks and minerals and, if he could do the same as his classmate and kick off our unit for us. Cue a repeat of the same process: careful preparation, curriculum consultation and another presentation that blew me us of the water.


These two presentations have sparked something in my students. They now know that if they would like to teach each other something they are most welcome to. Since then we have had more presentations on rocks and minerals, birthstones,  star formation, sea life and one of the most in-depth video game analysis I’ve seen. And, just because they can and know how, a group of boys are building a website all about rocks and minerals.

Sea life

Now as I sit thinking about the events of the first few months I have begun to realize something. Yes, I have incredible students. And yes they love learning. But like every single student in our classrooms it is their education and not ours. This is their schooling experience and the learning journey of their lives. They deserve to explore their curiosity and follow their interests. With the right tools, freedoms, guidance and empowerment they are the most incredible resource in our room. They can teach each other anything and with me as their guide, I can help make it happen.



Getting Creative: Canadian Capitals Overview

This is just a short video I created this past November to help my fourth grade class remember and visualize where the Canadian capitals are. I love the song, it’s by Michael  Mitchell and i’ts called Canada in my pocket  on his Canada is for kids CD.

When the students found out I created it they immediately had 1000 questions as to how many hits the video got, how I produced it, where I got the ideas etc. All pretty great questions to get them thinking! I will definitely keep tinkering around with my iMovie and see what I can come up with for the upcoming practicum block!

(Incase you are wondering, I emailed and asked for permission to use the music, I got it for the video and to post on the blog. The video is unlisted on Youtube and only visible via the link.)

Update: Letting Imaginations Go Free

Last week I blogged about the social studies projects that had been undertaken by my students in my grade four practicum classroom. The Hour of Wonder projects had taken on a life of their own and despite the title had simply not taken one hour! Needless to say once the various projects were completed the results were amazing!

What amazed me through this whole endeavor into letting the students choose what they wanted to learn, was the diversity in the topics chosen. One group of students were interested in the Yukon and the politics behind the decision of its formation. Although the information was a bit difficult to gather their project grew from a simple question of why it formed into a study all about the Yukon its symbols, demographics and interesting points of information. Another student chose to study what animals survived the ice age and what exactly an ice age was.  Yet another group decided a study of Inuit culture was in order and proceeded to do an in depth study of their language, traditions and ways of life. The list goes on, topics included: the Northern lights, various arctic animals, Inuktitut and a Lego model of the arctic landscape.

At the beginning of this week the students were bursting with excitement to start presenting what they had learnt! One by one each group came up and spoke about what they had learnt along their research journey. A whole class share provides students with a relevant audience and an opportunity to feel successful. Each and every student came up and presented, and you could just see the pride in their faces as they did so!

One of the most important and meaningful parts of my assessment of the projects was the students self-reflections on their learning. In addition to having the rubric visible to each student during the project. At the end they were asked to think about their learning process during the project and about what worked and what didn’t work for them.

The questions were:

  • What did you like about this project?
  • Did you learn anything new through this project?
  • What did you not like about the project?
  • What would you change about the project if you did it again?

Self-reflection brings the learning process full circle for the students. They start at what they wanted to know and look back on what they learnt. It also gives them an opportunity to think about their learning.

As a new teacher the self-reflection feedback is invaluable to me. It gives me further insight into the success of the Hour of Wonder project framework and the needs of students. It gives me feedback on what worked well and what I should change when I use this framework again.

As I look back on the whole process of the wonder hour projects. I definitely think I will be using the idea again in my classroom. There may be a few tweaks depending on the group of students I am with at that time but to me  the opportunity to drive ones own learning gives students that little extra motivation they need to push their understandings and learning. In addition to broadening student content knowledge and upping student engagement it develops a number of other important skills including group work, collaboration, research, writing and artistic skills. (To name a few!) The possibilities are endless and the learning is amazing!
Memento #2
C.C. By RorschachPixels

Letting Imaginations Go Free

A post from Saturday that wasn’t published until now…

For the past week and a bit we had been studying Nunavut by exploring the geography, language and Inuit legends. As I was teaching one of the last lessons on the unit I got the clearest sign a teacher can get that it is time to finish things up. A conscientious student turned to me and said “Miss Bertram, when will we be done this unit? And are we going to do anything to wrap it up like a project? “.  That small comment instantly communicated to me that this wasn’t fun for them anymore and the students were beginning to become disengaged.

Luckily the night before I had read a post entitled an “Hour of Wonder”  by  Mrs Ripp. The post describes how she gave her fourth grade class one hour to research anything that they were wondering about in the unit they had just finished studying. They were to produce a product at the end of the hour and had to present about what they had learnt at the next class. It was just the inspiration my little social studies unit needed!

With a little tweaking to the original project idea I introduced our version of “Hour of Wonder” to the students.

  • Choice of topic  The choice of topic was left open as long as it clearly related to Canada’s North or the Arctic. I made it clear open meant open: science, math, anthropology, geography, political structure were all acceptable. Oh yes, choice left the kids googly eyed but variety is the spice of life and we sure have that going in the choices of topics!
  • Product produced This was also left open to students but it had to show their learning. I was yet again met by stunned looks but they caught on very quickly.  It seems most groups are doing posters as this is something they have not yet had the opportunity to do this year but some are also doing models and dioramas.
  • Grouping Initially this was going to be an individual endevour but after a number of requests to work in groups the students were given the choice to partner up. Of course the three most energetic, most likely to get into trouble, boys requested to work together. I placed my trust in them and they have amazed me with their work! (Just goes to show never underestimate students)
  • Rubric. The students were given a rubric to guide them through their projects and what my expectations were. The focus of the rubric is topic selection and relation to Canada’s North, presentation of final product (i.e. neatness), research and self-reflection. The criteria are purposefully broad in nature as the goal is for them to use it as a guide rather than a step by step road map for what to do.  Perhaps the most important part of the assessment piece for me is the self-reflection part. It gives me feedback on the project and what the students did and did not like. But more importantly it gives students to look back on what they did and what they found easy or difficult.

We started off with a one period brainstorming session. I went to the local library and collected all the books I could on various topics to do with Canada’s North and gave them to the kids to look through and find inspiration.  They were asked to come up with a topic of interest to them and to start thinking of what they wanted to produce at the end of the project. They were asked to brainstorm questions they wanted to attempt to answer during their research.  My collaborating teacher suggested we make booklets where they could store all their information. It also acts as a nice place to put the rubric to allow students to easily refer back to! ( At a later date I will post a picture of the ingenious booklet she came up with!)

After the brainstorming session they could not wait to get started on the research. They were positively buzzing! Every morning when the students walked in I was asked “Are we working on social studies today?”. What a wonderful feeling!

We had three sessions of research, followed by one  session where students have started producing their products. I was sick yesterday so I hope that when I arrive on Monday the students will be finished and ready to present at some point in the week!