Friday, 20 December 2013

Map Mystery

Social Studies, Visual Arts & Language – Mystery Map Activity in Grade 2

Our class has explored the local school community through neighbourhood walks, with Google Earth and with printed maps. Since many of my students enjoy hands-on experiences & needed some extra practice with understanding and using cardinal directions, we built our own neighbourhood using the Create a Town printables.

I printed the map in colour and assembled it at home and then the students put their designer touches on each building by colouring and constructing their own structure for the community. We looked at local buildings made of bricks, concrete or siding as well as roofing materials and how we could use line, shape, colour and texture to make them look realistic. Some students added chimneys to their homes as well.

Once all of the buildings were in place on the map, I asked students to compare it to the community around the school and to think about what was missing.  Students decided that we needed a Fire Station, a hockey rink, swimming pool, and high school. The class was divided into 4 groups and each group had to come up with the best place for 1 of the missing buildings and then explain to the rest of us why this was the best spot.

Next up was the Map Mystery which would give students the opportunity to practice using cardinal directions, listening, speaking and writing. I told a story about buried pirate treasure, then read my Map Mystery instructions (students could follow along on their own copy as well).  The instructions used co-ordinates and cardinal directions to provide directions from one place to another. Some students were able to visualize the steps, while others moved an eraser around to represent a person walking in our 3D community. When students arrived at the mystery destination, they lifted up the building to find a red cardboard X.

We co-created success criteria for a Map Mystery story and directions. Students assessed my story and directions and provided me with feedback on how I could have made my story more interesting and my directions more clearly.

Then it was their turn to create a Map Mystery and story. Many students wanted to make it difficult for their partner to solve but they didn’t realize that the more difficult the mystery, the more writing and practicing they would be doing, which was ok by me. Some students used an X and worked with a partner and/or sentence frames, while others worked individually to create a different paper prop to hide under the secret building for a unique mystery story (such as a lost dog, stolen money or a location giving away free video games). Students wrote directions themselves and others dictated their directions to me while I scribed for them. Finally, they read their story and directions to a peer who had to solve the mystery and find the item. If they didn’t find the correct building & solve the mystery, the pair of students worked together to fix up the directions OR discussed where they might have taken a wrong turn.

Our local community looks a lot like the Create a Town community. Next, we will be looking at different houses around the world and comparing them to ours. One resource that we will use is Wonderful Houses Around the World by Yoshio Komatsu. 

FYI, the new Social Studies curriculum document has a nice blurb about spatial literacy on page 24 and a Continuum of Map, Globe and Graphing Skills in Appendix C beginning on page 191.

I would definitely do the Map Mystery again. There were many opportunities to integrate technology, so I’m hoping it will be even better next year when we have school iPads.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

The Things Kids Say

Here are a few things that my students said this week that made me smile or made me laugh.

"This might be the best book I ever read. Can I read you my favourite part?"

Me: "What does this mean?"
Student: "It means that the elves make everything."

"Can we stay in for recess and work on our Map Mystery?"

"Mrs. Axiak, just keep trying until you catch some rhythm."

"Your face is so funny when you try to dance."

Despite my funny face, I'm going to keep on trying to catch some rhythm :)

Saturday, 14 December 2013

The 6 Cs Project - Communication

The 6 C's of 21st Century Teaching & Learning - Week 3 - Communication

This week Tina Zita, Matthew Oldridge, Jason Richea, Magdalena Front and I shared our thoughts and each came up with a 6-word definition for Communication.

Matthew Oldridge says: Communication: making your voice heard

Jason Richea says: Communication: Capturing the Attention of the Masses

Tina Zita says: Communication: Clear message, deep toolbox, understanding audience

Magdalena Front says: Conveying relevant messages that inspire others

Debbie Axiak says: Giving and/or receiving information

If you are interested in the thinking behind these definitions, check out each of our comments below.

Week 3: Communication


Communication: Giving and/or receiving information

A beautiful sunset, a Van Gogh painting or a Bach concerto are forms of one-way communication. A message is delivered to the receiver. It used to be that advertisers, news channels and teachers were one-way communicators who delivered their message to their audience. In most areas of our lives now, there are fewer one-way communications. In two-way communication, the receiver can respond to the sender. We can email the news station or send a Tweet to an advertiser to voice our opinions about their messages. As teachers, we are no longer ‘pouring knowledge into empty vessels’ - we are using two-way communication to understand what students already know, what they are interested in, what they don’t like, etc. in order to build relationships that will improve teaching and learning.

Technology enhances our ability to communicate effectively. If I can’t write, I can use voice-to-text software. If I don’t like speaking in public, I can record a video ahead of time. If my family lives far away, I can Skype with them to hear their voices and see their faces. We no longer have to wait for news reports because we can see footage and hear messages about world events as they happen via social media. This ability to instantly communicate with people all over the globe has many benefits but also has the potential for problems.
Whether it is through body language, art, speaking, or the written word we are communicating. A clearly stated message is one goal we all hope for when we communicate, and for many of us, we also hope that our communications lead to conversations and to learning something new.


I have learned a lot about communication in the  past number of months. Personally, I can now honestly say I can divide my career into BTE/TE (Before the Twitter Era/Twitter Era). Most of the thoughts I have about the TE probably belong in the collaboration post, but  I have never communicated more effectively than I have recently, but for that to happen, I needed to learn a new text form-the 140 character tweet.

When I think of 21st century learning, tweets may be just one of many forms of communication our students will need to learn. Others could be emails, text messages, posting to YouTube channels, chatting while  playing Minecraft-the list goes on. Clearly, in the classroom, it's not enough to fall back on our old lists of "text forms".  New types of texts are being created everyday.  Yesterday's Facebook status update is today's SnapChat, is tomorrow's...? We can't possibly teach them all.

The question remains, how will we teach our students to communicate in this world we live in? What matters the most about communication in the 21st century?

Whether the mode of communication is writing or speaking, I think authenticity and authority of voice is probably the most important thing.  Can you reach your audience, and effectively and persuasively communicate your message? Can you make a personal connection?  Can your tweet (blog post, essay, speech, video, etc.) stand out from all the rest of them?  Can you argue succinctly and coherently from a point of view?

Voice is what matters, regardless of the type of spoken or written text forms we teach our students.  In that sense, communicating in the 21st century is not so different from the types of communication that came before.

Communication: making your voice heard.

Jason Richea @jrichea

Communication, like each of the other 6 C’s, receives a lot of dialogue & discussion amongst academic professionals. We often hear in our staff rooms complaints regarding the delivery of messages by our students through their written and oral work. I find myself in these discussions quite a bit, and am constantly reminded at all the different ways messages are communicated.

These ways may have never been so numerous than they are now. And these messages conveyed in all sorts of different languages - and I’m not talking about foreign languages, but the modifications we’ve made to English/other native languages (U know? lol). I think this is a challenge for many teachers to accept and acknowledge that it’s not about the spelling, but about the message. That’s what communication is really about, is it not? Believe me, I’m not about to say that spelling & grammar does not matter; but does it matter as much as it once did?

In a world where we are bombarded by hundreds of messages each minute, it’s the message that stands out, which receives our attention. When we are in our classrooms, it’s the message that provokes thought, dialogue, discussion, critique, and our collective attention that is effective communication. Whether this is lengthy verbal conversation, or a brief 140 character message conveyed in a Twitter chat, it doesn’t really matter, so long as the results are what was originally intended.

In the 21st century, it is so important that we teach our students how to access the media necessary to convey their message. How to convey their message in a way that grabs others attention. And how to use the conventions of the chosen media to do this effectively.  We live in a world now where social media is King, and the communication that we receive revolves around this media. As Clay Shirky once said, “The Internet is the first medium in history that has native support for groups and conversation at the same time. The Internet gives us the many-to-many pattern. For the first time, media is natively good at supporting these kinds of conversations.”

Therefore, unlike definitions of the past, where communication is all about imparting or exchanging information between a few, 21st century communication is all about conveying your message in a way that captures the attention of hundreds (or thousands if you are Taylor Swift). Because if you want to stand out in today’s age, and have your voice heard, you are going to have to scream it from the top of the Twitter/Snapchat/YouTube/Facebook/Tumblr/etc.  mountain.

Communication = Capturing the Attention of the Masses

My Post on Communication @tina_zita

Communication sometimes feels so natural that we forget how often we are sharing messages with others in our day to day interactions. From when we wake up to when we go to bed we are tweeting, emailing, chatting, discussing, singing, dancing (well for me the last two are just in my car). If we want to help students become effective communicators in a digital world, we first need to be able to articulate what makes an effective communicator.

Here’s my stab at it.

Effective communicators have a clear message in mind. I don’t mean being eloquent. There are some that can string words together in mesmerizing sentences that have no core message. Effective communicators know what they are trying to get across. They have a clear message in mind. Their voice shines through. This also means that effective communicators know they have something to add to the conversation. No one’s voice is unimportant.

Effective communicators know that they have a toolbox of communication tools and that text is just one of them. Whether I know it or not, through the way I stand, my body language, and facial expressions  I’m participating in the conversation. In a multi-modal world, more and more of our communication tools have transformed past plain text or speech. To be an effective communicator we have to pack our toolbox full of a variety of tools with a variety of mediums. Effective communicators also understand which tools they communicate best with and how to switch between tools which leads us to the following.

Effective communicators understand their audience and are able to adapt accordingly. Firstly, if effective communicators what to understand their audience they have to listen and truly invest in understanding the other side. Secondly, they need to adapt their message to their audience. Communicating with my friend and communicating with my boss require my message to be finely tuned. Finally, they have to change their tools accordingly. A song may be an amazing form of communication when sharing an inspiring message but it may not be the best tool if I am applying for a job. Preparing to be effective communicators in the 21st century requires code switching and critical thought. Our message stays the same but how and when we communicate that message needs to transform between platforms, events, individuals.

If I had one wish it would be for learners in our care to understand they have a message to share, many ways they can share it and to critically make choices on how best to do that each day with the audiences around them.

Communication: clear message, deep toolbox, understanding audience.

Communication:  Conveying relevant messages that inspire others by @techmagfront

The most effective  communicators are able not only to convey their message, but also their passion about the subject, which in turn moves others to think, reflect, or take action.  The way that they convey that message can take on many forms:  spoken word,  song,  poem, video, poster, photograph, painting, etc.  No matter what form the communication takes, it is ineffective unless it inspires others to care.  Also, in order for others to care about the message, it needs to be conveyed in a way that will be relevant to the audience - as teachers, we know that better than anyone.  Think of the greatest communicators of our century:  Martin Luther King, Jr, Ronald Regan, Pope John Paul II, Steve Jobs - none of them has ever left their audiences indifferent to their message.  Think of a great book, movie, song, or painting, inspiring long and heated discussions. Bottom line, good communication never 'falls on deaf ears' and a great communicator’s voice cannot be ignored.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

"This is Boring!"

"This is Boring!!!!"

I didn't expect to hear “This is boring!” shouted this week by a student during my Read Aloud of the novel Pokémon: Attack of the Prehistoric Pokémon. I’d chosen it because 80% of my students are boys and they talk about Pokémon and bring their Pokémon cards to school.

I’d planned to follow up by giving students a Pokémon card and have them explain OR find out from someone in the class how to read a Pokémon card, why one card was better than another and how to play the trading card game.  I thought that they would like to create their own Pokémon monster and a trading card for that monster. 

We would be integrating math (Number Sense and Measurement), reading, writing, critical thinking (which card is better and why), visual arts, and hands-on learning through what I thought was an engaging topic.

A brief flash of defensiveness and disbelief at the rudeness of the comment and its delivery were quickly replaced by the memory of another “this is boring!” comment from a usually quiet student last week during a bird watching walk through the woods behind the school.

I had a conversation on the bird walk with the student who seemed more upset and on the verge of tears rather than bored. After some questioning, I found out that the student had expected the birds to come and land on his outstretched hand like he’d seen on television. He was frustrated that his expectations were much different from reality.

So when I heard the comment during the Pokémon Read Aloud, I asked “Why do you think this is boring?” He didn’t have a ready answer. A class vote decided that we would continue with the book, but I later met with the bored student to find out what he was really feeling. I knew that self-regulation was an issue, after all he had shouted out in an angry voice and disrupted the Read Aloud even though we have been over this many times. The first thing that he said when we had our talk was that the book “has too many words” and then he said he would rather watch the Pokemon t.v. show than listen to a “stupid book”. I explained that since he had a great imagination, he should try to use the visualization strategy we have used in class. Together, we came up with a plan to give everyone the choice to draw while they listen to the next chapters. We also discussed more appropriate ways to voice his opinions and ideas.

Yes, sometimes students are bored, but I've heard “I’m bored!” enough now to know that many times my seven-year-old students aren’t bored, but they don’t have the language or the courage to say what they really mean. Often what they mean is “I’m frustrated”. Teachers don’t just teach students to read, to help them build vocabulary and model fluency through Read Alouds – we also help them gain the skills to understand their own feelings, to express themselves appropriately, to problem solve effectively, to self-regulate, and to be responsible and respectful members of our classroom community. 

Sunday, 1 December 2013

The 6 C's Project - Critical Thinking

The 6 C's of 21st Century Teaching and Learning Project
Week 2 - Critical Thinking

Tina Zita, Matthew Oldridge, Jason Richea and I are thinking about the 6 C's and coming up with a definition  for each C that is 6 words or less. Here are the definitions that we each came up with this week for Critical Thinking.

Jason Richea - Critical Thinking = Why we Do What we Do

Matthew Oldridge - Critical Thinking = Making sound judgements

Debbie Axiak - Critical Thinking = not accepting things at face value

Tina Zita - Critical Thinking = asking questions and responding.

Please follow my colleagues on Twitter & check out their blogs. It would be great if you would join the conversation :)

Jason Richea - @jrichea -
Matthew Oldridge - @matthewoldridge -
Tina Zita - @tina_zita -

Yonnette Dey is a PDSB VP and was my Course Director at York University's Faculty of Education - Urban Diversity Program. She has taught me so much about critical thinking - here is her definition via Twitter

Here is some of the thinking that led to our definitions:

Debbie Axiak @Debbie Axiak

Critical Thinking - not accepting things at face value

I was raised in a home where children were supposed to be seen and not heard, during a time when good little girls didn’t ask questions or disagree with adults. I developed the ability to be critical, but didn’t develop good critical thinking skills. My husband on the other hand seems to naturally be a critical thinker. He analyzes every angle, digs deeper by asking great questions, uses logic more often than gut feeling, and is open minded enough to change his original position after weighing all of the facts.

I began to develop a better capacity for critical thinking when I became a parent and later went to university and took a Logic / Philosophy course which was a huge eye & mind opener. At York University’s Urban Diversity Teacher Education Program, where the focus was on Social Justice, Equity & Diversity, I learned about the work of Paulo Freire - Critical Literacy & Critical Pedagogy - about  ‘learning to read the world’ and further developed my Critical Thinking skills.

I've still got a way to go, but along the way I’m helping students by teaching them to dig deeper and ask better questions, to disagree in an agreeable way, and to value themselves by gathering and analyzing evidence so that they can make good decisions.

Matthew Oldridge

I was first challenged on my conception of critical thinking as part of a module in a Western Master’s course.  Coming up with a workable definition was a challenge.  The education system uses jargon as a shield against the world.  We insist on overcomplicated frameworks and definitions that render concepts amorphous, and possibly strip them of their meaning. Jargon obscures more than it reveals.

Critical thinking is a case in point. We see and hear it peppered throughout gifted IEPs, or held up as some elusive and “out there” goal, that only some of us will reach, or a final higher state of being (a higher being who has “higher order thinking skills”).  We know it when we see it or hear it, but we can’t really explain WHAT IT IS.

Perhaps none of us believe in any kind of fixed mindset thinking any more. I still believe we need the most inclusive and equitable definition of critical thinking we can get, one that all students can use.  So I offer you:  making sound judgements.  

If I had to add two more words, I would say making sound judgements about texts (if we talk about “reading the world”, as my colleague Debbie does).  Learning how to think critically then, is using our information, attitudes, thoughts, and feelings to make the best possible judgement we can, in any given situation.  

Jason Richea @jrichea

I have only recently begun to consider what critical thinking really means, and have thus shifted my focus on trying to develop this in my students. Up until this point I never really gave it much scrutiny; as I focused on the Knowledge component of students’ learning.  I wanted to ensure students ‘knew’ content and could tell me the terms, concepts, and theories. I wanted students to regurgitate studied information and demonstrate to me that they could remember key curriculum components. Why? Well this was what I was taught to be ‘learning’. Only to realize this to be a very erroneous assumption of learning.

I was always a curious child growing up - yes that annoying child who constantly asked the ‘Why’ about everything. I wanted to figure out how things work, tearing apart old radios and anything else that could be taken apart to understand the inner workings of things (I never figured it out, I just liked the destruction I think). As well, my elementary teachers couldn’t tell me to do things, without providing a reason first; and if I didn’t like their reasoning, I surely wasn’t about to do what they told me (which more often than not, provided me with a reason to visit the principals office on more than one occasion). However, I lost this somewhere. Somewhere along the way, I stopped asking those questions, and just did what I needed to get by. I believe this is an unfortunate part of our education system; or has traditionally been an unfortunate part. However, I believe the focus is now shifting dramatically away from a concentration on Knowledge, to a much greater focus on a true demonstration of learning.

Critical thinking is a much more accurate definition of learning really. The ability to describe ‘Why’ things happen, ‘How’ things happen, and the ‘Impacts’ of world happenings. In the ‘AG’ era (After Google), any student can search terms, concepts, and theories, and define them using their digital devices; but it’s much more difficult for a student to ‘Google’ the ‘How’, ‘Why’, and ‘Impacts’ of world happenings. This is why Critical Thinking is so crucially important.

When students are able to critically think, they are able to truly learn about issues, events, concepts, theories, and people from around the world. When students critically think about their own learning, they begin to realize why they perform such actions, create such assessments, and present in such ways. They begin to realize what THEY DO has an impact on the World around them. That to me, is true learning.
Critical Thinking = Why we Do What we Do

 Tina Zita @Tina_Zita

When we started this journey of exploring the 6Cs Critical Thinking seemed like the easy post till I had to write it. How do you get critical thinking into 6 words? What is critical thinking to begin with? As I walked past a Critical Literacy poster this week I was caught off guard. That couldn’t be critical thinking. It was more than just critical literacy (although it requires critical thought), it was bigger than an 11x17 sheet and needed to extended into every part of our day.

I think at it’s core critical thinking is questioning:

  • Questioning validity
  • Questioning the bias
  • Questioning the motive
  • Questioning the purpose
  • Questioning the process
  • Questioning the given
  • Questioning other possibilities

I think if our learners are to be critically literate they can’t just ask the questions but must also take action. The Kids React to series on youtube demonstrates that kids do this naturally (check out Kids React to Controversial Cheerios Commercial) even at a young age. Maybe I need to be less annoyed when I hear the constant WHY questions from my nephews and niece. We have to give our learners the opportunity to question in a safe environment.

In preparing our learners for the future, it is paramount that they can see past the obvious, that they don’t just accept what they hear or view, but use that critical lense when observing.  

Critical thinking: asking questions and responding.

Monday, 25 November 2013

The 6 C's Project - Creativity

About a week ago Tina_Zita & @MatthewOldridge asked the question:

"How do we measure creativity,
critical thinking, communication, or any of the 6 C's of 21st Century Learning
without a clear understanding of what we are hoping to
Jason Richea and I decided to join Tina and Matthew in taking on the task of defining the 6 C's, beginning with creativity. You can read all of our original input here. The next step was coming up with a 6 word definition.
My assessment hat seemed to be glued on. I kept coming up with success criteria for a creative product. Then, I got stuck on the 6 word limit. While blow drying my hair this morning I wondered if I could get around the 6 word limit by using symbols - and I pictured something. When I got to school I tried to create it  - ahhh, no Photoshop! So I quickly drew this (those are hands holding a brain, which represents imagination).
  I painted at recess. 

At the Tim Horton's drive thru at lunch I finally came up with my 6 word definition and went back to school to put this together.

Driving home, I wasn't satisfied. The hands were too stagnant - they should be transforming something! (and now I see that I wrote trasnforming - oops). Even though I liked that it was a visual representation & used symbols, my definition really called for some movement. I got the Play-Doh out and borrowed my husband's hands and filmed a quick Vine. Wasn't happy with it. So we tried something else and experienced audio problems. Finally, we came up with this:

It is still not exactly what I wanted, but it makes me laugh.

Creativity: transforming imagination into new, relevant products.

Please visit:

Jason Richea's blog at and follow him on Twitter @jrichea

Tina Zita's blog at and follow her on Twitter @tina_zita

and follow Matthew Oldridge @MatthewOldridge

Join the conversation & let us know how you define CREATIVITY and the 5 other C's

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Bullying, Violence, Pictures Books - Oh My!

This week our school is doing several activities for Bullying Prevention and Awareness Month.

In class today, I read I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU15_.jpg

I thought it would be great because I've been hearing a lot of 'somebody took my.....' and because it might help prompt some discussion about the difference between bullying and conflict and how we can Stand Up rather than Stand By. Our slogan has been Choose Action.

At the point in the book where the bear realizes who has his hat - several students started chanting

"fight, fight, fight"

I was quite taken back. These are seven year olds who thought that the bear should solve his problem with violence - despite the fact that we'd just watched a video and talked about 'choosing nonviolent responses'.

Some of the chanters said "but that's how we solve things in hockey" & "the bear has to make sure that the rabbit doesn't do it again - he has to stand up and not stand by".


This book has won the E.B. White Read Aloud Award and is a Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Book. I've read it before, but didn't understand the book the same way that some of my grade 2 students did.

After some more discussion, I finished the story. Well, the chanting group loved it and cheered loudly. They were able to infer (because it isn't explicitly stated) that the bear ate the rabbit.

"See Mrs. Axiak - the bear didn't just Stand By - he CHOSE ACTION".

Not only does the bear eat the rabbit - he lies about it.

Once again, the lesson I planned for my students turned into some lessons for me, such as

- read more critically, think critically about the author's message & try to imagine how a group of 7 year olds might understand the book/lesson & many more!

Update: Today we went on a walking trip to the public library. The librarian read the book That is Not a Good Idea by Mo Willems

SPOILER ALERT*** The duck boils the wolf and makes soup for the ducklings.

There is a lot of talk about the violence in video games that kids play 'these days', but now that I'm seeing stories through the eyes of seven-year-old students, I'm noticing a lot of violence used in the service of sending a message.

As an adult, I guess I've been getting the messages without thinking critically about the way that the message is delivered, or the way that younger children might interpret the message differently than I do. I survived the violent stories of my childhood, like Little Red Riding Hood (wolf tries to eat girl but gets chopped to pieces by a huntsman with an axe) and The 3 Little Pigs (who almost get killed by wolf but then they boil him alive), etc. and I 'turned out alright', but I'll definitely be reading children's books more critically from now on.