Professional Learning

The Spiral of Inquiry ( has been the centre of our professional discussions this school year.  We are using the spiral model to look into our school community and find a focus that will drive positive change. 

inquiry-spiralIn September we began by looking into what attributes we wish to see in our students, the goal of this activity was to make visible the characteristics that we value as a school.

The attributes are:

Responsible, Empathetic, Respectful, Problem solver, Critical thinker,  Confident, Accountable, Positive, Adaptable, Patient

During an October staff meeting, we discussed  tasks that we are doing in class and if there were links to our attributes.  It was surprising to see that most of the tasks that were listed were not academic in their focus.  The list seemed to have more of a PBiS feel to them and a general observation to the tasks were in their development of citizenship and deportment.  Reflecting on the last few years at the school, there was considerable time spent on behaviour matrixes and most of the school concerns were in the behaviour of students.

Tasks List

Daily 5, Tech club, Morning fitness, Recorder, Note taking, Labs, Choice, Coding, Cleanup, Classroom jobs, PBL science, Novel studies, Centres (literacy & math), Journal writing, Class dojo, Math problem solving pairs, Morning meeting, DPA, Home reading, Calendar, Mark own work, Healthy snacks, Math flash cards, Friends for life, Agendas, Cardboard challenge, Planting a promise

For the December Professional Learning day we spent more time working on establishing a focus that would support learners in meaningful ways.  Through much of our discussion there were similar themes that were coming forward.  Staff were finding that the number of students meeting expectation in reading for primary was low, also that writing in the intermediate grades was noted on many report cards as an area that needed improvement.  The discussion that followed lead to a consensus that reading comprehension and foundational literacy skills (Phonics and Vocabulary) was a focus area that would would benefit all learners.

We worked on an action theory statement

  • If we promote a growth mindset and provide collaborative learning tasks that challenge students to transfer their knowledge to new concepts then students will be more engaged, behaviours will be reduced, and achievement will improve.
  • IF students improve their basic skills/concepts THEN student engagement will increase.
  • IF we promote the knowledge of basic foundation skills THEN students will be more engaged
  • IF we focus on foundational literacy skills and build comprehension in students, THEN students will improve their ability to be independent problem solvers.

To date we have taken some action towards this focus.  We have created a framework for the Daily 5 in primary classrooms.  This framework has a teacher specialist working with classes to build the daily 5 skills into each room.  We have worked on the creation of literacy centres and provided collaboration time for a teacher to meet with the LART and specialist teacher.  The school also purchased a Levelled Literacy Intervention kit to assist students to reach the reading expectation level for their age.

Classroom tour

Daily 5 getting started

Videos have been used to introduce the daily 5 and assist in the understanding of what we mean by daily 5 and how to get started.

Next steps are digging deeper into the tasks we teach through the lens of our action theory statement.

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Growth Mindset


The article “Mind over Matter” by Louis Reynolds and Jonathon Birdwell resonates well with my current school environment.  This is my first year in the school and lately the conversation has shifted to the perceived effort of the students and their lack of perseverance.  This is not isolated to my school culture but many of our schools see this lack of engagement that identifies itself through students seemingly giving up, or struggling to begin a task.  It seems that students have learned not to struggle through a task but at times to shut down and become frustrated with the assignment.



This frustration is devastating to the learning process and it is encouraging that mindset is being shown as a manner in which to provide students with an increased ability to try.  That students can improve on their grit, persistence, ambition, resilience and self belief is encouraging.  Personally I feel that this growth is centered on how we interact and speak with people.  The phrasing that is used to motivate and provide feedback is crucial to the development of the right mindset.  Praising effort over ability has always prompted more effort whether it was in an academic setting or just building something in the backyard.


I was quite interested to hear of the teaching of a growth mindset and how schools worked to overcome the fixed mindset culture and improve the interactions between staff and students.  For our school we have identified the need of a growth mindset in our students and as we struggle to make this work, it may be best to define what we mean by growth mindset and ensure that all staff are speaking and acting in that framework.


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Our action theory statement could be – If we model and teach through a growth mindset then students will develop the ability to be more resilient in their learning.


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Sandhu’s List of apps and ideas

Top Apps and Tech Ideas

The following lists were compiled by Jason Sandhu Grade 5/6 Teacher at Pacific Way Elementary School

iPad Apps

  • Book Creator (digital books with video, audio, pictures, and lots of custom features)

  • Explain Everything (screencasting whiteboard app that allows for sharing ideas a videos)

  • Comic Life – make comics that include your own pictures, speech bubbles, and professional looking templates

  • Green Screen by Do Ink – easy to use green screen app that places students “in” pictures.

  • iMovie – create movie trailers or your own videos that include pop up text and professional transitions.

  • Pic Collage – Photo editor with effects and templates

  • Sharpscan Pro – take pictures of anything, instantly turn it into a PDF, and share it!

  • Paper 53 – Digital paper that you can write, draw, and colour on.  Great to use with apple Airplay.

  • Google Drive (docs, sheets, etc.) – Get access to files anywhere through secure cloud storage and file backup for your photos, videos, files

  • Keynote – build eye catching presentations with video, pictures, text, and transitions


TTOC Techy Ideas (quick, easy, and fun!)

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Deeper Learning with TRU Students

Yesterday Jason and I met with the first year education students at TRU.  Our topic was the use of technology in schools and we highlighted some of the tools we use at the school and provided some ideas and activities for them to use during their practicums.

here is a link to the keynote presentation used TRU 2015

 Here is the link to the list of apps and activities

one of the videos we did not show is titled Future learning,

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we also discussed some math examples, here is the probability example

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Dan Meyers Math class needs a makeover


Thank you for much for being such a great audience and for asking thoughtful questions.

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Remembrance Day 2015

“On November 11, especially, but also throughout the year, we have the opportunity to remember the efforts of these special Canadians.  In remembering, we pay honour to those who responded to their country’s needs.”


This was one of the quotes read by grade 7 students at the assembly for Remembrance Day.  They are fitting words for the significance of the day and the moment of silence that is observed.  Today 150 Pacific Way students took part in the assembly to honour veterans and active military Canadians.


Students of today understand the presence of terrorism and countries in conflict, but it is more of a challenge to understand a world at war.  This is a good thing, in that the world is working better at finding alternative solutions to war, but more of a negative when it comes to remembering fallen soldiers and the sacrifice many Canadians made for their country.

The assemblies that are held at schools across Canada help in their small way to provide recognition to our veterans and their gallant efforts, as do the Highway of Heroes’ signs and music videos that have become popular in recent years.

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“The important thing for all of us to remember is that they fought to preserve a way of life, Canadian values, and the freedom we enjoy today and often take for granted.  Remember that the silence is to honour their sacrifice and memory”


Today’s assembly included:


O’Canada                                                                               grade 5

See the Veteran, Do you know where I find peace,           kindergarten

Flanders Field,                                                                       grade 3/4

I’ve got peace in my fingers,                                                grade 2, and 2/3

Universal Soldier,                                                                  grade 6/7 students,

Remembrance quotes                                                          grade 6/7 students.

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Numeracy Pro D day

The focus of the November Professional Development day was on numeracy.  Specifically, the goal was to meet with two other schools and review the numeracy projects that would be going on in those schools and then get a chance to share and create resources.

To begin the day the teachers were given an icebreaker task to use the app comic life to create a introduction of themselves and to identify their superhero abilities.  This was a great way to highlight another quality creative app and to allow teachers time to learn how it works.  The comic life app could be used in many ways in the classroom to easily allow students to put ideas into a story format.  Older students could write on specific topics while younger students could use the app to learn to link ideas together.

Each school then provided a short highlight of what they would be doing this school year in their focus on numeracy.  At Pacific Way Elementary the strategies we are trying are simple, focus on basic facts, and increase the vocabulary and language used in math learning.

Our grade 6/7 teacher did an excellent job of explaining the idea of math walls (for both intermediate and primary) and how to assist students in learning the vocabulary of math.  Shelly also highlighted some of the math tile  examples used by Marcy Cook, (these are available through the HGEC).  

As we move forward in making math more visible and important in our daily routines I am reminded of a analogy from the book 5 Levers to Improve Learning, by Frontier and Rickabaugh .  In the book they look at the remodelling of a kitchen, how when you change the flooring the countertops, the cabinets, repaint and basically overhaul the entire room the only change you have made is to the appearance.  The first meal you prepare in the newly remodelled kitchen will last the same as it did in the old outdated kitchen.  To change the taste of the food you need to change the ingredients or the manner in which the food was prepared.

In math teaching this means not just bringing in technology or more manipulaitvies (many problems have been made worse by just throwing money at it), but actually changing the way that you teach math.  The endless worksheets of the past need to be replaced with peer to peer teaching, video, creative apps, understanding why the math is important, and real world applications.

One of the best questions of the day was in why are students taught to divide and multiply fractions, this was seen by many as a waste of time on a topic that many students were frustrated by.  My answer at the time was not great but in reflection it hit me that really all that fraction work is building a basis for Algebra.  That the ability to divide and multiply fractions, becomes adding like terms and isolating variables, perhaps this fractions unit is really important after all.

In the end the day was very productive, teachers from different schools were able to share ideas, to discuss how they teach math, and hopefully reflect on how they could adapt their math lessons to be engaging, important, and stress the importance of the language of math.  Our numeracy resource teacher begin her time on Wednesday morning and hopefully we will be seeing the beginnings of something great.

The Professional development at the school continues to impress me as the staff are open to ideas and are having a great deal of enjoyment in learning.

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Remembrance Day

The school remembrance day was special this year.  Due to a number of reasons the Remembrance Day assembly and related activities occurred four days prior to November 11, this at first seemed to diminish the importance of the day.  However as the day went on that quickly changed. Prior to recess the photos on the hallway display were updated to remembrance day celebrations and appropriate images to help students get a visual on what remembrance day looks like.

We then held our assembly which featured a number of classes who performed songs and read poems.  It was amazing to listen to the growth of the message as we moved from the younger students to the older students.  The last words spoken at the assembly were from the poem “we are the fallen” which said “you will be remembered”.

The highlight of the day was after the assembly when the kindergarten students connected through Skype to speak with a Lt Col in the Canadian Army.  The Officer was excellent with the children and answered all their questions and left them with a healthy memory of remembrance and how important this day is to all Canadians.

I was very proud of our school on Nov 7th this year.  The respect and admiration for the brave people who have fought for our freedom and continue with peacekeeping missions around the world was very evident.  This was a Remembrance Day to remember.

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School Pro D Days

As a school we have identified numeracy as a area of growth.  For the October Pro D day the staff worked on developing skills and working with the digital tools available in the school.  The use of video was highlighted (Khan academy, Brain Pop) and a number of iPad apps (explain everything, keynote)

One of the main messages for the day was in the use of math vocabulary and using this vocabulary in lessons and demonstrations.  The ideas os sum, difference, product, quotient, and what the words mean were explained as was the importance of common math language through all grades.  There is a lot of math slang used in many lessons and some of the wording in the Khan academy video was highlighted in a wordle and then the word origins and meanings discussed.  The level of understanding for students especially in numeracy, can depend on their confidence in what is being asked or told in the problem.

Using explain everything was a key in recording voice and actions in a math problem.  When groups presented their recording many noticed that their math vocabulary still needed some work and how easy it was to slide back into math slang.  It was also highlighted that the use of apps by students to create content is at a higher level of thinking then consuming content in a consumption app.  During the Pro D days the apps that have been used to demonstrate learning have mostly been creativity apps.  The consumption apps have a role but real learning is in creating, this is why every top app list has explain everything at the top of the app list.

The big activity for the day was for the groups to create a presentation about a new product.  In the presentation groups had to use a list of statistical references and values to showcase their new product.  The groups then presented to the Coyote Den panel to see if they could get financial backing for their new product.  Groups were also asked to use a misleading data point and the audience was asked to look for the misleading data and analyze the data provided.  The hook for this lesson was provided in the Brain Pop video on statistics, that identified much of the vocabulary and did speak to misleading data.

Staff were again challenge to learn and create content that showed their learning and knowledge of the math vocabulary.  It was commented several times that in creating the explain everything lesson that each group had to go through the problem several times before they felt comfortable explaining it to others.  What an amazing insight for the groups to realize that students and staff can spend time on one problem and master its learning through collaboration and discussion.

Explain everything does an excellent job of allowing learners to practice doing and teach others,  perhaps that is why it is at the top of most educational app lists.

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Professional Growth Visual

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Successful Risk Taking and Learning

The staff at Pacific Way Elementary spent the Pro D day learning about technology.  The school, through the assistance of the PAC, has purchased Apple iPads and the day was developed to learn some of the basics features of the iPad and some apps to enhance student learning.

The day began with a TED talk by Shawn Achor, the talk focused on the happiness factor that is created when individuals meet with success.  That hard work just for the sake of hard work does not equate to greater understanding or foster a love for learning.  Achor embraced the outliers and challenged listeners to not just settle for being average but reaching higher to improve the average for everyone.

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Teachers then went on a discovery mission to learn some of the features of the apple devices, how to multi gesture swipe, close programs, operate the camera, turn on the speak selection features.  Everyone seemed to learn something new and enjoyed the exploration on their own or with a partner.

The first app that was featured was explain everything.  This is a great app for students to use to explain just about everything,  The features of the app were highlighted then teachers were given a math problem to solve and explain to others through the app.  This was a challenging task as the teachers had to solve the word problem and solve how to use the technology, after some time and many questions they were ready to present.  It was amazing to see the variety in the explanations and to hear the struggles as they learned how to explain how to do the math, not just find the answer.

With the introduction of technology it was important to highlight the why portion of the task.  Why is technology being used and how does it improved the lesson or task being taught.  Teachers were asked to create a list of tasks that have been taught this year and group them into the SAMR framework.  SAMR is a model for reflecting and planning the use of technology to ensure that the technology is enhancing the lesson.  I think of it as a measure of thinking and creativity, the four steps in the ladder are all important but your teaching should include some of each step and not just one level.  It would be difficult to teach only using the redefinition level and it would not be challenging enough to only use substation a good balance if important to including technology in your teaching.

The discussion with staff on the task that they wrote on the chart paper was excellent it was emphasized that there was no wrong answers and that the explanation of why they thought the task fit that area was the most important piece.  The dialogue and rich discussion that followed was impressive, it was encouraging to hear the reflective thought that went with why technology was being used for each task.

Armed with a better understanding of the SAMR model, teachers were given time to search for apps that seemed interesting and may be of use on the classroom,  these apps were then collected into the framework of theSAMR model and teachers were given time to give a quick review of one of the apps that they had selected.The afternoon was devoted to book creator, an app that allows the user to create a ebook in a quick and efficient manner.  The tools were highlighted briefly then teachers were given a mission to create a book with certain features. The results were amazing and the books created included humour, a moral message, and were extremely creative.  In less then thirty minutes the groups had created something special with meaning and were proud to share with the class.I think this was the kind of success that Achor discussed in his talk.  That feeling that you created something that you were proud of and wanted to share, a feeling that encourages the growth mindset and the love of learning.

The day was a success in that people were motivated to learn, enjoyed the collaborative nature of their learning, and were able to create and have choice in their learning.  Many elements of effective teaching were modelled during the day.  This day centred around introducing technology (iPads, apple tv, wireless, apps) but again that was just the topic of the day, the success was framed around tasks that had meaning and value, and an approach to learning that encourage exploration and risk taking over listening and memorizing.



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