Inquiry, Social Justice, & the SDGs

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I’ve been involved in social justice and equity work for a number of years now and every year I keep deepening my knowledge related to our Indigenous, LGBTQ, transgender, and racialized communities as well as individuals who have a disability (e.g., learning, physical, etc) against what society deems as “normal”.

When I was in the classroom, I focused learning around a big idea and a central driving question to develop my students’ curiosity and passion for learning. I had high expectations for them and I knew they were capable and competent to be able to handle talking about and investigating these types of issues. These issues not only centered around the concepts listed above but also issues related to our environment, child labour, gender, poverty, hunger, and inequality, just to name a few. Even though we have a curriculum, which we need to follow, I find it is open enough (although not as flexible as I would like it to be but that’s for another time) that I could introduce these topics to my students via good questions.

As an educator who taught from an inquiry mindset, I scaffolded the inquiry model of learning according to the four frameworks, which I discovered and developed on my own learning journey when teaching using this method (again, more to come on this as well).

I also discovered that much of what I did in the classroom aligns nicely with the United Nations Sustainable Developmental Goals (SDGs). There are 17 SDGs and the premise behind these 17 goals is to engage in relevant discourse and generate solutions to some our most pressing global issues. (

One of the learning experiences I created for my Grade 7 & 8 students when they first started with an inquiry minded classroom was focused on the environment (i.e., big idea), which is rooted in our Language, Geography, and Science curricula. The big question I posed to them was, “What is the most pressing world issue we face today?We started our discussion by generating a list of global issues and boy, was it long! I then asked them, “From this list, which one do you think poses the biggest threat to our world?” Now, this is where the power of inquiry lies – making a decision and defending your stance based on both quantitative and qualitative data. Now that’s not to say that one can’t change their minds; you definitely can based on new information and researched learned. My students used a ranking ladder to start their thinking around which issues were the most important to address first. It was fascinating to watch them talk amongst each other using strategies such as community circles, question periods, and placemats. During this time I did explicit teaching on how to ask good questions, how to formulate an effective speech, and the criteria for making powerful media messages (there is an often a misconception that inquiry involves “letting students go” with no direct teaching; inquiry is about both, giving students the freedom to explore and own their learning at the same time teaching them what they need in order to communicate and reflect on their learning). Students were given a choice on how they wanted to demonstrate their thinking but I ensured I was still an integral part of the process as I conferenced with them weekly against the success criteria we had created and provided feedback, which they then applied to their learning. This way, I could see firsthand how they used the feedback to improve their work and develop their skills related to critical thinking, communication, analysis, and synthesis.

As I mentioned, as I led my own inquiry about inquiry, I ended up developing four different frameworks or models related to inquiry, with one model being where students ask their own questions. In my classroom, this was usually based on a visual, video, or artifact. One example, was when I placed a chocolate bar in the middle of each group (students were in groups of four) and asked them”

  1. What do you see?
  2. What do you think?
  3. What do you wonder?

Now, I did preface by telling them that they would be able to share the chocolate bar at the end of the period so please don’t write down, “I wonder if Ms. Vohra will let us eat the chocolate?” We all had a good laugh and went right back to work.

They were to answer the three questions individually first and then I gave them time to share their thoughts as a whole group. While I was circulating, I was amazed at some of their questions; it not only demonstrated their growth in asking good questions but also in their curiosity, wonder, and their social justice mindset.

The answers to the three questions based on a chocolate bar led to an inquiry about child labour and the environment. A chocolate bar of all things!

Their wonderings:

  1. How was the chocolate bar made?
  2. Where are chocolate bars made?
  3. Who make the chocolate bars?
  4. Who harvested the cocoa beans?
  5. Does harvesting the cocoa beans have any impact on the environment?

Students started investigating and as they investigated they learned how harvesting cocoa beans leads to deforestation and how it has a negative impact on biodiversity. They were also shocked to learn that many cocoa bean farms use child labor and that these children work under deplorable conditions and are treated horribly. They were eager to share their learning and bring more awareness to these two issues (i.e., child labour and the environmental impact). As they continued to learn and explore these issues, they started a discussion on sustainable development and looked at companies and organizations that practiced child labour versus those that practiced sustainable practices.

And the fact of the matter is, I was proud of my students; I firmly believe that one of our goals as educators is to provide these kinds of learning opportunities for our children so that they can be the change, right along with us – how can we support them to use their voice to be social change agents and make a difference on a global scale?

There are many other learning opportunities I provided for my students based on big ideas such as “ethics”, “change”, “conflict”, and “justice” and I will be sharing them as I continue to write and share my journey.

It is our moral imperative to integrate these big ideas and SDGs in our teaching and learning. We need to be providing our students with learning opportunities that integrate these “life big ideas” in order to bring awareness to these issues and provide the right environment for them to learn, grow, share their thoughts, and find their voices.

Below is a sample of driving questions I asked my students based on the big ideas and what we now know as the SDGs:

  1. Do we have a greater impact on earth or does earth have a greater impact on us?
  2. Should our country continue to trade with countries that violate human rights?
  3. Is Canada a country we can be proud of?
  4. What role does ethics play in the advancement of science, technology, and medicine?
  5. Which diet is best: meat eaters, vegetarian, or vegan?
  6. Has technology really made our lives better?

I will be sharing more information about how you can effectively integrate social justice, equity, inquiry and the SDGs in your classroom in the months to come.

Any questions, please let me know!


United Nations Sustainable Developmental Goals Knowledge Platform. United Nations Sustainable Developmental GoalsRetrieved from


Glows and Grows

Glows and Grows – A Reflection of 2018 and Looking Ahead to 2019

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Last year, I made the goal to blog at least once a week and as you can see, that didn’t work out well, much to my disappointment. Life just got so busy with work, family, and other personal commitments but that shouldn’t be an excuse (ok, may a reason). But I am committed to making it happen this year, because I am willing to share and be open and transparent about our current educational system and practices. I want to discuss and dissect the future of education,  the concept of ‘school’, and the meaning of learning .

So, this year, I am going to start off with a post about the year gone by and the year ahead with my Top 10 Glows and Top 5 Grows.

Glows (2018)

  1. Travel: anyone who knows me, knows I love to travel. I didn’t get much time to travel this year but I did make it to Iceland in August for 8 days. It was absolutely beautiful! I cannot say enough nice things about this gorgeous and super friendly country! There is so much to do and see; we drove up the western coast, saw some stunning waterfalls & glaciers  and we did lots of hiking and walking. The food was amazing as well, from Thai to Italian and Mediterranean to Indian. The Icelandic people are very laid back, helpful, and friendly and have such a positive and healthy outlook on life. I’d go back in a heartbeat! (I also went to Chicago, IL and Bloomington, IN but that was work related).

      2. Writing: although my blogging took a backseat, I did manage to get some work done on my potential book. I am very passionate about kids, education, and learning and in 2005, I started my journey with inquiry and social justice in order to find more effective and efficient ways of teaching and learning (here are my previous blog posts on inquiry –,, and  I’ve had a few friends and colleagues tell me I need to write a book about my journey and experiences, so I did start that journey and I am on pace to complete the next 3 chapters this month!

3. Journal Article: I graduated with my PhD at the end of 2016 (I can’t believe it’s been 2 years!) and in July I was invited to a 2-day AECT Symposium in Indiana to share my research in the form of a journal article. I absolutely loved the format! It was a cafe style format in which we were free to rotate between 3 articles per day that were of interest to us; we were able to discuss the research, ask questions, and provide the participant with feedback in order to make their article more effective. I received great feedback on my article from a variety of scholars and professors from all over the U.S.A. (I was the only Canadian). I submitted my final draft in early December and if all goes well, my article will be published at the end of this year in one AECT’s research books!

4. ISTE: I was very fortunate to have my research selected as part of a round-table discussion at the ISTE conference. I had the opportunity to present and discuss my research with fellow educators and professors and get ideas for future research studies. It was another amazing experience and got me thinking about future goals in terms of where I’d like to go with the future of technology in education.

5. My nephew and niece: I have a 7 year old nephew and a 4 year old niece and they are just the cutest and funniest people I know (ya, I’m bias, lol). I love spending time with them, whether we are playing dodgeball in the basement, looking at Pokemon cards, playing beyblades, or playing soccer outside, it’s all good! Watching them get older, listening to their thoughts and opinions, and playing with them is such a treat; it really does make me value what’s important in life and if that means I have to put work on hold, so be it. Work will always be there tomorrow and ensuring a balance of work and play is so important in life and for mental wellness.

6. OCT: I had the privilege of making contributions to documents published by OCT (Ontario College of Teachers). One of these contributions was writing a narrative about the collaborative inquiry cycle and another was regarding exploring intentional design in AQ courses. Both these opportunities allowed me to think more critically and reflectively about positively impacting education.

7. AQ Writing: Just before the holidays, I was informed I was selected to be part of a team to write AQs (Additional Qualification) on Indigenous Education. Over the last few years, I have taken a keen interest in the history of our Indigenous communities and the atrocities committed by individuals in our federal government in terms of stripping these communities of their rights, freedom, culture, tradition, and values. I am really looking forward to being a part of the team that will be writing these three courses!

8. Wellness: I started my wellness journey this year by  integrating meditation and gratitude into my life. I also did quite a bit of reading regarding the evolution of our diets, where our foods come from, and how they are treated and prepared for our consumption. What I have learned has both surprised and shocked me and I will be sharing my new learning over the course of 2019.

9. Twitter PLN: Again, if you know me, you know I love Twitter! I love connecting with other educators and talking about the important issues and latest research related to education and learning. I’ve gotten to know so many great people around the world and some I’ve had the opportunity to meet in real life (@bbray27, @courosa)! It’s been great to share our thoughts and opinions and examine topics from a variety of lenses and perspectives.

10. Friends: Last but certainly not least, I’ve been very lucky and fortunate to have the network of friends that I do! Spending time with them over dinner, a glass of wine (okay, maybe a bottle or two!) or shopping has been a godsend! I feel it’s very important that we nurture & maintain these relationships because nothing is more important than family and friends! Having a few close friends you can count on (versus many friends you can’t) is good for the body, mind, and soul so I encourage you to take time out of your week to connect with a friend and try calling instead of texting!!! Enough can’t be said about hearing that friend’s voice over the telephone instead of words via texts 🙂


Grows (2019)

    1. Wellness: I will be continuing with my wellness journey, which includes starting a 3 day kickstart cleanse before moving onto phase 2. Again, I will be sharing my experiences online so stay tuned (the plan is to start my own wellness website)! This journey also includes continuing to meditate each morning and every night before bed, practicing yoga and gratitude as well as cleaning up my beauty and skin routine!
    2. Personal PD: This includes reading a variety of fiction (mystery, sci-fi, teens, picture book, etc) and non-fiction (biographies, leadership, education, Indigenous topics, etc) as well as taking MOOCs on a variety of topics (finance, history, law, etc), watching one TED Talk per day, learning to code, and publishing my websites (wellness and professional)
    3. Writing: The goal for this year is to blog at least once a week (on both wellness and education), finish my book (aiming for end of March), and write the Indigenous Education AQs. I am also on a small team that will be writing a literature review for a journal article related to research on pre-service education students and social media.
    4. Travel: I’d love to travel more this year and on my list at the moment are Arizona, India, South America, and somewhere down south where I can just sit by the pool and read!
    5. Next Study: It’s been two years since I completed my dissertation and I believe it’s time to think about another (follow-up) study related to education and technology. I have a few ideas floating around and the goal is that by the end of February, I will have a solid plan in place in order to complete an application form to conduct the research.

This all may seem like a lot and it may well be but I tend to thrive on staying busy and I am determined to meet my professional and personal goals for 2019 (as evidenced by the quote below!). I am sure as I meet each of these goals, I will be blogging about my experiences and any tips I learn along the way. If you’re so inclined, feel free to leave comments if you have any suggestions or would like to share your hopes and goals for an awesome 2019!

Happy New Year and until next week!


Happy New Year!


It’s that time of year again where we welcome our students to a new school year! Whether it’s elementary, high school, or higher education, it is important that we not only get to know our students but that they get to know each other in order to build relationships and a sense of community in the classroom. This is usually done through games, icebreakers, and interest inventories. How about using technology to get to know your students? Here are 10 tools you can use to build a positive classroom climate and relationships using technology:

  1. Flipgrid: have students record a response to any number of prompts (e.g., favourite book/summer memory/TV show/movie/band etc, “If a movie was to be made about your life, who would play you and why?”, “Which 3 famous people would you invite to dinner and why?”,  “What is your dream job?”, “If you could guest star on any one TV show, which one would it be and why?”, “Who do you admire?”, etc).  How about having students interview each other and they respond to questions posed by their classmates? I’d even recommend having administration and support staff (ESL teacher, Special Education teacher, office staff, custodian, lunchroom supervisors, etc) record a response for your students because it’s important for them to get to know the adults in the building, and not just their teachers. In order to feel like a school community, it is vital that students build relationships with the entire school staff. (
  2. Canva: have students create an All About Me graphic in the form of a poster, flyer, brochure, or bookmark; the possibilities are endless! Or better yet, pair up students, have them interview each other and they create a graphic all about their partner! Depending on their age, you can get them to select that number and generate a list they can use to create their graphic – for example, if they are 13 years old, they have to come up with 13 things they would like to share about themselves. (
  3. Instagram: this is a great tool for high school and higher education students. After you get to know your students and they get to know each other, post a picture (or a collage) that represents each of the students and have them guess the classmate. It’s even great in terms of getting familiar with your surroundings. Take pictures around the school/campus and have students go searching! You can also design it in the form of a scavenger hunt where you create riddles for  students to answer in order to find the spot in the photo! This is especially great for students who are new to the school. (
  4. Goosechase: Speaking of scavenger hunts, Goosechase is a fun tool to use to create your own scavenger hunts! Place your class in teams of 3-4 and have them go hunting for places and people around the school or campus; students post a picture of themselves completing the challenge and gain points – of course, whichever team has the greatest number of points at the end, wins!

  5. Kahoot! – students of all ages love this game-based platform! I have even used it with teachers when delivering PD during staff meetings and workshops and they love it too! You can use this tool in several ways: (a) students respond to questions about themselves and get to see the responses from other students in terms of commonalities and differences, (b)  provide questions that can help you with planning the year (e.g., “What do you think we need to add to the classroom?”, “How do you like to learn?”, “What questions do you have about this upcoming school year?”, “Are there any extra-curricular activities/clubs you would like to see added this year?” and (c) create a class quiz; in other words once students get to know each other, come up with one question/answer for each student and see if the rest of the class can guess to whom you are referring. The student who scores the highest can even get a small prize! (

  6. Google Forms – generate a list of questions to use as an Interest Inventory for students to answer (e.g., “What kinds of books do you like to read?”, “If you were an Olympic athlete, what sport would you compete in?, “What country would you like to travel to?”, “Would you rather watch TV or listen to music?”, “I wish my teacher knew….”); depending on the questions, the features of this tool will allow students to see similarities and differences amongst each other. You can also use the their answers to target learning to their interests and curiosities.
  7. Twitter: Twitter is another great tool for communication, collaboration and learning. Students have to be 13 to create their own account so those in middle and high school as well as college/university can create their own academic account. You can post a series of icebreaker questions for students to answer so that a thread is created where they can see the responses from their classmates. Better yet, create a series of poll questions for students to answer. For younger students, you can ask questions such as, “If you could follow 10 people, who would you choose? Why?”, “What would your bio say?”, “What would you add as your header? Your profile photo? Why?”. There are also many ways you can use Twitter for learning; here is a link to my blog posts about Twitter in the classroom ( and
  8. Mentimeter: this tool is similar to Padlet in that you can pose questions for students to answer and you get to select the format in which the responses appear (e.g., word cloud, graph, open ended, etc). I like to use the word cloud format because the more popular an answer is the bigger that word appears in the word cloud. You could ask a question such as, “What is the most important factor to ensure success in the classroom?” or “I wish my teacher knew…..”. If you use the word cloud option, the most consistent answer will appear the largest, thus telling you what students think is important for learning.  (each question you generate will have its own individual code that students will use in order to respond). Of course, you can generate some fun questions as well to get to know students.
  9. Tiki-Toki: this is a cool tool for students to use to create a timeline of important dates in their life; students can post visuals and links to enhance their timeline! It’s also a great tool to use for history, science, and geography! (
  10. Infographics: infographics are great because they represent information in a visual manner. Students can use any number of tools to create an infographic about themselves (e.g., piktochart, Venngage,, Snappa,, and canva, You can give a list of questions for students to use in their infographic or you can allow for some freedom and have them create their own based on what they think it important for their classmates to know about them. As mentioned before, you can have students interview each other so they are creating an infographic about a classmate instead of themselves.
  11. GIFs: I love GIFs! They are fun and engaging and I love to use them when I am interacting with my followers on Twitter or just texting with friends! Generate a list of questions for students (e.g., “What do you like to do for fun?”, “How do you feel about broccoli?”, “What is a hidden talent you have?”, “How would you spend a rainy day?”, etc). Have them find and/or post a GIF that represents their answers or feelings towards the question; this can get pretty funny and is a light hearted way to get to know students. ( For example, my answer to “How do you feel about broccoli?”, is….


Whichever tool(s) you decide to use, be sure to remind students about responding appropriately – these are supposed to be fun and engaging tools for students to get to know each other (and for you to get to know your students) so being respectful and considerate is essential to ensure a sense of belonging. Equally important is to ensure that you continue to get to know your students throughout the year through games, challenges, and icebreakers. Usually we spend the month of September building community and climate and then move onto the curriculum, but it should not stop there – continuing to get to know our students is vital to sustain community in the classroom, so be sure to integrate these types of activities throughout the year. After all, as we grow, we change and it is imperative that we are aware of these changes as the year progresses. Students will be willing to learn and take risks when they know their teacher cares about them and knows them as individuals. Have fun and have a fabulous year ahead!

February: Black History Month and The Olympics

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For those who have read my blog and/or know me, will know that I am a proponent of inquiry based and personalized learning. My journey with inquiry started over 10 years ago and my thinking has evolved tremendously due to new knowledge and what my students were telling and showing me in the classroom. If you haven’t had a chance to read my previous blogs on my journey with inquiry, you can read them here (Part 1), (Part 2), and (Part 3).

A special event or occasion should not be the invitation to welcome inquiry into your classroom – this kind of learning should be infused throughout the year. In other words, it should be a regular part of your classroom, where students are allowed to explore their passions, ask questions, be inspired, think for themselves, have conversations with others, make effective use of technology, and problem solve, just to name a few. For those who might be new to inquiry, there are different frameworks and stages to support your students in this type of learning. I think of inquiry in four stages: (a) Structured/Guided, (b) Blended, (c) Independent, and (d) Personalized (more to come on these stages in my next blog post). Furthermore, I always include the lens of: (a)  Universal Design for Learning (UDL), (b) social justice and equity, and (c) integrated curriculum, which I will also explain further in subsequent blog posts.

February is Black History Month, a time where educators and students alike explore their history – the injustices, the struggles, and the successes. In theory, these types of months might seem like a great idea (there’s also Asian Heritage month in May) to highlight and explore issues related to different races and ethnicities but in reality, these issues need to be embedded throughout the year, not just for 28 days before moving on to the next think we have to “check off” in the curriculum (that’s another blog post all on its own!). So, how can you use the curriculum to infuse issues of social justice and equity into teaching and learning on a daily basis? I often ask educators these three questions:

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In my opinion, the curriculum needs to be more flexible to allow for students to explore, investigate, and play around with ideas, topics, and concepts (again, an entirely new blog post!).

For now, I will leave you with some sample questions you can ask your students based on Black History Month and the Olympics, happening this month in Pyeongchang, South Korea. What do they think? Why? All these questions are open ended (i.e., no one right answer), thus lending themselves to the exploration of inquiry in your classroom.

Black History Month

  1. Who had the greatest impact in history in the fight for justice and equality?
  2. Which important events have been squashed in history? Which one do you think is the most important one for others to know? Why? Why do you believe this event was concealed?
  3. What are some of the most significant events in Black History that we do not know about? Which one in the most important? Why?
  4. Who do you believe is the most important person furthering the cause of African-Canadians today? Why?


  1. Which country actually performed the best? (This might seem like an odd question since there are usually 1 or 2 countries that always perform the best but if students were to think about this question, there are many factors and criteria that need to be taken into consideration such as: (a) how many athletes were represented?, (b) how much funding goes into training?, (c) Who is training the athletes?, (d) what do we know about the economy and geography of the countries and how does that relate to performance?
  2. Which country should get a chance to host the Olympics? Why?
  3. Was it right for the NHL to decide that NHL players can not participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics?
  4. Was it right for Russia to be banned from the Olympics because of doping and cheating? (even though Russian athletes are competing, they are competing as OARs [Olympic Athletes from Russia] and any medals they win will not count towards Russia’s medal count).

Hope some of these questions will pique the interest of your students and lead to some interesting conversations!

Any questions, please ask!

Until next week!

Happy New Year!!!


As I think about the start of the school year tomorrow, I can’t help but reflect on my years in the classroom. I’ve taught almost every grade level from K-8 and enjoyed each and every grade level for a variety of reasons. Each grade taught me different things and as I think about my friends and colleagues heading back into the classroom tomorrow to welcome their new students, here are my top ten thoughts to get the school year off to a great start!


    1. Names: nothing is more important than learning to pronounce their names correctly. Take the time to ask them how their name is pronounced. I often had my students tell me “It’s okay” or “Don’t worry about it.” I never listened and asked them to tell me how their parent(s)/guardian(s) said their names. Due to my East Indian background, pronouncing most of my students’ names correctly wasn’t an issue but I know how challenging it can be to pronounce some of their names. Learning to pronounce their names properly goes a long way because it demonstrates to your students that you care. I know this might be difficult because of the different linguistic rules and norms of languages but as long as you put the effort into it, your students will appreciate those efforts.
    2. Daily Greeting: to get their day (and yours) off to a great start, be sure to greet them at the door; whether you have them line up at the door or come into the classroom as soon as they are ready, be sure to say “hello” and ask them how they are doing. Being in the hallway as they gather their materials for the day is a great opportunity to see how they are doing and asking them if they had a nice evening. Again, this shows them that you care about them as a person.
    3. Classroom: I know we spend lots of quality time setting up our classroom for our students so they feel welcome. This includes the physical arrangement of the classroom, bulletin boards, and materials/resources. I’ve learned over the years that less is more. Purchasing those colourful pre-packaged bulletin boards from the teacher’s store might make the classroom look pretty, but students will not refer to them because their is no ownership in those bulletin boards. They did not create them, hence there is no investment. I left my bulletin boards empty and had my students create them – they referred to them much more often! In addition to the bulletin boards, let them choose how they want their classroom setup. How do they believe the desks should be set up? Should there be different areas for different purposes? If so, how? Why? Where should resources and materials go? What about technology? Where should it be stored? How should it be used? It is their learning space and they should have a voice in how their space is setup to allow for maximum learning and engagement.
    4. Rules: The first day and week of school is also spent discussing and generating classroom rules and norms. Have students generate these norms with the consequences. Students need to realize that certain behaviours have consequences. You choose a behaviour; you choose the consequences. Hence, it is important for students to brainstorm consequences (within reason) along with the rules. Send home a copy to parents to sign and have students sign as well. This way, everyone is on the same page and there are no surprises.
    5. Expectations: This is an extension of classroom norms. To ensure a successful year, it is important to start off with expectations. What do I, as your teacher expect from you as a learner? (e.g., I will do my best., I will ask for help when needed., I will be a good peer to my fellow classmates, etc). What would be your top three? It needs to go the other way as well. What do I, as your student, expect from you as my teacher? (e.g., Believe that I can succeed., Show me you care., Show me that I can trust you.). What do you think your students would say? Why?
    6. Relationships: Nothing is more important than getting to know your students. You need to build relationships with your students so that they can trust you and come to you with their problems, whether personal or academic. This is becoming increasingly important as students struggle with wellness, mental health, and a jam-packed schedule. There are many ways you can get to know your students, such as: (a) Interest Inventories, (b) Parent Questionnaires, (c) Games, (d) Icebreakers, (e) Community Circles, and (f) Community building activities. Even though this is concentrated in the first month or so of the school year, these activities should be ongoing because it not only keeps it fun but it also allows you to continue building those relationships.
    7. Gift Bags: organizing and putting together small gift bags for your students for the first day of school can get them excited about their year of learning. It doesn’t have to be overly complicated nor does it have to take a long time. Simple items such as pencils, erasers, markers, a bouncy ball, and chocolates/candy can be included in these Welcome Back to School gift bags (e.g., Ready, Set, Go! Or It’s A Treat to Have You In My Class!).
    8. Student Records: Looking at each student’s file in the office is something that is on our ‘to do list’ during that first week or so of school so we can get some background information on our students. I found that looking at them too early can gave me some preconceived notions about the students in my classroom. Hence, I stopped looking at them until I had formed my own opinions about their abilities, strengths, needs, and interests. It was interesting that there were several occasions where I was surprised at what I read in their file after I had a chance to get to know them. Not looking at their files for at least a month was one of the best changes I made to my practice.
    9. Nurture Curiosity: I know we are bound by the curriculum but it is important to nurture their curiosity through the curriculum. This can be done through inquiry and open ended questions (some of my previous blog posts) but also by showing them the curriculum. The curriculum is not a secret; it’s readily available online. So, why not show them the curriculum for a variety of subject areas and ask them these three important questions: (a) How do you want to learn this?, (b) What questions do you have?”, and (c) Where do you see yourself represented in the curriculum?” Another way to look at your classroom/classes is to ask, “If my classroom/course was optional, would students sign up?It is so important that we develop a passion for learning in our students and this can be done by giving them more choice and voice in what they learn, how they learn it, and how they share their learning with a wider global audience (more to come on this!).
    10. Support Staff: and last but not least, be sure to thank your support staff for working hard over the summer to make the school clean, safe, and welcoming. This includes custodial staff and the office staff who worked hard to ensure a smooth welcome and transition for staff and students for the new school year!



Wishing all of you a great first week back and an awesome 2017-2018 school year!

Digging into the Curriculum


So, I just realized it’s been almost six months since I’ve blogged; it’s amazing how time flies! Well I am back and I want to dig deeper into integrated curriculum and inquiry.

If you’ve read my previous 3 posts on inquiry, you know that I am passionate about integrating curriculum with an inquiry and social justice lens.

Today, I’d like to talk about intentionally using curriculum expectations, learning goals, and success criteria when creating tasks.

As I’ve mentioned previously, one way to approach inquiry is select a big idea/concept related to the curriculum and generate an essential or driving question that is open ended for students to explore. Students may be exploring and investigating the answer to their driving question, but explicit teaching is still happening in the classroom. Inquiry does not mean we let the students go without playing a role in the learning nor does it mean we relinquish complete control over the learning environment. When we talk about “letting go of the control”, we mean allowing students the freedom to go in different directions, based on their questions and interests. This is what we mean by honouring student voice and choice; it allows students to take their learning in new and exciting directions.

Our explicit teaching during the inquiry process starts with examining the curriculum expectations; it tells us what to teach but not how to teach it. In other words, based on the big idea and driving question selected, what skills do students need to develop in order to successfully respond to the driving question? In order to successfully communicate their thoughts and opinions related to the driving question? One can say, that communication is a skill in itself and that is correct; students need to be taught how to analyze, evaluate, judge, justify, organize, compare, contrast, and the list goes on. They don’t magically hone these skills without teacher support.

This past year, I started to look at curriculum expectations in a new light. As an instructional coach, I have had the opportunity to attend many PD sessions and workshops and many of them started with a Know, Do, Be Framework in terms of goals for the day. Here is an example:

Know: Deepen our understanding of instructional practices and how they might affect the decisions we make in support of the students we have (i.e., what is the outcome of student learning?)
Do: Intentionally selecting and implementing practices based on our learners’ profile
Be: Reflective and responsive educators based on student learning needs

The lightbulb went off and I made a connection between the Know, Do, Be Framework and our curriculum expectations. When deconstructing an expectation, it can be broken down into a Know (Content), Do (Skills), and Be (Habits of Mind). Even though I consider myself pretty familiar with curriculum expectations in terms of content and skills, I never thought of breaking it down to its nuts and bolts in this manner.


Curriculum Expectation (Grade 4 Math): collect and organize discrete primary data and display the data in charts, tables, and graphs (including stem-and-leaf plots and double bar graphs) that have appropriate titles, labels (e.g., appropriate units marked on the axes), and scales (e.g., with appropriate increments) that suit the range and distribution of the data, using a variety of tools (e.g., graph paper, simple spreadsheets, dynamic statistical software).

Know (content): charts, tables, graphs (different types; titles, axes, scale, etc), primary data

Do (skills): collect and organize

Be (habits of mind): not always present, however, as the teacher you may generate a “be” such as “critical consumers” (however, this may fit with another data management expectation)

I didn’t realize until about a month ago after reading an article, that Susan Drake, a professor at Brock University had done some work around this framework; I would love to get in touch with her to have a deeper dialogue about curriculum and student engagement and achievement.

Based on this framework for interpreting curriculum expectations, I created a chart not only to organize my thinking around the overall and specific expectations but also to assist teachers in determining what exactly they would like their students to know and do. From there, teachers can generate a “be” if they so choose. This “know” and “do” then helps to create learning goals and success criteria. which can also be connected with the four categories on the achievement chart and 7 processes in the mathematics curriculum (*note: these processes span all subject areas; not sure why it’s only in the mathematics curriculum).

(I’ve attached a PDF document with the Know/Do/Be framework at the end of this post)

Using the curriculum expectation from above, a learning goal could be:

“We are learning to collect and organize data and select an appropriate type of graph to represent the data.”

What mathematical processes do you see in the above learning goal?

So, now, we need to create a rich task and generate success criteria for the task based on the learning goal. (I will be talking more about rich tasks in my next blog post). Our next step, as teachers, is to think about an instructional strategy that aligns with the learning goal and task, which will help students to be successful. This is where your explicit teaching comes into the picture. What instructional strategy will you use? Why? How will you use it? These are questions you need to think about when selecting a particular instructional strategy. So, what instructional strategy can you use to assist students with organizing, collecting, and displaying? I’ll leave you with that question to ponder 🙂

How will we know whether students are successful in achieving the learning goal? We will know because we will assess student work based on the success criteria we generated and then provide descriptive feedback to students to help them to create next steps in their own learning.

Students will be able to use this learning when working on their inquiries; for example, if their inquiry includes displaying data to prove their point, then they have learned the skills to do so through the carefully crafted tasks designed by you, which includes the learning goal and success criteria!

Therefore, in very simple terms, we need to:

1. Start with the curriculum expectations
2. Break it down into the Know/Do/Be components
3. Create a learning goal in student friendly language {keeping in mind the 4 categories of the achievement chart and 7 (mathematical) processes}
4. Create a rich task
5. Generate success criteria (aligning with the learning goal and task)
6. Provide descriptive feedback to students

There is much more to the above steps but it is a basic structure of how we need to re-examine the curriculum and the work we do with our students.

Thanks for reading and I’ll be back next week (I promise!) when I talk about rich tasks not only in mathematics but also across other subject areas through an inquiry lens.


Mathematical Thinking: No Pencils Allowed!!!



So the good news is that I successfully defended my dissertation and am now a PhD; the bad news is I haven’t blogged since February! This seems to be the recurring theme for the last year; writing a blog post and then becoming busy again with work and completing my degree requirements. Hopefully, now that I have completed my PhD, I will be able to blog once a week.

This week I’d like to talk about a topic that has been a focus in my role as an Instructional Coach this past year – that of mathematical thinking, reasoning and proving. I supported teachers in my schools in these areas and it has been great to see students develop and demonstrate their mathematical thinking, aligned with learning goals and success criteria.

When students reason and prove in mathematics, they are explaining their thinking and providing the evidence in a systematic manner using a variety of representations.

Many times, it is difficult to understand what a student is showing in his/her work. Before I provide some suggestions, we need to understand what reasoning actually is; what is reasoning?

The Ontario curriculum states:

“The reasoning process supports a deeper understanding of mathematics by enabling students to make sense of the mathematics they are learning. The process involves exploring phenomena, developing ideas, making mathematical conjectures, and justifying results. Teachers draw on students’ natural ability to reason to help them learn to reason mathematically. Initially, students may rely on the viewpoints of others to justify a choice or an approach. Students should be encouraged to reason from the evidence they find in their explorations and investigations or from what they already know to be true, and to recognize the characteristics of an acceptable argument in the mathematics classroom. Teachers help students revisit conjectures that they have found to be true in one context to see if they are always true. For example, when teaching students in the junior grades about decimals, teachers may guide students to revisit the conjecture that multiplication always makes things bigger.” (Ontario Ministry of Education, p. 14).

What key words stand out in this definition? I’ve bolded and underlined what I feel are the important terms and statements when it comes to reasoning. Students need to be able to make conjectures based on their prior knowledge and then provide proof/disproof of that conjecture depending on the question being posed. They need multiple opportunities to practice demonstrating their thinking in a variety of ways and developing their ideas in group settings and individually.

So, when do we reason? I know I rely on my reasoning skills when I am presented with a new problem or when logical thinking is required. For example, I was presented with this problem recently:

You are in a cabin and it is pitch black. You have one match on you. Which do you light first; the newspaper, the lamp, the candle or the fire?

I used logical reasoning and decided to light any of the items, you had to light the match first!

Now this  might not be a math problem but you get the idea; here’s one for you to try:

Screen Shot 2016-06-26 at 5.21.35 PM

So, what number is the car park on? How do you know? (Feel free to post your answer in the Comment Section).

We also have to look at the context when we are reasoning; think of the “bus problem” that I am sure several of you might be familiar with. I don’t remember the numbers that were used in the original problem but it goes something like this:

“The Grade 6 classes were going on a school trip, there were 78 students altogether and one bus can hold 22 students. How many buses needed to be ordered?”

Many students perform the standard algorithm and divide 78 by 22 to get 3.5 and their answer is 3.5 buses without using reasoning to understand that you can’t have half a bus, so we really need 4 buses. In this case, the context helps us to reason through our answer and explain our thinking.

When students are given a problem, whether it is open- routed or open-ended, they have to deconstruct and understand the problem in order to determine which strategy to use; this requires reasoning since they need to use the information given in order to select a strategy to answer the question. Sometimes, there is information missing from the problem and students need to realize what information is missing and how to fill those gaps in order to solve the problem.

Last but not least, students will use their reasoning skills when dealing with open-ended questions. These types of questions have multiple answers and multiple pathways to get to the answer. They will need to use their reasoning skills to determine the best path to get to an answer.

As I said previously, sometimes when we are looking at student work, it is hard to decipher their thinking, evidence, and reasoning. This is where conversations and observations are powerful. As educators, we recognize the importance of triangulation of data, so when we don’t understand what a student has written, follow it up by a conversation with that student with some probing questions or better yet, observe students while they are working and ask those clarifying questions in order to better understand their thinking process.

Here are some probing questions you can ask:

  1. How did you do this step?
  2. How did you know to…..?
  3. Tell me more about…….?
  4. What happened when you……?
  5. Why did you…..?
  6. How is this like….?
  7. How is this different from….?
  8. Can you find another way to solve the problem?
  9. Does your solution make sense? How do you know?
  10. Can you explain…?

Finally, in order to track and support students’ mathematical thinking and make it more visible, here are some suggestions:

  • Use Markers. When students use a pencil, they erase their mistakes and start over. This deprives us of seeing their thinking and how it evolved as they solved the problem. I have my students use markers and if they make a mistake, they place a line through it and continue underneath. This allows me to clearly see their thinking and have richer conversations with them, when looking at their work. This also supports growth mindset because students begin to see mistakes as valuable.
  • Give them the answer. Math can be stressful for many kids. This is why I would regularly (not every day) provide the answer to the question (e.g., the answer is “47”) and tell them to “prove it.” This allowed students to explore and investigate more freely and without a lot of stress. It has worked really well.
  • Modify the Question. Sometimes, I would modify the question for students in a “yes” or “no” format, (e.g., “Shelly says the answer is 2.5. Is Shelly right?” OR “Shelly says the answer is 2.5 but Jason says the answer is 3.5. Who is right and why?”). This also allows students to explore, investigate, and develop ideas but in a different way, especially with the latter example because students have to prove why either Shelly or Jason is wrong.
  • Convince a friend. Can they explain their reasoning to a friend? Can they answer their friend’s questions effectively?
  • Convince a skeptic. Can they explain their reasoning and thinking to someone who is not quite sure? Can they answer his/her questions effectively? Do they manage to convince the skeptic their line of thinking is correct?
  • Trade with a classmate. I’d often have students exchange their solutions with a partner and see if the other person can follow their line of thinking. Can Student A understand what Student B has done on paper? If not, what can/does Student B need to do in order to make their thinking more visible and explicit? The same goes for Student A. This is another great way for students to communicate as well as seeing the different strategies used to solve the same problem.
  • Group by strategy. Students can also be grouped by strategy and work together to show their thinking. After presenting a problem to students, let them get started individually; walk around and make a note of which strategy each student is using and then stop the class after a few minutes and pair them up (or groups of three; I don’t recommend groups of 4 since one or two students will end up taking a backseat), have these small groups continue working on the problem using their shared strategy and then share solutions as a class.
  • Take the paper away. There are many ways to solve a problem on paper, yet we often don’t emphasize other ways to solve the problem, without the use of paper. My suggestion is, take the paper away and challenge them to show their thinking in another way; what about acting it out? Going outside? Using manipulatives? Can you think of other ways students can demonstrate their thinking without the use of paper?
  • Marker for each student. In my first suggestion, I talked about having students using a marker (or pen/pencil crayon) to do their work; if students are working in small groups, give each student a different coloured marker so you can track individual thinking (a placemat can work well here).

I hope you find some of these suggestions helpful and effective!

I also recommend ThinkFun games for students to practice their reasoning, logical, and spatial thinking skills. These are fun and engaging games to support mathematics in any classroom. My 5 year old nephew is hooked on Rush Hour!

Here are a few titles:

  1. Rush Hour
  2. Gravity Maze
  3. Blokus
  4. Shape by Shape
  5. Block by Block
  6. Circuit Game
  7. Tipover
  8. Laser Maze
  9. Robot Turtles
  10. Brick by Brick

Visit their website at:

Next week, the plan is to continue talking about mathematical thinking and reasoning from the lens of assessment; in particular learning goals and success criteria. It is important that we assess what we are supposed to be assessing and this is where the difference between success criteria and task requirements come into play.

Until next week!



Ministry of Education (2005). The curriculum: Grades 1-8: Mathematics, 2005. The
curriculum: Elementary. Retrieved from