Thursday, March 31, 2011


Image courtesy of
Instructables is a website I've been browsing, reading, and (more recently) contributing to for a few years. It is a fabulous resource for all sorts of amazing ideas. I'll let the about section put it succinctly:
Instructables is a web-based documentation platform where passionate people share what they do and how they do it, and learn from and collaborate with others.
If you're ever looking for science fair ideas, just look in the science channel. Want to get some Halloween decoration ideas? They've got that, too! In fact, it's a great place to look for all sorts of amazing ideas, inventions, solutions to problems you didn't know you had, and amazingly creative and intelligent people. If you can't find what you're looking for, post in the forums, and people will be happy to help out. They even give out free pro memberships to teachers. The categories of instructables (or 'ibles for short) are too numerous to mention here, so you're likely to find one that fits your particular interests. If you want some ideas on how to use instructables in your classroom, there's an instructable for that. Imagine that: a great teaching resource that teaches you how to use it as a great teaching resource (gotta love that recursivity).

Image courtesy of
It's also a great place to write informational texts. Document a process using photographs, write about it, annotate your photos, and put together a step-by-step instruction manual. Pretty useful for procedure-heavy homework assignments, or to have student practice writing this type of text. It's also got a real-world audience, making the students' efforts much more authentic. They can share their work with the world, and get feedback about how many views they've gotten, what comments readers have for them, an overall rating, and much more.

Take a few moments to look.


(Please note that instructables is in no way affiliated with this blog, its author, or this website. I just think it's a great resource. They have kindly allowed permission to use their images in this post.)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Why we need to change how we think about students

I often find myself explaining why I am so passionate for open-source. I have various arguments, theories, and opinions that you probably don't want to spend time reading (especially if you're already reading this blog).

But I've never put my thoughts in as much clarity as Sir Ken Robinson. Take a look at the situation educators face today, and how the way we were taught in elementary school isn't good enough anymore. Keep in mind everything you know as a teacher, and put yourself in your students' shoes, if only for a moment.

Take the eleven minutes and forty-one seconds to watch it. Please. You'll be glad you did.

How will you revolutionize your approach to learning and sharing? If it's fine for you to use ideas you've found, why not let your students? How will you assess their learning, their development, and their academic ability after this paradigm shift? Perhaps more importantly, how will you avoid training the creativity, originality, and spontaneity out of your students?

If you know how you will do it, you need to share it. We need to work together to revolutionize education to fit today's world. The classroom needs to come into the 21st century - our students were all probably born then!

Friday, March 25, 2011


Looking for a way to "wow" your students? Tell them you can read minds. Even better: tell them you can prove it (but only if they work really hard and there's some time at the end of the day).

I really enjoy sharing little things that impress students to no end, and there are math facts you can exploit to take advantage of it, impress your students, motivate them to work hard, and work a little math practice into their day all at the same time. A quick Google search of "math tricks" is a good place to start.

Think about this: if you take any number and multiply it by nine, the sum of the digits in the answer will always be nine (provided your math is correct). Now look at it like this: no matter what digit you get students to start with, you can always get them to end up with the same number by multiplying by nine, then summing the digits. Work in a little more arithmetic just for practice, and to obscure your trick. Then tell them their answer without looking at what they've written.

Better yet, don't tell them. Show them you wrote it on the smart board before you even began!

Take a look at this notebook file. Try it out for yourself, and see if it makes sense to you. Then change the operations required to get students to practice the math skills you want them to learn.

You might just blow their minds...


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Lesson Plan Template

For my internship, I write a large volume of plans. Each plan must follow a specified format, with sections, headings, and spaces for Quebec Education Plan competencies, and Professional Competencies (if you haven't heard of them, don't worry about it unless you want to teach in Quebec).

To make my life slightly easier, I put together a template in OpenOffice. Each time I double-click it, I get a new document with every section heading written, and I just need to fill in the details. It saves me time and energy - two things I'm running short of lately.

You can download the template here, or a GoogleDocs version here (if you don't use Open Office, you should).

To make your own template in whatever word processor you prefer, create your layout, then choose "Save As..." from the file menu, and look for the document type drop-down menu. You should find a template option. Once you've saved your template, each time you double-click it, you will get a new, untitled document with all your headings set up the way you like. Pretty handy!

I've also posted a couple other forms I use: a tracking sheet for things I've handed out and want back (like permission forms), and a blank schedule for weekly planning. The time slots are marked according to my school's schedule, but they're all customizable for your needs. Find them in the "Forms and Templates" folder.

I hope you get to save a little time by using these tools. If it helps, let me know! Post a comment, so I keep putting work into these tools and sharing them with the world. We all need positive feedback once in a while!

Happy planning,

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Space Plans

Image: "EarthRise"
I planned the first week of a theme unit for Kindergarten about space, and in the course of researching the topic, I came across NASA's resources for teachers.

If you can, take a few minutes to browse or search through their materials, because they are packed with plans, printable worksheets, illustrations, and ideas. I've read through a few, and they were vastly interesting.

Other notable sites include this incredible flash animation of the solar system. It's the only one I've seen where you can center the universe on the Earth and see how the motion of the planet appears to astronomers (something I'd never considered before).

There's also the solar system calculator, which can help you get the scale right. No more styrofoam balls and coat-hangars; we're looking at Mercury (which would be less than 5" from the Sun) being more than forty feet away from my favourite planetoid, Pluto. Make sure you've got a long hallway for this one (and a magnifying glass, too). One option might be to take the whole class outside to place their scale models of planets, but check to make sure your property is big enough...

Finally, I've put all my space theme unit plans on GoogeDocs here. They're all mishmashed together in the folder, so you'll have some reading to figure out which one goes where (but the names are self-explanatory). References to sources of information are included, but the NASA links are outdated (use the one above instead).

Enjoy, and happy teaching! (Has anyone else noticed that I really use a lot of parentheses?)

P.S. If you're wondering where the image came from, NASA has amazing images in the public domain, all at Just do a search for NASA, or if you know the name of the image, take a look. My favourites include EarthRise (above) and the Blue Marble collection of images. Pretty cool stuff.

Saturday, March 19, 2011


Anyone who has had a chance to talk to me about technology for any length of time has probably gotten a glimpse of my distaste for PowerPoint. It's not that I don't like it as a tool, but I have some fundamental difficulties with how it has permeated our academic society.

I'm not alone in this opinion. Seems that PowerPoint has become an industry standard in many different disciplines, but it's not being used effectively. I have always railed against any type of visual that duplicates content or distracts viewers from the message of the speaker. To me, a slide showing what the speaker is saying is an invitation to read instead of listen. And if I'm going to read, I'd rather read a book, an article, or even the closed-captions on a television program (they're all designed to be read, rather than just looked at).

Even a well-done PowerPoint can muddle the message of an otherwise great presentation. What's the most important part of what's being said? What is the unified message? How do I remember the core concept that links everything together? After a while, every PowerPoint turns into a never-ending stream of bullet points, background themes, and images. I've spent hours putting together a non-linear audio-visual PowerPoint (for a school assignment), which would have been easier, faster, and more effective with a tool like Flash.

But I don't have time to learn Flash, or the money to drop on an application that I might never use frequently.

Enter Prezi. It's a presentation software, but that's where the similarity to PowerPoint ends. It's flash-based, but much simpler to use. How is it different? Take a look below, or browse around their site to look at some of the presentations published there.

The pros? Here's a short list:
1. It's free (and an upgraded account is free for educators & students).
2. It's easy to learn. Only a handful of commands can create amazing results.
3. It's web-based. You can't lose a copy, you can share easily, and you can even collaborate online.

The cons?
1. It is limited in some ways (e.g. you can embed videos, but you can't put background music)
2. The desktop editor is not free, so you've got to have web access to use it.
3. You can download the presentation to run without web access, but it is in a proprietary format. If it were available as a flash format, you would be able to embed it into your Smart Board notebook files.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Progression of Learning

Last month at our professional development day, I had a chance to learn about and become familiar with the progression of learning documents from the MELS (Ministère de l'Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport).

It adds on to the QEP (Quebec Education Plan) and facilitates lesson planning, because it lays out in detail what students learn and when. There's a nice video describing what the symbols mean, and it's a really handy resource to have when planning long-range. I use it to provide end goals (i.e. what I want the students to understand and demonstrate), but it also shows the progression, which is nice because you don't end up putting the cart before the horse.
The progressions are divided into the different areas of the curriculum: English Language Arts; French (both base level and immersion); Mathematics; Science and Technology; Geography, History and Citizenship Education; Drama; Visual Arts; Dance; Music; Physical Education and Health; and Ethics and Religious Culture. Each area has its own document.

Unfortunately, I did not get a copy of the progression, because I am still a student, and not yet on the board's list. Turns out that they've got everything posted on their website. Hooray! However, you need to know how to do an advanced web search just to find the documents, because they do not seem to be listed in the English section of the MELS site.

If you're not too familiar with how to do that, just follow the link to which will give you the progression of learning for elementary school. There's also one for high school, available at


Saturday, March 12, 2011

Science Plans

(Atom Image:
One of my favourite courses during University was the teaching science methods course (thanks Kamran!) I wrote a few plans during that semester that I thought were really neat, fun, and interesting.

Now seems like as good a time as any to share them with everyone. They're available here. Please feel free to check them out, download a copy if you'd like, and use them in your class.

Classroom Aquarium documents the procedures to setting up an aquarium in your class, and some possible applications. For me, this is an invaluable teaching tool - you get a chance to inspire emotional connections, the process of inquiry, and the value of environmental conservation. It's also a nice decoration!

States of Matter is a straightforward lesson using water as an example. I couldn't get my hands on any gallium (like this guy did). Pretty standard stuff here, but a nice procedural lesson. Probably good help if you've got to substitute in a science class (or if you need to get a sub and don't have a plan fully fleshed out).

Finally, the Floating Orb plan. It's my personal favourite, but I don't want to give too much away. Check it out to see what it covers. All I'll say is that static electricity at Christmas time was never this much fun!

Happy teaching!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Pre-Kindergarten Plans

I wrote six plans for a pre-kindergarten class a few years ago. I've finally gotten around to posting them, and you can find them here. The plans cover science, art, and math, and seemed to work well with the children in the class I taught.

One of my favourite lessons was the "Classroom Treehouse" where we actually made a house structure from cardboard boxes, and installed it in the room. I haven't got any photographs of it any more, but the children really loved it. They especially enjoyed being a part of the building process.

Take a look and see what you think. The plans are:
Snow & Ice - Experiment with states of matter and explore the properties of snow and ice in the classroom (Science)
Shape Animals - Create animals by choosing shapes from a set and assembling them (Art)
Mardi Gras Necklace - Use beads and string to assemble a necklace (Art)
Favourite Things - Children make a picture of their favourite things (Art)
Paperclip Measurement - Use paperclips to measure items in the classroom (Math)
Classroom Treehouse - Construct a building that the students can play in, and use for imaginative play.

I hope you enjoy them!

Thursday, March 10, 2011 and Language Arts

There's a website called XtraNormal that creates what they call "Text to Movie" videos - type in a script, and click through a few options, and bingo, you've got a movie.

I used it a few months ago, and then tried it again recently. They've now moved to a pay-per-use business model, which is too bad, because I enjoyed using their tools. However, if you poke around, it turns out that you can open an account, then send them a message asking for free credits for educational use.

I tried it out, and they gave me a bunch of free credits. So I decided to use some of them right away, and came up with this video. I thought it was kind of funny, and ironic because of the emotional nature of the poem, read by a machine.

Maybe it'll help students think of prosody, timing, pace, and meaning in poetry? Maybe it will make them try to read in different ways? Maybe it will just pique their curiosity.

Try out XtraNormal if you're interested. It took a couple weeks for them to send me the email to let me know they'd given me free credits, but you don't have to use any until you're ready to publish. It'll publish right to YouTube, too.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

What's this blog for?

During the internships in the teacher training program I'm in, my colleagues have described some amazing lesson ideas, written great theme unit plans, and come up with really wonderful things that I would love to implement when I have a classroom of my own. They're even willing to post them to the online conference used by the school! How great is that!?

Except that once the semester is over, everything is locked up, and no one can access the materials anymore. I have lost hundreds of great ideas that my fellow students spent hours developing. It got to the point where I felt it was not worth the effort to post and share my lesson plans, because nobody would be able to access it by the end of the semester.

Then, last fall, I came up with another solution: GoogleDocs. I worked in a group to develop a really fantastic theme unit for Grade 6 on Social Networking. We put a considerable effort into the project, and I was enthusiastic about the result. I posted all the materials to my GoogleDocs account, and encouraged other students to download them and use them. So far, I don't think that many people remember or used the link we gave them to access the information.

So I'm giving it to you now! Everything is available for download at this link. Please let me know by posting a comment if you found it useful.

This blog is intended to be a new medium for sharing lesson plans, resources, ideas, and curricular material. Post links, upload to your GoogleDocs account and share your plans, or just write about ideas you've got. Respond to ideas with extensions, adaptations, modifications, or just a thought that struck you.

I want teachers to get involved in sharing. We've got the knowledge, but we need to make access happen with less effort. It's not as if we're swimming in free time. Use the links below to share this blog with your friends on facebook and twitter, subscribe by email or use the atom feed, or just check back periodically to see what's new.

Open your lesson plans to the web. Share your ideas, and I'll share mine.


P.S. I've decided to embed our presentation below - take a minute to check it out and learn more about our social networking theme unit. Use the "Play" arrow button to navigate through.