Google Classroom and the School-Home Connection


Google Classroom is where communication can become contribution.

Educators have a responsibility to provide a safe, happy, and empowering learning environment for the students in our care.  We can implement high yield strategies, and engage our students in Inquiry Learning, and promote a Growth Mindset.  We can foster an accepting and inclusive classroom where all the students feel safe to take risks in their learning.

But all that we do for our students is generally in place for one, or maybe two years.  Unless you teach in a Waldorf Education school and follow a group of students through the grades, you will teach them for one year, and they will move on to another teacher.

There is, however, a constant in the educational lives of those students – their family.  While we have them for a year, their family is in a position to support them from cradle to career.

This was a long-winded way of introducing the importance of establishing a strong Home-School connection for each of our students.  If we are successful in engaging the Home environment into the learning that is happening in school, it can have a profound effect on the outcomes for the student.

While newsletters, phone calls, agendas, Remind, Class Dojo, and Bloomz are all great tools for regular communication, Google Apps for Education – more specifically Google Classroom – is a great way for that regular communication to evolve into regular contribution to learning.

Google Classroom allows you to post assignments and videos, in addition to classroom announcements.  It is also a great way for parents and guardians to look closely at the work being done in the class as well as the work submitted by their student throughout the year.  It is great to look at progress and is in essence a digital portfolio of each student for the year’s work.

A great way to engage families is to post optional family tasks and activities.  They can be as simple as having them discuss a concept or idea you are planning on exploring in class, or even watching a YouTube video and discussing it.  All that’s necessary is to get the classroom learning being discussed at home, and it could lead to great results.

The more we can establish connections between the school and the home, the better we are serving our students for now, and for the future.


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Experiential Learning


The Ontario Ministry of Education is trying to encourage Community-Based Experiential Learning through a grant being offered to K-12 teachers and students.

The Ministry defines Community-Based Experiential Learning as: an approach to student learning that provides students with opportunities to actively participate in experiences connected to a community outside the school (local, national, or global); reflect on those experiences to derive meaning from them; and apply their learning to their decisions and actions in various aspects of their lives.

At Immaculate Conception, we submitted a proposal that would help our Intermediate students in their career cruising, as they prepare for high school and beyond.  Fortunately we were successful in our application and have begun to plan.

We will be exploring post-secondary and career choices in technology and the trades by visiting and touring the various programs at UOIT, as well as visiting and participating in 3D Printing at a local print shop.

Students and staff are grateful for the opportunities to experience and to learn.

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Students Learn from Aspiring Mars Astronaut


A great article from the Peterborough Examiner about a great Science Inquiry I did with my class.

Students at a city elementary school got an out of this world message Thursday from a prospective astronaut aiming to be among the first humans to land on Mars.

About two dozen Grade 6 and 7s at St. Alphonsus School spent nearly a half an hour, via Skype, learning from University of Oxford graduate physicist Ryan MacDonald, who is among the final 100 shortlisted for a proposed mission to the red planet.

He’s also the last male mission hopeful from the United Kingdom in a group that submitted more than 40,000 applications from around the world. That figure was narrowed down to 1,000, then, further testing was done to determine the Mars 100.

The digital question and answer session was co-ordinated by teacher Mitch Champagne after MacDonald contacted him through social media. The prospective space traveller had seen Tweets about what they were learning in class – including Mars One.

Full text of the article can be found HERE.

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Become a Twitter Power User: Tip 1 – Follow #Hashtags using Hootsuite

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Helping Your Child Succeed With Technology


This post originally appeared on A Platform For Good.

Many educators speak about preparing students for their future; for now, I would be content with the present.

As a teacher, it is my responsibility to prepare my students for their future. It is not enough to claim that I will equip my students with 21st Century skills as I am already 14 years late for that. Instead, I do my best to help them develop skills such as flexibility, adaptability, and creativity, and to learn that mistakes aren’t bad but rather an opportunity to grow and learn.

Along with these competencies, I need to help my students develop proficiency with today’s modes of communication, including how to effectively use technology. While there are still some who bother to have the debate about whether technology helps students to learn better, I believe this is now a futile debate. Our students need these skills as technology is simply today’s pen.

As a fellow parent and father of three, I believe there are many ways that parents can help to set their child(ren) up for success with technology, and to put them on the right path toward the effective and appropriate use of it as well.

Expose Them to Multiple Platforms

While some students are quite proficient using an iPad, they may struggle when using a PC. Furthermore, as many school boards are mainly deploying Windows based PCs, nearly all of their students find it challenging to work with a Mac Operating System. As technology will no doubt continue to evolve, it is best if students are exposed to multiple platforms, including: Windows, Mac, IOS, Android, and Linux. Being comfortable using any and all operating systems that they encounter will only  benefit them as they will be more able to adapt to a diverse range of technologies in the future.

Limit and Maximize Screen Time

A wealth of research has been conducted and much has been written on the effects of screen time on kids. If you haven’t already, educate yourself and your children on the topic. A good place to start is with Ways to Manage (and Improve) Your Child’s Screen Time by Dr. Elizabeth Milovidov.

In addition to limiting passive screen time, you should focus on maximizing active screen time.  There are many fantastic educational apps and websites to choose from that allow your children to create something novel rather than just watching something that someone else created.

One of the best things our children can spend their time on is learning to code. Websites such as, are great places for children as young as 5 to start understanding the basics of coding. While these websites are geared toward beginners, more experienced students would benefit from working through the modules as a primer. More advanced skills can be developed by working through the activities of the Khan Academy Computer Programming site and Google’s Blockly site.

Model Responsible Use of Tech

A great deal of research has been done on the importance of creating a literacy-rich home environment, whichhis goes far beyond having readily available books for your children to read. Research supports that families can encourage language and literacy development by creating a home environment where there is lots of reading, writing, talking, and listening. Children look to their parents as models for all behaviors and when children see their families reading often, and engaging in conversation with them, it serves as a natural motivation to engage in those same behaviors.

This same thing can and should happen with regards to the use of technology in the home; children will also pick up on habits and practices of their parents in this domain. For instance, if children see their parents using their cell phone at the dinner table, they will naturally think this is acceptable and will do so themselves. Conversely, if children see their parents use technology in appropriate and responsible ways, they will likely develop those habits as well. Decide what is appropriate and responsible in your home and model those practices.

Digital Footprint

As a student in elementary and high school, I made all kinds of mistakes. Some of those errors in judgment were quite public. But thankfully, those mistakes were not immortalized on YouTube or Twitter; they have decayed like memories in the minds of the people who were present.

Today, our children need to understand that the stakes are higher when they do or say things using social media and on websites. Even applications such as CyberDust andSnapChat that tout the ability to erase your words, pictures, and videos instantly are not immune to the other user taking a screenshot.

Having an open and ongoing dialogue about digital footprints is a great way to help your child make informed decisions as they navigate the constantly evolving digital landscape.

While some classrooms, schools and districts require their students to check their technology at the door, I would much rather take the approach that educators should try and teach students to use these devices appropriately and effectively, to learn to be responsible and reap the benefits of what technology has to offer today’s citizens.  In our constantly evolving digital landscape, the responsibility for this goal should not rest on the shoulders of the education system alone, but be a collaborative effort with the home.

Cover image courtesy of Flickr.

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How Loud is Too Loud?

quiet class

I recently read a colleagues Tweet:

A principal from our system quickly replied:

Andy makes a great point here in that noise should by no means be THE indication of student learning.  In a (hopefully) bygone age, Principals could walk the silent halls and peer into classrooms to see rows of compliant and silent students, either hanging on every word of their teacher, or with eyes glued to books.  Teachers whose students behaved in this manner were known as good teachers.

When Andy walks the halls now, he is more likely to see students collaborating in groups and learning from each other, while the teacher circulates and teaches mini-lessons as required to a much more captive audience then in days gone by.  Students are much more apt to retain information when it fills a cognitive gap.  For more info and research on Cognitive Gaps, see Made to Stick, by Chip and Dan Heath.

Here are my concise thoughts on noise:

What are your thoughts on noise levels in class?

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How Technology Has Affected Traditional Teaching


This post originally appeared on A Platform for Good – a project of the Family Online Safety Institute designed to help parents, teachers and teens to connect, share, and do good online.

While much is different in the field of Education, many would argue that sound pedagogy has not changed, but rather evolved. The foundation of what was good teaching in the past remains good teaching in the present, and will continue to be good teaching in the future. In the best case scenario, sound pedagogy and technology are being combined to support the achievement of our students.

I would like to focus on three examples of effective pedagogy: Collaboration, Creation, and Authenticity, and explore how technology might enhance the practice.


It is widely accepted pedagogy that most students, and adults as well, learn best when collaborating with others. This does not mean that some individuals prefer to work on their own. Sugata Mitra has done a great deal of research in India and elsewhere supporting the notion that children can do anything when they have access to technology and they work together. Technology can support the practice of collaboration in ways that were never possible before. Applications such as Google DocsTitanPadPadlet, and an ever growing list of others allow users to collaborate on documents, spreadsheets, brainstorms, presentations, and more from their own connected device. In most cases, all that is required is a free account and an Internet connection. Therefore the technology allows collaboration to continue beyond the confines of the classroom and the school day.


Traditional pedagogy would declare that ‘Learning’ is best as a verb. Learning needs to be active, not passive. The idea of having students learn through doing is older than formal schooling itself. The students we have in our schools today are the Create Generation; they would rather be making something to communicate their thinking rather than other methods of assessment like tests or worksheets. Technology has the ability to provide many new and innovative ways for students to use their creativity to show what they know. Apps such as EducreationsVoicethreadExplain EverythingHaiku DeckiMovie, and Puppet Pals allow students to create a product for an intended audience to share what they think and know.

Blogging in the classroom is also a great way to allow students the opportunity to create. Blogs can be formal and structured or a more informal venue for students to share their thoughts, their interests, and their learning journey. Blogs are also an ideal venue for a Student Learning Portfolios, which can follow them from year to year chronicling their learning. A few great platforms include Kidblog and WordPress.


Traditionally, teachers would invite guests into their classrooms to speak with their students. Both students and teachers alike enjoy guests in the classroom. Teachers like that they can provide content and experiences from an expert in a field for their students, and students appreciate having a new voice and perspective from which to learn. Transcending both points of view is the idea of authenticity and real world connections. While I believe we should continue to invite guests into our classrooms, technology can help us enhance this practice. Applications such as Skype and Google Hangout allow our students the opportunity to connect with experts from around the world. For example, think of the student impact of Skyping with the author of the book you just read.

Technology is ubiquitous and will certainly play a big role in the lives of our students. We need to remember, though, that technology is only beneficial if it supports sound pedagogy and allows our students to do things they could not previously do. We all need to remember that it is not, and never has been, just about the tech.

Please continue the learning by leaving a comment!

Cover image courtesy of Flickr

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