Tag: Student Voice

Nobody Said It Was Going To Be Easy


It’s the start of October, which means that last month was the hardest month of the teaching year. In September, is when I lay out the expectations, the groundwork and the flow for the learning in our classroom. With this comes the hardest and most frustrating aspect; getting the students acquainted with technology as a learning tool.

I have heard the gripes from fellow teachers and I myself used to say it too ” They don’t know how to log in! They won’t ever remember log-ins! How can I manage 25+ kids with different devices and access?” etc. The key I finally discovered was that it wasn’t hard for the kids….it was hard for ME. I switched my mindset around and started to focus on how to make it a smoother transition for all of us because I have seen first hand the powerful learning that can happen when a student is using a device as a tool to empower, create and explain their learning. It becomes second-hand nature to have that device ready to go when it’s needed.

I have been asked many times how I manage to get the kids ready to go so quickly and my advice is “Roll up your sleeves, and dive in.” It’s messy, it can be frustrating, it can drive you to insanity, but at the heart of it all you know that it is what is best for them and their future.

Here are a few tips I have experienced first hand that may help:

Use the expertise in the room

You are not the only expert in the room, and I am willing to bet that there are a few students in your class who have done this before or are quick and savvy learners. Put them to work helping their peers. I always tell my students “I am only but one Miss Ariss”, however there are some of you in here who can help me and your friends so we can learn this quickly. If you stand and deliver and expect every student to follow your exact move as you click on your computer…..you will be in for a world of mental anguish. I liken this to going to a PD session and the presenter hasn’t gaged the level of expertise in the room and treats us as if we are all beginners. I’ll be honest, if its something I know already, then I’ve started to tune them out. Our students are no different. You will have kids who know how to log in, who know how to make the @ symbol, and who know how to troubleshoot. Honour their expertise and build a collaborative, caring classroom community at the same time.

Set High Expectations

I know some teachers will print out their student’s emails or login info and passwords and give to them. I find that level of scaffolding to be great as a start….but at some point they will have to rely on themselves. With the exception of the students who I know need this scaffold, I post their log in info on the board and give them the responsibility of logging themselves in. At some point, after numerous trials and errors (with support by me,) they get it. Is it easy for them to memorize and copy their log in info, password and websites? Not a single bit, but they are learning perseverance, problem solving and building their confidence in doing this hard thing on their own. There will be tears, there will be stress, there will be anxiety…but there will also be triumph and pride.

Keep Everything In One Place

Let’s be honest…as an adult I can barely keep track of all of the websites, passwords, logins etc and I don’t expect my students to do so either. I start off small with logging into the computer system with their information and we practice going to our classroom blog. This in itself is a feat because learning that the Google search bar is not the same as the url bar when typing in a website address is just one big lesson. I keep all of the important links that they will need – Google Drive, Classroom, Creative Commons, School website, Government tests, et.- all on the blog for quick and easy access until we are at a stage where they are comfortable and strong enough in their technology use to type in other sites.

So yes, it might be easier to just hit print on the photocopier and hand each student a neat little packet without the hassle of the above, but is it what is best for them or for us? Are we living in a neat printed packet world or is our world digital, messy and requires us to push buttons and try new things?

Integrating technology in the classroom is not easy and it’s not meant for all tasks, but no one ever said anything about teaching being easy. We all just know that it’s worth it.


What I Have Learned To Be True


If someone were to ask me what I thought my greatest strength as an educator was, they may be surprised when I say it’s not technology as that is what I am most vocal about. While I love technology and use it purposefully in every way I can, it’s not what I would identify as my greatest strength or contribution.

In my five years as an educator and my varied experiences ranging from teaching Grade 2- Grade 6, I have discovered that my strength lies in my strong connections with students. When reflecting on this, it occurred to me that my passion for working with children has always been innate and it took removing myself from the comfort zone of corporate life and embracing what I truly love to understand that education is my calling and purpose.

It’s summer break and those connections have become evident to me from the amount of emails and messages I have already received from parents and students. I also recently read this article “13 Reasons Students Hate Teachers” which made me wonder what it is that I know to be true about kids and what I have learned from teaching that I hope makes a positive difference on the life of a child.

I’m five years in with so much more to learn, experience and grow. These five years however have taught me the following about kids:

1. They are free-spirits.

They say what they feel and notice, do what they want and enjoy the small things in life that most of us adults gloss over. They can mix and match outfits without care or worry about judgement because they love the colour. They dance, play, laugh and can talk up a storm when comfortable because it’s fun. They will pick flowers (weeds) for you because they were pretty and draw you pictures because they look up to you without concern. They live life to the fullest which is something that can cause unease with adults who are unable to go with the flow or appreciate their whimsy.

2. They are funny.

When was the last time you sat down with a group of kids and really and truly listened to them? When did you spend quality time at recess or lunch and just chit-chatted? I will guarantee you that some of the jokes and life experiences they have will have you in stitches. We often overlook that “free” time during school to catch up on emails, photocopy papers, run errands, but if we slowed down and took that time to hear and be a part of their stories, our own lives would be made so much brighter.

3. They are human.

This point is the one that I hold closest to my heart. They are not robots or machines churning out worksheets, booklets and dioramas. We do not get them fully charged every morning nor do we get to plug them in upon arrival to school in order to do “work”. They have full and complete lives that do not centre around school and we must honour this. There will be days where they are tired, hungry, upset, anxious, worried, scared and those are the moments we must stop what we are doing or have planned and talk to them, work it through and support.

4. They are honest.

Yes, you read that correctly, they are honest. If a child trusts you and knows you have the best of intentions for them, they will tell you the truth whether they are in the wrong or not. Without a solid relationship built on trust, honesty cannot be forged. The reason most people lie is because of fear and if they knew that the person they are being honest with cares about them and is not out for punishment but is there looking out for them and wanting to help them be better, they will tell the truth.

5. They are not looking for a boss.

I am a leader, confidante, guide and a trusted adult who is there to support them in learning about the world around them. I am not their boss nor do I ever want to be. This is not to be confused with being their friend either because that too is not my role. A student once told me ” Everyone always nags, nags, nags. Thank you for getting us and giving me a chance to do things on my own.” As an educator, I guide them in the right direction and in making the better choices. I teach them the tools they will need to succeed in life and I will be there for support in the areas they are struggling in both academically and socially.

6. They all have special needs.

Every single one of us is unique and all of us have areas of strength and areas of growth. There hasn’t been a single individual I have ever encountered in my life that didn’t require assistance in some way and this is the same for all students. We provide varying accommodations for all students depending on their needs at certain times which takes a strong educator to identify and apply. Every child deserves an education that allows them to be pushed to the barriers of their understandings. This requires dedication and hard work on our part as educators to ensure we are providing varied activities, assessments and content which target every child with what they require to learn.

7. They possess emotional strength greater than most adults.

When I hear the life stories of some students, my first thought is usually “how are you still able to bring yourself to our classroom everyday and engage in the learning because I know I couldn’t do it.” School is the safety zone away from whatever else is going on in life for a large majority of students that enter our schools. Some stories we know about while there are many others we may never know about however despite the turmoil, they show up everyday. I applaud and honour their strength and every day in our classroom is a celebration of life and learning because school is the one place in the world we have the power to make that possible.

8. They are curious.

They want to know what, how, why, where and who over and over and over. If they don’t, then their natural curiosity has been stopped at some point or they have learned that the schooling system doesn’t give much time for curiosity so why bother. It is our responsibility to ensure they retain that curiosity because it is the foundation for deep learning. They are curious because they care, are interested and looking for a way to understand. If we honour and harness this by not only allowing but encouraging it, they will engage in meaningful and relevant learning.

9. They want to love school.

Note that I didn’t say they all love school but that they all want to love school. Every year they walk into the unknown with a new class and a new teacher which could make or break their entire year. They start the year hopeful and excited because they truly want to learn, want to have friends and want to be a part of the community. We, as educators, have the ability to ensure this excitement remains all year-long for all students. Some start the year with self-imposed labels from previous years: “I’m always in trouble”, “I can’t do math and I am not smart” or “I have no friends, so I don’t want to be here”. We need to see these as cries for help and work with students to ensure they get past them. We need to find out the reasons and causes and together come up with the solutions to help them because deep down, they want to love school.

10. They are longing for connection and meaning.

They want to know that this place they have to go to every day where they spend the majority of their time is for a purpose. School has to connect to their life which means it must integrate the same tools and ideals they use outside of the building, build on their understandings and curiosities as well as be relevant for their future. No longer do we live in isolation and there is no reason why our classroom doors should be closed. Kids are connecting via social media, Minecraft and YouTube videos,to name a few, and yet school remains this isolated entity. They want to know how others around the world live, work and learn. They want to know that what they are learning has a deep purpose and is not just repetitive busy work. If there is a disconnect, they will disengage. The best way I found to do this is by explaining the “why” and having those full classroom discussions about the relevancy and purpose of the learning happening but most importantly by being flexible enough to change everything if need be to ensure it truly is meaningful to them.

The education of our youth goes far beyond just delivering curriculum and providing assessment after assessment. They are children and we are so lucky to have them in our lives each and every day. I cherish the learning I receive from each of them and I am so honoured to work with every child that enters my life. The above is my own personal roadmap and while I know not everyone will agree, it is what I follow in my heart and what I have learned to be true.


How will you use $5,000,000?

Working on their place value project.

Our focus this year is on real-world applications of the mathematical foundations we build in our classroom. We have been working on understanding place value concepts to 1,000,000 and three strategies (front end, comparable and compensation) for estimation during Math. We’ve also been thinking of how and where we would need to understand and use these concepts in our lives.

The students were then presented with the following problem:

“You have inherited $5,000,000 from a long lost relative in your ancestor’s country. The problem is that you must use this money on purchasing 3 homes in Alberta. You can use www.realtor.ca. One house must be over $1,000,000 and the other two can be of your choosing, however you must share your reasoning as to why you have chosen these homes. Any money left over will be yours to keep, so choose and estimate your budget wisely. How will you use your money?”

They were also presented with website called Padlet, which is a virtual collaborative board, open to representing learning and projects in a variety of ways.

Students had to organize their three homes and their features. They were to also calculate the estimated value and cost of each home as well as the property taxes. Then calculate their estimated leftover amounts after purchases were processed. Once their calculations and reasonings were completed, they will draft a cheque for their homes using written and standard form for the amount they would pay home owner. Their learning and understandings, whether visual, oral or written along with their calculations would all be posted to their padlet wall for sharing.

Students were ecstatic to start exploring and were even more invested when they saw the connections between the google map they were using in Social Studies and the one on realtor.ca. They started out small and searched for homes within their city and soon afterwards started to branch out.

Exploring realtor.ca and padlet.com.
Exploring realtor.ca and padlet.com.

This is where things started to get exciting because they began to see just how much money a home can cost and some began to have questions.

“Do I only have to choose 3 homes?”

“What if I want two or more homes over $1,000,000?”

I thought about those questions and immediately questioned my reasonings behind creating the problem. I looked at them and said, “No, you have free choice. It is your $5,000,000 and so use it at your discretion so long as you can demonstrate your understandings.”

As soon as they realized they had ownership of the project and their money, their interest began to shine through which showed me that they were truly invested in this project and in applying the classroom concepts to the real world. Questions then became these (and to which I said yes):

“Can I purchase multiple rental homes and rent them out for more money?”

“I love art. Do I have to buy a house? Can I l buy art gallery spaces?”

They were making this project their own! Soon all you could hear in our classroom were:

  • Students sharing the costs of their homes which meant reading the larger numbers and vocalizing them to one another
  • Students using descriptive language to justify which properties they have chosen
  • Students learning about different parts of our province and questioning housing costs relative to locations

We even held discussions about why some properties were listed at $1 and what bidding wars were.

This project has helped to begin the conversations about how math is a part of our everyday lives. That math is not just something you need to “do” in class but that there is a real need for the skills you are learning, and where, why and how to apply them.


“YOU” Can Be The Expert!


Lego self-portrait by one of my students.
Lego self-portrait by one of my students.

Our school year began last week, and for both my students and I, this marked the start of many new things. As grade five students they were embarking on a new journey and transition from elementary school to middle school; while as their educator, I too, was experiencing the very same thing.

After looping with my previous students for three years and knowing what their goals and expectations were, I was unsure as to what my new group would need and what I could do to assist them this year.

As our first week unfolded, our focus and direction soon became apparent when our class discussions started to centre around learning, knowledge and expertise in different areas. One of my students said ” Miss Ariss, you are the teacher. You are smarter than us.” To which I replied. ” I may know more things because I have had more life experience, but that doesn’t mean I am smarter than you. You may have more experience than me in many areas, and because of that, you have a lot to teach me.” They pondered this and I wondered if they truly believed that they could be experts in an area that their teacher, who in their eyes, knows everything about everything all the time, was not.

We started an Art project where I asked them to represent themselves as Lego figures. As I walked around and began to assist my students, my eyes turned to one drawing. My student was effortlessly shading, detailing and bringing out his personality in his figure in a way I had never seen before. It only took a few seconds before everyone was huddled around his artwork. I took this as an opportunity to refocus them on the concept we had discussed earlier, that every one one of them can teach all of us something. That every one of them has an area of strength that can be shared with others. We had found our resident artist who has a deep love and passion for artistic interpretation and creativity.

The week progressed and student’s strengths were slowly emerging and not only that, they were starting to see them. Those who were strong in technology were helping those who were struggling to connect and learn while those who were code masters were assisting those who had trouble to unlock their locker locks. The best part to see however was that they weren’t doing the work for others, they were teaching and working with them. They were implementing their strengths.

One afternoon, one of my students said to me ” Miss Ariss, I don’t think I’m an expert at anything.” I replied, ” I know you are, but we just haven’t found out what yet.” I didn’t realize it then, but this stuck with him all day because as the home bell rang I noticed him lingering around the door. I walked over to him and he started to talk to me about the things he would be doing this weekend and then he said he loved to build robots in his room whenever he could. I asked him what kind of robots and what he meant exactly, to which he proceeded to explain to me just how he uses wires, cardboard, light switches, batteries, light bulbs and anything he could find to build and take apart things in his room. As I stood there listening to him and watching his face light up, I was amazed at how passionate he was about this. I stayed silent and listened when all of a sudden he says ” Miss Ariss… I think I’m an expert at making things. Can I make you a robot? ” I looked back at him unable to contain my smiles and just said, ” I can’t wait to have my own robot!”

On Monday he came to school carrying his tools and showed me the most incredible moving car that he had built for me:

My student's homemade part robot-car.
My student’s homemade part robot-car.

He had used a cardboard base, a light switch, batteries and wires to create this amazing robot and he made it for me. His excitement, that what he loved to do was relevant and meaningful, overtook him and he just wanted to share his creation with everyone, especially our AP Jesse McLean who he knew loved electronics. The class was riveted watching him make it run and he was beaming with pride after showing Mr. McLean and having other students ask him to teach them how he built it. He realized that he was making an impact and that his talents and strengths are important.

Most would have been happy to have reached this point, that being an expert means you are finished, but when you are dedicated and passionate about something, your learning never stops. My student went home tonight after watching this Vine video that Mr. McLean took, to refine his machine and try to see if he can alter the wiring to make it do spins.

This is only the start of our journey and I cannot begin to express just how excited I am to help my students to find out what they are experts at or what they would like to work towards becoming an expert at this year. I want to bring out their strengths and help them gain the confidence to grow and truly find their passions. Most importantly I want them to know that they matter, that I will support them and that expertise is something that is constantly evolving as they learn and share with others, that learning and expertise is a process of growth.


They Reached Out To The World & It Reached Back Out To Them

Tweeting while watching webcast
Watching the #storysmashup webcast and live tweeting our learning.

Growing up, authors were comparable to super heroes. They had the power to transform words into magical journeys and bring me along for the trip. I had a long list of favourite authors, however the idea that I could reach out and talk to one or have one acknowledge me in any way was beyond the realm of possibility at the time. Connection through the use of social media has forever changed this dynamic and this week’s events in my classroom will forever hold a special place in my heart and in the memories of my students.

I received a tweet from educators Catherine D and Kelli Holden  asking if I wanted to join their classes in watching a webcast of popular authors Jeff Kiney – Diary Of A Wimpy Kid and Dav Pilkey – Adventures of Captain Underpants.  The event was being hosted by Scholastic and featured these authors discussing the elements of a story, what inspires them to write and details about the writing and illustrating process.The authors would then ‘smash a story’ together which students would have to complete. I immediately replied with a yes! My students are huge fans of these series, so much so that we had started a countdown for the next book release. We decided that a great way to have the kids connect on the webcast was to create a room using TodaysMeet and give students the opportunity to chat with one another while watching the broadcast, as well as have a group of tweeters from each class tweeting out the learning.

We waited in anticipation for the day of the webcast. That morning students were anxious, excited and couldn’t wait until after recess to begin. Once the time had arrived, my students logged in to the room we had created using TodaysMeet and found other students from Edmonton and Spruce Grove, Alberta and Colorado in the US. The introductions began as did their common love and connection to the stories of both of these authors.

As students continued their conversations, I had two of my students become our official tweeters for the event. I would oversee and assist if needed, but it would be their responsibility to watch the webcast and share their learning with the world. They started off a little rocky, not knowing what exactly to tweet but as soon as they saw tweets coming in from other classrooms watching and using the hashtag #storysmashup, their tweets containing their thoughts got stronger.  One moment during the webcast, they saw a photo from Kelli Holden’s class Millgrove4H of two of her students tweeting and realized that yes, other grade four students like them were sharing with the world too. The spark was lit and one student began writing tweets on paper, while the other furiously typed them out. It was incredible to watch.

The webcast was phenomenal. The authors touched on the important elements of a story and how they access their creativity when coming up with ideas. They even discussed whether they liked to illustrate digitally or on paper which was a big hit in my room as my students are currently experimenting with digital illustrations for another writing project.

Once the webcast was over, the conversations on TodaysMeet took over. Students were asking each other their thoughts, predictions and also sharing what elements they would add to complete the story. For students in the US, the webcast allowed them to enter a contest where the student-author of the best completed version of the story would win a variety of prizes. We, along with Catherine and Kelli’s classrooms, are in Canada and are therefore ineligible but we didn’t allow that to hinder us. We decided to have each classroom complete their version, post on our respective blogs and have students share their versions. Upon hearing this, my students were even more excited as its one thing to have adults read your work but it’s completely different having peers do so. It allowed us to have discussions about genres and how you can absolutely love a book or story that someone else might not and that is ok. We talked about how authors write to appeal to a certain audience and how best-sellers become so. Writing is not always an easy endeavour and how authors may go through many rejections before publication, but that their love of writing keeps them writing and sharing.

Following the webcast, Scholastic had tweeted that classrooms who tweeted what books, authors or stories they would like to see ‘smashed-up’ next would be entered to win a signed poster from one of the authors in the webcast. My students were on a roll tweeting out their favourite books and authors. This is where the magic of this event really happened in my classroom as they realized the power of their voice.

Students tweeted their #storysmashup ideas and included the authors who were on Twitter in their tweets. This was what happened:

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Wendell aka John Spencer responded!
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Katherine Applegate, author of one of their favourite books favourited their tweet!

And then…

Jeff Kiney sent them a Direct Message!

They were jumping up and down in excitement and disbelief! THREE authors had seen, read and reacted to their tweets. I can’t even describe how ecstatic they were.

The following day we received the following from Scholastic:

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They were now understanding the power they have and how they had connected to the world. They saw that their friends from Millgrove4H also won a poster and were so happy. They wanted to keep going and began their story drafts. We re-watched the webcast and students drew their version of the character Coco-Puff which Jeff Kiney had created. They drew these and tweeted them:

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Student versions of Coco-Puff

Within minutes they received yet another direct message from Jeff Kinney:


This time the sheer excitement was just incredible. They were jumping, laughing and giving each other hugs. It was priceless to witness. One of their favourite authors had appreciated their art work and took the time to respond and motivate them to continue. All they wanted to do at this point was write, write and write.

What started out as a tweet led to a wonderful collaborative writing project that assisted students in recognizing their voice and abilities. Thank you to all who helped in making this such a monumental experience for my students.

They reached out to the world and it reached back out to them.