Comics Show Who You Are!

Today was the second day of grade 4 this year, and my eagerness to learn even more about my students led me to turn to technology. I gave my students a quick low down on Comic Life, and then let them explore, play, and create a comic of themselves. Their only requirement needed was to take a picture of themselves, include their name, and tell me five things about themselves. If they had any questions about how to use the app, I encouraged them to ask their peers, as they are becoming wonderful teachers themselves!

Once their projects were completed, they were easily able to airdrop them to me, so I could share them as well. Besides the fact that my students were instantly engaged in their projects, their tidbits about themselves gave me insights into who they are. Leaving the project open-ended, instead of providing a simple fill in the blank all about me sheet, seemed to encourage the students to tell me a lot about them. Many of their thoughts made me smile, and taught me something new and interesting. I’m looking forward to using their comics to generate further discussion, make connections with each of them, and between them, to continue to build our classroom community.

Here are some examples of their finished pieces:

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A New First Day of School

Prior to my students arriving on the first day of school, I was trying to envision a new “first day.” I was tired of the same old ice breaker or get-to-know-you activities that really end up doing neither of their intended results. After a couple of hours spent reading blogs, exploring twitter, and searching on Pinterest, I knew that I needed to change the way I approached my first day of school. I wanted my kids to know that I value creativity, collaboration, and hands on projects, and what I had done in the past wasn’t representing the teacher that I am.

So I decided to scrap most of my plans, and start fresh. Although this can be a scary thing, especially for us teachers, it was something I felt that I had to do. In the afternoon, during our character time, I read the story Do Unto Otters by Laurie Keller. It’s a great book that talks about a rabbit who meets new neighbours, the Otters, and has to decide how he would like his new neighbours to be. It highlights important characteristics that we look for in others, like being polite and considerate, and ultimately leaves the reader with the rule to do unto otters as you would have otters do unto you. I’m a sucker for puns, so this book is right up my alley!

After we read the story, we shared our thoughts about it, and how the qualities the author discussed in the story are qualities that we look for in others. We also talked about when we work with others, that we must ensure we are treating them respectfully. My students came up with some great ideas about the ways that they want to be treated when in a group.

From here, I presented my students with a challenge: Each prearranged group of three would receive 20 pipecleaners and 3 large sheets of tin foil. They didn’t have to use all of the supplies if they chose not to, but these would be the only supplies that they could use. Together they would need to plan and create something. Much to my surprise, and with very few questions, the groups got right to work. They had over an hour to plan and design their projects, and the results were fantastic.

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Although the kids thoroughly enjoyed their creations, it provided me with insightful information about them. Instantly, I was able to see how my students interacted with one another; whether they were quiet and shy, or bold and took the lead, it gave me a quick read on their personalities and leadership qualities. Secondly, I could see how my students negotiated through their ideas. Some students were very adamant about their idea, but when others disagreed, it was great to see how they were mindful of the concepts we discussed to collaborate and come up with a new idea together. It was wonderful to see all students engaged not only in the process, but together as a team.

After completing this activity, it left me to wonder, what do I learn about my students in an ice-breaker or in a get-to-know-you game? Why have I chosen to do such activities in the past? Through a simple change, I am now able to answer these questions successfully and have a purpose behind my activity design. I challenge you to ask yourself the same question: Why?

Life Lessons Through Elephant and Piggie

If you know my family, we have this weirdness with pig nicknames. Upon the arrival of my new niece last year, I wanted to start on her a book series, and while browsing our school book fair came across a story called Happy Pig Day by Mo Willems. 


I was immediately drawn to the title, but in all honesty, the book itself didn’t look that appealing to me. It’s written in comic style, with colour-coordinated speech bubbles for the characters, Gerald and Piggie. However, once I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down. The characters are so lovable, empathetic, and melted my heart. My cousin, of course, agreed!

It wasn’t until recently when I came across a different story from the series, and thought about reading it to my grade 4 class. I was hestitant because of the simplicity of the book, but was surprised with a loud applause after we read it. Like me, they too are now addicted! They seek the series out at the library, share them with each other, and are constantly recommending a new story from the series. “Why?” I wondered. 

Sometimes I think as teachers we’re caught up in the need to teach our kids to read. To teach them to challenge themselves. To encourage them to read chapters book. But have we forgotten to teach our kids to enjoy reading? Don’t we want them to connect and relate to the characters? Find humour in texts? Empathize? 

This series has opened the doors for me in my classroom to teach children about friendship, character, and life lessons, but more importantly to be able to find themselves in a book! I challenge you to do the same. 

All About Me: Spanish Style

At the beginning of January, my students wrote an All About Me Book, only this book was in Spanish. They discussed their name, described themselves, and talked about some of their favourite things. As a way to make this activity more interactive, we decided to create an electronic, bilingual book. The students used the app book creator to select a picture, write the words in English, and then speak the words in Spanish. It was a fun activity, that they were all excited about, but the best part was when they showed their parents. Their parents were able to hear them speak another language, that they couldn’t, but could also understand what they were saying through the English words.

Here’s an example of one of their finalized projects:

Do Students Only Learn?

The other day in class, my students were completing a word association noun and verb activity. Several nouns were provided to them, and they needed to add an interesting verb that would fit nicely with the noun. For example, one noun was lion, and several ideas for the verbs were pounce, roar, and stalk. As my students continued to complete and share their ideas, we approach the last noun, students. I was intrigued to see the verbs associated with students, and my students own understanding or reflection of themselves. I had a few yell, chat, and talk, however, the majority of my students used the word learn.

Although I was content with the idea that students “learn” I questioned why so many students chose this word and not many others verbs that could be associated with the word students. I completed a simple google image search on students to see the types of pictures that came up, and this was what I saw:

Google search of "students"

Google search of “students”

Happy students with books in almost every picture. Why were there no photos of students thinking or building things? Why are there solely smiling faces with books?

This led me to question if students and perhaps society in general has an image of students as learners, how can this idea evolve into something more? How do I encourage my students to be creators, thinkers, builders, and discoverers? How do I make them understand that they are more than a learner?

They are the thinkers that this world need. They can be creators of new and incredible ideas. They are the future designers and explorers. They are so much more than a learner.

Could 9 Year Olds Rule the World?

On the first day of school, I wanted to start the afternoon off by showing my students an inspirational child in which they could relate to, and who better than Kid President? While playing the video below, bursts of laughter and quiet conversations emerged, as the students listened attentively to the message being delivered.

At the end of the video, Kid President poses the question, “What are you teaching the world?” Together we talked about what this might mean, and the potential legacy that we can choose to leave behind. I gave students time to reflect independently, and then passed them each a sticky note to share their personal ideas and to answer the question in their own words. Here are some of their responses:

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Being positive, kind, and safe, showing respect not only to people but the environment, and recognizing that everyone is important…what else could we want in our world? Perhaps we have something to learn from these inquisitive nine year old minds. Maybe they are the ones that we need to listen to. Maybe they are the ones who could make a difference.

As teachers, we have an important role to play in helping our students develop into critical thinkers and problem solvers. And so I leave you with the question to reflect on: What are you teaching the world?

Is Failing Worth it? A Student’s Perception

Last week during class, I was working through a Rachel’s Challenge lesson with my students that was all about goal setting. We discussed goals they have set in the past, long term and short term goals they might have now, and the things that constitute a good goal. Then I asked them the following question: Do you agree or disagree – it is better to set lower goals than to risk failure by setting higher goals?

As they discussed in groups, I wandered around the classroom listening to what they were saying, their ideas, and I was honestly quite surprised with what I was hearing. I brought the students back for a class-wide discussion and a large majority of the students agreed that setting a lower goal is better than risking failure. It left me to wonder why.

Our discussion revealed that students believe that failing is a bad thing. Failing makes you realize you are not good at something. The words they used to describe failure were all negative. Why do they believe that failing is always something bad? How can we help students to redefine what failure means to them.

As I was baffled trying to put a positive spin on the word, one student shared this: “But if you fail you can learn from it and try again.” This was exactly the point I was trying to make. Failing is an opportunity to rethink and re-examine what happened, and to attempt to try again. It is an opportunity to learn and grow. We need to help our students understand that when you fail, you don’t give up. You reflect, you learn, and you try again. We need to redefine what it means to fail. It is after all a “first attempt at learning.