Learning How to Use Sketch Up 8

Had some extra time at the end of the day, so I decided to knock off a task that I’d been putting off a while: learn how to use Sketch Up.

Sketch Up is 3D modeling software that I first came across a few years ago. It was originally developed as an add-on for Google Earth, but eventually developed into a stand-alone product. I have no time for it in the general classroom, as I already struggle to cram the whole curriculum into the year, but as I have one student who is ahead on the course, I thought that 3D modeling would be a great extension for the Area and Volume unit.

I found a great 15-minute YouTube tutorial on Sketch Up 8, which is the paid version that is installed on all the computers at school. I followed it and tried to replicate all the functions shown in the video:

This was the end product. Not much to look at but I admit that it was fun. I’m not much of a designer, but I can see great potential for students to get creative. I’ll still need to come up with a written assignment, but my student will have great fun with it.


Learning about Climate Change

Back in October, I gave a 1-hour workshop for the elementary teachers on how to use Quizlet.com. One question I received at the end of the workshop was whether there was a quick way to print the vocabulary sets so that they could be used in the classroom. I didn’t realize that there was an option to generate ready-made flash cards, so I helped the teacher cut and paste the images into a Word document.

Well, guess what! There is a way to make flash cards … I should have know and feel a bit silly only to realize this 5 months later. The instructions are on the Quizlet website.

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This afternoon, I ended up printing out a set of our Earth and Space climate change flashcards for each of my students. In the morning, we had discussed some major ideas – how greenhouse gases work, the difference between global warming and climate change – through a step-by-step lesson on Facile Learning. They seemed particularly intrigued, but I wanted to make sure they had some “sandbox” time to practice learning scientific terms that might not be familiar to them.

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We spent a  50-minute period cutting and reviewing the words. I asked them to shuffle all the cards and try to match them with the definition and the picture . What I thought were terms that most students would already be more familiar with were actually ones that I received the most questions on. They weren’t curious about chemicals like nitrous oxide or chlorofluorocarbons, but the shorter words that were easy for ELLs to pronounce and read aloud. Mostly commonly inquired were:

  • exhaust
  • smog
  • ozone
  • methane

They really, really wanted to know these definitions and make sure they understood them. It’s always interesting to me to see what topics they are fascinated with.

I realize now, in hindsight, how boring it is to teach the carbon cycle without an interesting context. But when the context is that your way of life may be affected – the that migration of geese might affect your spring hunt or that unstable temperatures mean that you can’t safely drive your Skidoo across the river to your hunter ground – then you cannot help but give your attention to climate change.

I suppose I have been teaching climate change in a very alarmist and upsetting way (is there any other?) which may have piqued their curiosity a bit more on these topics. Either way, this was great. It was really nice to see the entire class engaged.

I gave them the last period off to goof off and play cards or study on their own, making time to work with my one selective mute student. I drew pictures at random and then asked her to write the words on a whiteboard / VNPS. She did pretty well, once she was confident that the spelling was correct. I also wrote on a scrap piece of paper, “I need a hint”, and she would point at it if she felt stuck. We had a good time and it was a nice way to end the day.

Happy Thursday!


Using Blended Learning for Assessment

Last week, I finally finished my online course. I was completing the Additional Qualification, Integration of Information and Computer Technology in the Classroom, Part 1 with Queen’s University Continuing Education. It has been a long three months, but it’s also been very rewarding. I played with a lot of new #edtech tools, as well as saw the bigger picture of what we need to think about when we use #edtech (i.e. safety, communication, accountability, digital citizenship).

Like most teachers, I feel that assessment is an area of weakness. I decided to try some new assessment strategies today in a collaborative setting.* I arranged the students in mixed-ability groups, making sure to disperse stronger students between them all and then asked them to work on their usual paper assignments … digitally.

First, they were asked to go on Geogebra and show their solutions to three graph theory questions. Each group had approximately 4 students, so they had to divide the questions up and also check each other’s answers to make sure they were posting the correct one.

After that, they look at Today’s Meet, which is a simple web-based chatroom. This is what it looks like; the left hand side is the messages as you type into the right-hand. The students are able to see my instructions and also click on the URLs to take them to their respective digital “parking lot”:


The “parking lot”, where they post their digital sticky-notes, looks like this. Padlet.com is a free website and it’s definitely a great tool for teachers who are new to #edtech. You simply double-click to add your notes.

Also, if you actually want to see the page live, feel free to click here.


As students wrapped up their work, I asked them to write a comment and give feedback to other students. I laughed at the one above that says, “Remarkable – New York Times Magazine!”

Overall, this was a really successful class that used blended learning and a variety of assessment of strategies. The kids also had fun trying something new and I was proud to see them collaborating and supporting each other. We need to do this more often!

*I’ve been meaning to use more Kagan structures through the year, but got lazy after term 1. 


15 Minutes of Fame

Just wanted to share some exciting news – the Ontario College of Teachers did a one-page article on my Grade 10 and 11 classroom in Waskaganish, Quebec. It was published in the March copy of the quarterly magazine; if you want to check it out, my ugly mug is on page 45

Thanks to Stefen Dubowski for the interview and letting me yabber on. It was also great fun hanging out with the photographer, Matt Liteplo, as we showed him around Waskagnish for the week. Also, big thanks to OCT for sharing the love. It means a great deal to get a little bit of recognition!

Most of all, my students, including one of my former graduates, S., who ended up in the photoshoot and making us laugh like crazy. I would not love my job if it weren’t for the kids, even if they drive me mad!


Gamifying Stats

February and closing in on the end of term 2!

This is the time of year where I often realize I’m not as far as I feel I should be in the curriculum and then we go full throttle again. In Secondary 4, which is Grade 10, we are covering Statistics and Correlation. As this is my second year teaching the course, I’m getting much better and explaining percentile rank in a more interesting and meaningful way.

Of course, it’s good fun to throw in a few math games! Gamifying high school math is a great way just to mix things up. Today, we played Guess the Correlation after I taught the linear correlation coefficient. Basically, you look at a scatter plot and you have to guess the correlation factor between 0 and 1. If you’re too far off, you lose a life:



The kids got pretty competitive and it was funny watching how aggressive the boys were trying to ace the high score. It’s not often you have students shouting over being good at math!


Board Game Fun!

On Thursday, I managed to give out math tests for both the Grade 10s and Grade 11s. That felt pretty good, considering we are only 4 days away until the Christmas holidays and many teachers have stopped teaching new material at this point. I was happy this week was still fairly productive, despite the absences increasing in number.

Since the Grade 11s won the Oopsie Points challenge*, I bought a couple of frozen Delissio pizzas and we rented the kitchen for a period.

I brought Blokus with me and they learned how to play it. The game is for 4 players and you have to fit as many as your 21 tiles into the board. Each person takes their turn and can place a piece down, as long it touches pieces of their own colour, corner-to-corner. You cannot have two pieces of your own colour with two sides flush to each other.

Pretty simple to play and it’s a classic game that even my mother and 97-grandmother play with each other! It’s great for spatial reasoning, so it’s not a surprise that my two strongest math students really started picking up the strategy and knocking everyone out! They were really into and I was pretty happy I tricked them into doing math even during their down time … ha!

We had a great time overall!

*I started the Oopsie Points challenge two years ago. I wanted students to challenge me if they spotted errors because students should feel comfortable challenging people of authority and not be complicit in whatever is being said. I found that prior to this challenge, a lot of my students would not be willing to point out even the simplest of addition errors. 

This Is What -34 Celsius Looks Like

It’s been crazy cold in the north!

My car would not start this morning, so I decided it was back to walking to work. I forgot to plug in my block heater*, so really that was my fault. But I’ve been a bit lazy with my commute, which is only 10 minutes away, so I might as well well. It’s just that putting on snowpants and full gear adds another 5-10 minutes …

Anyway, I thought I’d share a picture of what happens when you are walking in -34 Celcius weather for too long with a balaclava. You start breathing heavily and the moisture drifts up towards your eyelashes, which then collect the moisture and it freezes. Then you look like you’re crying when you go inside because all the ice starts dripping off your lashes onto your face!


*Check out the Wikipedia page of what a block heater is. Only some Canadians are aware of this function on a car. It doesn’t automatically get installed on a vehicle. You have to pay to set it up

OAME Conference: Proposal Submitted

Been pretty busy and haven’t been blogging much.

Last week, I was on a whirlwind tour with the Grade 11s. We zipped through Ontario and Quebec, checking out post-secondary options and wandering around on college campuses. It’s been quite exhausting but I’m hopeful that the visit “down south” will inspire students to work hard towards graduation.

Tonight, I finally put in a submission for the annual OAME conference. I initially got a go-head by the co-chair of the conference back in September, but had been procrastinating until now. The deadline is November 30th, so I finally strapped myself done and got ‘er done tonight. The conference will be happening in May 2017 in Kingston, Ontario. I’m glad the proposal process is pretty short, because it really only took me about 10 minutes to finish it.

I won’t say too much about it, other than that the title is “Finding the Way Through the James Bay”. I don’t have it fully worked out yet, but would like to share some Desmos Classroom Activity in there somewhere! I requested a 75-minute session.


Also, I wanted to mention that one of my favourite financial bloggers, Gail Vaz-Oxlade will be there!! I really hope to meet her and say hello! Maybe even take a picture with her?!?! There is an amazing interview with Gail that Jessica Moorhouse featured on Mo’ Money Podcast.