Student Vote: Giving Youth A Voice

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It is never too early to empower our youth.  As an elementary school educator in Chilliwack, British Columbia I have been involved with Student Vote for 4 years.  In 2009, my principal at the time called me into his office and handed me a box that he had ordered from Student Vote and asked me if I wanted to run an election with my grade 5-6 class.  In the back of mind I could hear my dad’s familiar rhetoric, one he used to inspire my siblings and I around voting time, “Women chained themselves to fences for the right to vote…” He was trying to impress upon me the need to honour those who have gone before me in the struggle to have their opinions recognized.  I took the package from my principal and started a journey to demystify the election process and remind my students that their voices need to be heard.

My students and I have now participated in the 2009 provincial election, the 2010 federal election, the 2011 Chilliwack-Hope by-election, and will be joining thousands of schools voting in the 2013 Provincial election.

When I host an election at school, I like to invite all candidates to present to my students before they make their final decision on student voting day.  If you are considering hosting a Student Vote election I would say the opportunities for authentic learning experiences are second to none.

Here are my top 9 tips for hosting a Student Vote election:

  1. Contact candidates early – their schedules can fill up quickly

  2. Stop by campaign offices and introduce yourself.  Candidates are more likely to agree when they hear you are reminding students of their rights and responsibilities as Canadian citizens

  3. If you need contact information for your candidates try contacting your local newspaper

  4. Use Ustream to stream your presentation live to participating schools in your riding

  5. Encourage parent participation by inviting them to watch the candidates speak.  Here is a sample letter I sent out this year

  6. Engage your students in the process by collecting campaign materials and information on party platforms

  7. Debrief what each candidate has spoken about and display the information so students are able to make their final decision

  8. Recreate a polling station in your classroom/school and have your students use election resources like privacy screens, ballot boxes and ballots to recreate voting day

  9. Compare and contrast the results of student voting day to actual results in your riding

Student’s getting excited about the election buzz:

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Photo 2013-05-05 07.46.45 PM

  • “We have to stop delivering the curriculum to kids.  We have to start discovering it with them.” – Will Richardson.

  • Tech Integration Post #10 of 10: Using QR Codes in the Classroom

    QR (quick response) Codes are like barcodes on steroids!  They enable anyone with a QR reader app on their smartphone/tablet to scan the code using the device’s onboard camera, which then creates a shortcut to a variety different links.  Shortcuts may include links to website address, email accounts, pictures, videos, audio files, maps etc…

    This QR Code links to a very informative Common Craft video which further explains QR codes:

    Before you can use QR codes you need to visit a website to build it.  Here are a list of sites used to create QR codes:

    Once you’ve created your QR code you should test with by using any of the free QR reader apps below:
    When I saw the picture below, on a remote stretch of northern California highway, I realized the true impact QR codes have on our society, and how useful they can be to develop a deeper understanding of a subject:
    Using QR Codes in the class:
    1. Self-guided tour of the school or the classroom:- QR codes could be place at key locations throughout the school and linked to an audio file which further explains the location and what should happen there.  For example, my school follows the EBS/PBS model for discipline, and one of the major components of EBS is the school matrix.  The school matrix outlines our code of conduct (Safe, Helpful, Awesome Attitude, Responsible, and Kind) and how it should be applied in various areas of the school (classroom, transitions, playground, assemblies etc…).  At the beginning fo each school year, or when new students arrive, QR codes could be placed in the above locations and linked to an audio files which would explain the matrix in detail.
    2. Student art gallery walk:- Any visual art lesson can be converted into a multimedia gallery type exhibition using QR codes.  For example, if my students are working on examples of op-art,  they can transform their 2-dimensional drawing into multi-sensory displays by attaching a QR code to the picture.  The QR code may then link to an audio file, which further explains the artwork.  In the audio file students can reflect on their work and use metacognition to express what was easy/difficult about the process.  They can also link their work to additional text and videos on the subject of op-art to encourage others to develope a deeper understanding of the concept.  Finally, students could assess each others work by recording feedback, creating a QR code and attaching it below the artwork.  Thus creating a comment section similar to a blog.
    3. QR Codes attached to homework:- Attach a QR code to your student’s place value homework which links to a video you made using Explain Everything (A video creation tool for the iPad).  The video can reinforce the skill of understanding the value of each digit in a number.  This has huge potential for occasions when support at home is not available.
    4. Guest Teachers:- Guest teachers who substitute in your room may feel more comfortable if they can follow some of the existing classroom rules/expectations.  QR codes could be place on the mobile computer lab, for example, to explain the rules of using the equipment.
    5. Student jobs:– In my classroom we share the responsibility for keeping the classroom clean and tidy.  QR codes could be place at various points in the classroom to reinforce what steps should be taken in order to make sure the bookshelf is fully cleaned, or to explain how to take attendance and where to take it when it’s completed.
    I would welcome any additional ideas you have on how to use QR codes in the classroom.

    Tech Integration Post #9 of 10: Create Concept Review Videos For Students And Parents

    Throughout the whole of the previous school year, I often wondered how to reach more of my student’s parents and engage them (directly) in classroom concepts. I wanted to somehow have the ability to connect parents with what was happening in the classroom, and at the same time offer parents the opportunity to practice fundamental math concepts with their children, based on materials I had created for them.

    Originally I had planned to video myself explaining math concepts such as place value, number sense, addition and subtraction, multiplication and division. When I first tried to video myself I had to consider things like lighting and position of props. It turned out to be time consuming and somewhat difficult.

    Recently, I found a solution, and want to share it with you.  I use the iPad app, Explain Everything to create math review videos.  Explain Everything is an easy-to-use design tool that lets you annotate, animate, and narrate explanations and presentations.  It’s like an interactive whiteboard for your iPad! You can easily create dynamic interactive lessons, activities, assessments, and tutorials using Explain Everything.  It is possible to record your voice, add images, change pen colours and vary the thickness of your pen lines.  Not only that, but you can easily edit your video, and export to several different formats including, YouTube, Evernote, and email.

    The intermediate division of my school is going to be focused on improving math skills this year, and it is my goal to email or host these videos in a place for my student’s parents to view before school starts, during the first few weeks or school, and at any time a review is needed.  So, the next time a parent of one of your students asks, “What can I do to help my child with math?” send them a link to one of your newly created math review videos.  It’s that easy!

    Here’s a couple I made today.  Feel free to tell me what you think:

    iPad + Blogsy: A Match Made In Heaven

    Updating your blog on your iPad, while travelling, has never been easier with Blogsy. There are many applications you can use to manage your blog on the go including, WordPress, Blogpress, Evernote, but I really like Blogsy and its ease of use.

    Before you begin blogging, you will need to purchase some additional hardware if you fo not plan to use the iPad’s built-in video and camera. If you have an additional camera you use to take pictures for your blog, or a video camera with more options you’ll need to purchase the Apple iPad Camera Connect Kit. This allows you to connect an external micro SD card or a USB device to your iPad. Once you connect the camera kit, the iPad will automatically import all video and images based on your preferences. It’s as simple as that. Once your media is stored on the iPad, you are ready to blog. It is also possible to add media via cloud picture albums such as Picasa Web Albums and Flickr without the camera connect kit. I’ll explain this later.

    Once all the media (pictures and video) which you intend to use in your blog posting has been transferred to the iPad you can begin to interact with Blogsy. Before you create your first blog you will need to customize Blogsy. It doesn’t mater which of the three main blogging platforms you use, WordPress, Blogger, or Posterous. You will be able to use Blogsy’s easy to use interface to post content to your blog. Here is a useful video that explains how to complete Blogsy’s ont-time set up for your blogging platform:

    Assuming, when about to blog on the go, that you don’t have access to cloud photo albums, Flickr and Picasa Web Albums, you will to transfer media (both still pictures and video) from your SD card to your iPad. This short video explains how to do this with the aid of Apple’s Camera Connect Kit:

    Once you have transfered all your media to the iPad, you can write your post in full and publish to your favourite blogging platform. This short video explains how to add media to your post, apply appropriate categories and tags, and publish to the Internet:

    I recently created a blog on the iPad using Blogsy. It’s as easy to blog on the iPad as it is on a laptop or desktop. By clicking on the link you can see the quality and variety of the postings on my summer cycle tour along northwestern coast of the U.S.A. All posts were created and published on the iPad.

    Tech Integration Post #7 0f 10: Using Voki’s in Social Studies

    After covering The United Nations, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), and The Convention of the Rights Of The Child in our social studies classes this term, I successfully used Voki’s with my students to demonstrate their knowledge.

    Here’s an outline of what I had them do:

    Assignment Steps:

    1. Visit
    2. Click on the create button in the top left hand corner
    3. Next, customize your character by gender, hairstyle, and clothing
    4. Once you are happy with your character click done
    5. Now it’s time to add the voice of your character.  I would like you to make your character talk about important points you have recently learned about the United Nations
    6. You can either record your own voice or use the text to speech box.
    7. Once you’ve selected an appropriate voice for your character click done
    8. You can now publish your work – click publish
    9. You will be prompted to name your work: Use firstname and UN in capitals
    10. If you have not already created an account you will need to do so now – use your email address and DO NOT use your last name
    11. Once registered choose medium sized voki
    12. Copy all the text in the box labelled “For Most Sites Use This Code”
    13. Once you have the code for your Voki visit the following Google Document and paste your code under your name –

    Student engagement levels were particularly high during this assignment and I received some thoughtful responses.  Here’s an example…


    AC_Voki_Embed(200,267,”40fb56fdc05aa7ceb3bed7e9b22763a8″,3150442, 1, “”, 0);
    Get a Voki now!


    Tech Integration Post # 6 of 10: Skype an Author On The, Before-During-After, Writing Process.

    Skype is a service which allows the registered user to make free phone calls and video calls over the Internet.  This is a free service but both users need to have Skype software downloaded on their computers before the technology will work.  In order to make a phone call you’ll need a microphone to speak into and a pair of speakers to listen to the responses of the person you’re talking to.  If you would like to engaging in video calls both parties will needed a webcam in order to be able to see each other.

    Using Skype in the classroom is not limited to author workshops, when using Skype you can bring a variety of professionals/experts into your classroom at their convenience.  The following link takes you to a list of professionals/experts from around the world willing to Skype in your classroom.

    Also, please take the time to check out this excellent video resource from Silvia Tolisano

    Example: Use an author to help teach your learner’s about the before, during, and after writing process.  I’ve found that whenever you connect your learner’s to experts outside the classroom it enhances the validity of the task/assignment ten fold, and you’re students become more engaged.

    Learning Outcomes: B.C. Grade 6 Language Arts
    A3 – listen purposefully to understand and analyse ideas and information
    A5 – select and use strategies when expressing and presenting ideas, information, and feelings
    B5 – select and use strategies before reading and viewing to develop understanding of text
    C5 – select and use strategies before writing and representing
    C6 – select and use strategies during writing and representing to express and refine thoughts
    C7 – select and use strategies after writing and representing to improve their work

    Here’s a link to all my Skype related bookmarks on Diigo

    Let me know what you think.  If you’re reading this and have used these techniques please feel free to comment or question.

    Top 10 Teacher Tools List

    Here’s my top ten tools list and how I use them.  They’re in no particular order.

    1. Google Documents – The ultimate collaboration tool for your PLN and your learners
    2. Twitter – Widen and enhance your PLN circle with this micro-blogging tool.  Superb tool for connecting with fellow educators.
    3. Diigo – Social bookmarking, highlighting, annotating, and research tool.  Use with learners or use with your PLN
    4. – Powerful URL shortener
    5. VoiceThread – Use it to enhanced/develop oral language skills, practice foreign languages, and useful for students with limited written output or LA students
    6. Skype – Connect your learners with professionals from around the globe, collaborate with classrooms across the nation, and interact with authors
    7. Wallwisher – Virtual sticky-note tool.  Use it as a formative assessment tool during a break
    8. Podomatic – Powerful and free podcast hosting tool
    9. WordPress – Powerful blogging tool which can be used as a reflection tool. Excellent for math journals
    10. Google Reader – Fantastic RSS feed-reader.  Let Google Reader do the work for you.  No longer need to spend time visiting all your favourite websites and blogs.  Google Reader brings them to you to read

    Think a tool should have made the top 10?  Let me know your thoughts.

    Tech Integration Post # 5 of 10: Health and Career Education 2.0

    Grade 5 Health and Career Education Learning Outcome: Safety and Injury Prevention

    C7 – describe safety guidelines to protect themselves and others from abuse and exploitation (e.g., knowing their right not to be abused, being assertive, avoiding potentially unsafe situations, practicing safe Internet use, recognizing tricks and lures used by predators)

    Use a Flip camera, a video camera, a digital camera, or a mobile phone to video small groups of students acting out how to be safe online.  Try these topics or generate your own:

    1. Never hide Internet usage from your parents.  Always let them know when your online
    2. Never reveal personal information such as telephone number, address, last name etc…
    3. Never arrange to meet someone you’ve met online and don’t know, without your parents permission
    4. Cyberbullying
    5. Digital citizenship
    6. Protecting reputations online
    7. Digital privacy
    8. Safe talking in Cyberspace
    9. Handling E-mail and IM
    10. Safe Social Networking

    Your learners may choose a topic and research, in depth, based on the information you’ve share with them or from information they have found independently.  They form a small group of three or four and complete the following tasks:

    • Sketch out a storyboard of the Internet/Online safety skit
    • Create a script of dialogue for the skit
    • Collect any props needed for the skit and practice until comfortable
    • Record the skit and edit using JayCut

    Note: This is a cross-curricular activity and can be used for oral language practice as well as a writing exercise.
    My Diigo links on Internet/Online Safety

    Once your videos are complete your learners can use JayCut to upload and edit them.  JayCut is a free online video editing tool.  There is no longer a need to download expensive video editing software.  You can use JayCut from any computer with an Internet connection and the basic package is free.

    When the videos have been edited by your learners they may be showcased at assemblies or shown to learners in younger grades and used as a teaching tool.  Older grades tend to put more effort into their work when the audience is larger and they know it’s being used for a higher purpose.

    Feel free to let me know how it goes…

    Tech Integration Post # 4 of 10: Teaching with TED

    TED is a small non-profit devoted to ‘Ideas Worth Spreading.’  It began in 1984 as a conference, bringing together leaders in the fields of Technology, Entertainment, and Design.  The TED website makes a selection of the best talks and performances available to view and download for free.  All of the talks feature closed captions in English, and many feature subtitles in various languages. These videos are released under a Creative Commons license, so they can be freely shared and reposted.  If you subscribe to a news reader such as Google Reader you can also subscribe to new talks here.

    I’ve used TED in the classroom to inspire my learners, to bring attention to important world events, to listen to debates and form opinions, to create and stimulate inquiry, to activate prior knowledge, to offer career and life-skills knowledge, and as a writing prompt.

    The following TED talk is a debate and asks the question, “Does the world need nuclear energy?” It compares the future of burning fossil fuels energy against the possibility of increasing nuclear power production.  Obviously, the vocabulary used in these talks are not necessarily intermediate grade friendly but I feel it serves as a great introduction to a debate writing unit for grade 6, or an introduction to non-renewable resources in covered in B.C. science 6.

    It’s simple to use TED as an engaging way to meet many learning outcomes in British Columbia and beyond.  Here are a few examples which link specific TED talks directly to B.C. learning outcomes:

    B.C. PLO Science grade 5: Earth and Space Science: Renewable and Non-Renewable Resources

    • analyze how BC’s living and non-living resources are used
    • identify methods of extracting or harvesting and processing BC’s resources
    • describe potential environmental impacts of using BC’s living and non-living resources

    B.C. PLO English Language Arts grade 6:

    • Oral Language: A1 use speaking and listening to interact with others
    • Reading and viewing: B9 read and view to improve and extend thinking
    • Writing and representing: C2 write a variety of effective informational writing for a range of purposes and audiences that communicates ideas to inform or persuade

    Why use TED?

    1. It’s real
    2. It’s relevant
    3. It’s current
    4. It connects classroom’s with people making positive change in the world.

    Check it out and let me know what you think.

    Efficient Google Search Techniques

    Are your students getting the most out of Google search?  Probably not!  Here are some simple and efficient search techniques you could teach your students when searching/researching information on Google:

    • Phrase Search – by surrounding your search string with quotation marks (”Terry Fox Birthday”) you inform Google to search for the exact phrase in the exact order it appears between the quotation marks.
    • Wildcard (*) Search – using the wildcard (*) symbol in a search string allows Google to fill-in-blanks where it sees the wildcard symbol.  For example, the search, (Google *) will return results about many of Google’s products.
    • Exclude Search (-) – when searching, students may become inundated with results that are similar to the desired search result but are actually not useful.  For example, when searching for information on the big cat, jaguar, it is not useful for students to see search result relating to Jaguar motor-vehicles.  Use (-) directly before unwanted search string, (jaguar -cars)  Note: Multiple omissions can be made in the same string by using multiple minus signs, (bears -football -baseball -sports)
    • Search Specific Websites (site:) – Allows your students to search a specific website or group of websites for a phrase or string. For example, to search British Columbia’s government webpages on the environment use the following search string, (environment
    • Definition (define:) – Uses Google to find the definition of unknown vocabulary words (define: unknown word)
    • The OR operator (OR) – Google’s default setting is to search for all words in a string. For example, the search string (Queen Elizabeth I II) will return results for both Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Elizabeth II on the same page.  The search string, (Queen Elizabeth I OR II) will return results on one or the other.
    • Calculator – Google may be used as a calculator by typing in a number sentence such as, (2*8).  Google will return the result 16
    • Unit conversion – Google search is also able to compute unit conversion.  For example the search string, (10cl to l) returns the result 0.1 litres

    Here’s a link to a selection of useful Google poster’s you could print out and display in your room/computer lab, all about solid search practices: Google Posters