Express your Canadian side, have fun and win some swag!

Looking for authentic writing opportunities for your students?  Here are some contests and other opportunities to give them real life exposure. They are in order of deadline. The last two are contests for teachers!

Our Canada Magazine

Sponsor: Reader’s Digest

Deadline: ongoing

Prizes: Free year subscription and publication

Topic: True life Canadian stories, humorous anecdotes, pictures and more

Format: up to 600 words

Open to: everyone


Hilroy Spread the Word Environmental Award

Sponsor: Hilroy

Deadline: May 18, 2012

Prizes: $5000 RESP

Topic: Environmental Action

Format: “Like” Hilroy on Facebook, then submit essay-max 250 words, and picture

Open to: Canadian Students (10-18) who need to be nominated through Facebook by someone 18 or over


Teacher Talent Contest

Sponsor: Teach Hub

Deadline: April 30, 2012

Prizes: $1000 for First Prize, $500 for Second Prize, $100 for 3rd, 4th and 5th

Topic: Teaching or any other talent

Format: Videos up to 5 minutes

Open to: American teachers


Instructables Education Challenge

Sponsor: Instructables, Autodesk Inc.

Deadline: June 4, 2012

Prizes: MacBook Air and VGA adaptor for First Prize, other prizes available

Topic: Project Based Learning activities

Format: Videos, Photos and/or Guides

Open to: Teachers in USA, Canada, UK, Australia, Belguim, China, The Netherlands



Why I think students need to memorize.

Yesterday I watched a TEDx video from Jeff Jarvis who said that students do not need to “memorize in the age of Google”. Why would you need to memorize things that can be looked up in a moment from a device we carry in our pocket? I have often heard and agreed with this comment in the past. While “rote” memorization is generally a thing of the past, I am now rethinking the idea that students do not need to memorize. Students need to remember enough basic knowledge to be able to innovate. They also need to be able to critically examine data they find on the Internet—this requires background knowledge and experiences.

Google is apparently increasing our ability to remember how to find information on the internet or stored on our computers. Recent studies of post secondary students have shown that they remember less information when they know that they will have access to the information in the future. However, they were better at remembering how to find the information a second time than those who were told they would have no access. In addition, we are developing a shared memory with our social network and the “web” similar to how “one partner in a married couple might be better at remembering birthdays, while the other might specialise in bank details. Together, they have a ‘transactive memory’, a collective store of information that each can draw upon.”

However, are we able to access the best information? Google does not provide the same search results to different people, even with identical search terms. The results are filtered by algorithms based on which browser you use, the past searches you have made, where you are, and which computer you are using, along with over 50 other “signals”. For example, one person might type in the word “Egypt” and the search results on the first page would be factual items like Wikipedia, travel sites, and the World Factbook.  Another person with the same search using only “Egypt” might get items on the riots and crisis in Egypt of 2011 along with the factual information.  This personalization is happening in many other places on the Internet like Facebook and many news sites. We may be getting information that suits our preferences, but are we getting the information we need to understand our world and differing perspectives? Until there is some sort of Internet news “watchdog” that ensures objectivity or civic responsibility, our students need to be able to remember enough factual information to judge the reliability of the information they are receiving.

Creating new ideas also requires an abundance of background knowledge and experiences.  We can get the students to research an issue before brainstorming solutions. However, in order for students to write about that solution, they need to have a large vocabulary. You can think of an idea and search for a word to match that idea, but it is doubtful that you will always be successful. Memorizing the periodic table seems illogical, but students often do not know what they will do after high school. They may want to become a pharmacist or a bioengineer. In that case, they will need to memorize at least the first 20 elements of the periodic table. You can have a periodic table in front of you at all times (on paper or device), but will you be able to make any significant discoveries if the information needed is not readily available in your mind? I believe creativity requires knowledge and experiences from many diverse subjects in order for the mind to be able to transcend the obvious and create something new.

Regardless of whether we think Google is destroying our mind’s ability to remember or not, it’s here to stay. Personal devices are only going to increase in number and functionality. That’s why it’s important to teach our students how to access quality information. They need to be able to critically examine both their search results and the sites they visit. It’s hard to be critical of someone else’s ideas without any background knowledge—memorized or at least familiar. That being said, I am not suggesting that students memorize lists of vocabulary words, multiplication tables or elements. It is not the simple memorization of facts that will improve our students’ ability to innovate and think critically. Authentic, rich tasks create experiences and connections that deepen memory. These tasks also increase students’ problem-solving and communication skills. Teachers need to design learning opportunities that help students remember or “memorize” knowledge to ensure their success as citizens of the 21st century.

Win a $20,000 outdoor classroom or $5000 in tech

Majesta Trees of Knowledge Competition

Get outside! Up to 10 schools across Canada will win $17,500 to transform their school’s property with an outdoor classroom. An additional $2500 is provided in the form of technical advice and teaching resources from Trees Canada.

  • Deadline is January 27th.
  • Application includes essay or video, landscape plan, project description and viability and community support
  • Get more details here:

CDW Teaching with Technology

Do you have a good story to tell about how you use technology to achieve student success in your classroom? The Teaching with Technology Contest has four ways to enter:

  • Send them a story (two winners of $5000 in tech products)
  • Send them a video (one winner of $5000 in tech products)
  • Just enter your name! ( The sweepstakes winner gets $5500 in tech products)
  • Tweet ur tech story-unlimited entries (You can win $500 in tech products)
  • Deadline is February 29, 2012
  • Get more details here:



Going on a vacation? Pack for a purpose!

My friend Christine went to Costa Rica last Christmas for a family vacation in the sun. Before she went, though, she gathered school supplies from everyone (other teachers at our school, neighbours, family) to bring to a local school near her hotel. Her seven year old son insisted that he didn’t want a toy for Christmas; he wanted to give the children at the school more school supplies.

They were very happy to personally meet the teachers and students at the school. Surprisingly, the school was completely empty of supplies so everything was greatly appreciated.

This year Christine’s family is going back to Costa Rica and she has even recruited Walmart to donate supplies. They have amassed 150 lbs of supplies!

Christine made all her own connections with the local school in advance. However, if you are like me and wouldn’t know where to start, thankfully someone else does!

You can go to and easily find how to “make a impact on the lives of children” wherever you are travelling in the world.

The Pack for a Purpose motto is “Small space, Little Effort, Big Impact” because they suggest that if everyone sets aside only 5 lbs in their luggage for local needs and is able to drop it off at their hotel, then it will make a big impact.

What a fantastic idea! This would also be an excellent part of the planning for any overseas school trip. I know I will be checking out their website before I pack for my next trip!

Storify: Technology Tools in the Classroom

MissZita and I recently had the opportunity to work with Student Success Teachers as they explored Web 2.o tools for their classrooms. These are teachers who work with students who are not always being successful in regular classrooms.  The students often work independently to complete credits.  We wanted to give the teachers a large range of tools that would support differentiation for these students. Student engagement is priority!

We decided to collaborate and build a “Storify” to bring together a large range of links, video tutorials and examples for the teachers. During the workshop, the teachers were able to not only get an overview of all the tools, but also chose two or three to explore further with our guidance.

This was the first time either of us had used this tool, but we are both impressed at how easy it was to use and the highly visual end product.  You can access our Storify on Technology Tools in the Classroom at the following link:


At my school board’s 21st Century Teaching and Learning Technologies Symposium, the keynote speaker was Dean Shareski.  By video conference from Saskatchewan, he asked us if we felt we had an ethical obligation to share. (I love the serendipity of his name and message!) If we discover a lesson, activity or idea that engages students and/or helps them be successful, makes teachers’ jobs easier or more impactful, or is just plain fun, are we ethically obligated to share?

When I was a new teacher, I was privileged to be part of a department that shared everything. We worked collaboratively in course teams to develop common lessons and evaluations while encouraging individual teaching styles in the classroom. Everyone contributed their expertise to the team and even if a teacher didn’t contribute very much because they were new to the department or were occasional teachers, we still shared because that was better for the students. I thought all departments were the same. Of course, this is not true. I know many teachers who refuse to share anything with their colleagues, who keep their binders at home in case someone takes it and copies it when they are not there.

There are many reasons, all valid, why teachers don’t share. They are fearful of criticism. They don’t feel it’s fair if they do a lot of work and someone else doesn’t. They feel they have intellectual ownership of their work and others will present it as if it were their own. Perhaps, they think some teachers are lazy if they do not develop their own lessons. However, isn’t it better that they use your excellent, engaging lessons instead of photocopying worksheet after worksheet and showing movies? What is better for the students?

I was recently part of a team of resource teachers (RT) who developed and led the rest of the RTs in a learning session. As part of that team, I helped make a PowerPoint presentation with embedded videos. Afterward, I sat down with another RT and taught her, step-by-step, how to download, trim, convert and embed video files in PowerPoint 2007 using RealPlayer. I documented those steps in a list and then sent it to the rest of my team members. When one of the RTs on the team asked me to share these instructions with all the RTs on our shared workspace website, I hesitated because I was worried about the legality of encouraging people to download clips. I was also fearful of criticism in case I had made an error or someone could not follow the instructions.

Sharesky helped me to see why I should “put it out there”. So, I have added a section in my instructions to help teachers find videos people have shared in the Creative Commons that are copyright free and have since posted the instructions for all teachers in my board. I have also been inspired to create this blog and have attached these instructions to this post. Please feel free to take these instructions to use, modify, or even pass off as your own work. If you find anything unclear or incorrect, or you know an easier way to embed video, please let me know in the comments. I would love it if you help me make my instructions better! I’ve also attached introductory instructions for Prezi, Exploratree, Voicethread, and Gapminder.

We all access information online. None of it would be there if people did not share. Before I start working on something—anything—I always see what’s “out there” first.  Why reinvent the wheel?

What do you think? Do we have an ethical obligation to share?

Instructions to embed videos in PowerPoint

Prezi instructions                  Intro to Voicethreads                      

Instructions for Exploreatree                   Intro to Gapminder