My ideas, thoughts, and experiences

Category: Teaching & Leading Experiences

School Structure Redesign?

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a flame” (Hopkins, 2014).

In our class discussion with Jeff Hopkins today, each of us were intrigued and interested about the amazing things that are going on at the Inquiry and Innovation school he has created. He has moved through multiple roles within the public education system from classroom teacher, to administrator, to superintendent. However, he was never able to find a position where he could really make a systemic change for students in the way he saw needed to be made.

He realized that people didn’t need to hear him talking about it anymore, they needed to see it being done successfully to implement it on a larger scale. Therefore, he built – and they came. Today, Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry (PSII) has upwards of 80 high-school students who are all engaged in personal inquiry projects. These projects move way beyond the four walls of their building but reach into the community around them.

If you spend some time perusing the @PSII Twitter feed, you will see student examples of high level inquiry projects and learning such as this:

As we rapid fired questions at him this afternoon, I began to put together some of the driving factors for what makes their space and place effective. Here is what I came up with:

  • Students are not designated or grouped by grade or ability level
  • Using students interests as a springboard into deep learning
  • Gives students an understanding of the purpose of learning
  • Gives students an understanding of who they are and how they contribute to the world around them
  • Connection, collaboration, and community and build into their program (teachers, students, families, outside community)
  • Trust is built in naturally, but it is key to educator and student success within this program

These are just the main ideas that kept resurfacing throughout our conversation. I appreciated the detailed information Jeff gave us about how his school runs. He also provided us with some documents that PSII have been developing over the last few years that might be of interest if you want to know more about them!

I look forward to brining these ideas back to my school, thinking about how we could take aspects of this and apply it to our location, and hopefully talking a group of my colleagues into visiting PSII in the future! *fingers crossed*

Classroom Design – Places and Spaces for Learning


Come take a virtual peek into my classroom for the year!

This is actually the second year I have been in my classroom but I moved some major furniture around this summer to make the space more functional and useful for myself and the students. Here are a few things that I like to keep in mind when I am putting together my classroom:

1. Neutral colours. From my own experience I have found that the use of neutral colours and shades keep a room feeling calm. At this age, children already have a hard time focusing on one things for a period of time, so I try and limit possible other distractions as well.

2. Bare walls. As I noted above, I try and limit as many distractions as I can for my students. Having lots of colours, words, pictures, and papers starts making me feel cluttered and overwhelmed so I can only imagine what it does for the kids!

As you can see above, I have a few of my boards set up and are awaiting student work. I try and only put up work and reference material that we are currently working on. Then I transition things off and on as the year progresses. For the most part it is student driven; the students suggest tricky words from our units to put up on our ABC wall, we write up our wonderings on our wonder wall for every unit, we put up artifacts and resources from our units up on our inquiry board, and we use visuals for students to reference for reading strategies in the Reading C.A.F.E.

3. Separated spaces. I am really lucky that this classroom is quite bright and open. Seeing as my students are still pretty small, I try and create separated spaces in the classroom. You can see from my photos that I have tried to create a nook for reading with a reading tent and two shelves in between to make it feel more cozy. This is often where students go when they want to read without distraction of others, work independently or with a partner, and if they need a space to reflect and calm their bodies. I have also kept my subject specific manipulatives together. For example, I have a shelf that is all for math, I also have a explorations shelf, literacy manipulatives shelf, writing space, and a reading space within the classroom.

4. Flexible seating. Each student in my class has their own desk. However, I do not like students spending too much time in one space throughout the day. Therefore, I provide a wide range of flexible seating options around the class for students to take advantage of. I have some stools at a high table, I have pillows and logs beside my low table, I have lap-desks for my students to work on the floor, I have a circle table which works well for small group support, and I have some yoga ball chairs which have been a big hit this year!

5. Alternative light sources. I find the fluorescent lights in the classrooms extremely harsh and distracting. When I can, I try and provide some alternative light sources around the classroom (which is a bit tricky finding plugs in convenient place when your school was build in 1913). This year I have twinkly lights in the tent, a salt lamp near the self-regulation tools, and a small lamp on the small writing table. I try and leave the lights off during the day whenever possible, although that gets difficult in the summer. On those darker days I often just turn one set of lights on. I don’t think I can remember the last time I had all three sets of lights on in my classroom…

I hope some of these tips and photo was able to provide some inspiration or food for thought for your own classroom! Please let me know if you have any questions!

Miss Miller

Book Review


This book has been on the top of my reading list for a few months now. Ever since I heard that Rebecca Bathurst-Hunt had a hand in contributing to this book I knew I had to take a look! I know Rebecca through a friend and we did a Personalized Learning Institute Program together in 2015.  She is a Kindergarten teacher in Victoria who is extremely active on social media. I often scroll through her Twitter and Instagram accounts to get inspiration for my own classroom. She does everything from free inquiry, raising and releasing salmon, to mindfulness and meditation with five and six year olds!

Even though I have previous experience with inquiry, I found this book well laid out, straightforward, and is full of small things teachers can do in the classroom to develop a culture of wonder and inquiry. I did two of my practicums in IB schools as well as am a Level 1 trained IB teacher. I think this book is great for people that are anywhere on the spectrum of inquiry within their classrooms. I would love to introduce it to some of my colleagues as it provides a framework of how to set up authentic inquiry and some resources to support (spaces, places, technology, visible thinking strategies, etc.).
In this day in age, skills developed in an inquiry-based classroom are becoming more and more valuable. Skills such as questioning, critical and creative thinking, researching, and connecting to the community are what we are wanting to develop in children in order for them to be successful in their future.

Below are some ideas that I am going to try and integrate into my own practice and classroom this year!

  • Posting a question grid or question/wonder prompts in order to give students a starting point
  • Create a provocation space where students can interact with materials connected to our unit(s)
  • Rolling cart with loose parts and materials in order to create a mobile Makerspace for the School
    • With some inspirational books for students and teachers
    • Also have a ring of cue cards with visuals and/or challenges for students using the different materials
  • When planning my inquiry units – think more critically about how I can move from structured to free inquiry throughout the year (provide my students, especially the ones in grade three with more independent learning and researching skills)
    • Post the visual of the different types of student inquiry on our inquiry board
  • Using morning tubs for the first 20 minutes of the mornings instead of morning activity worksheets (give students the opportunity to create and communicate first thing in the morning and a good start to the day)
  • Working with the Librarian to possibly create a Wonder Wall in the Library
    • Can help support inquiry from the class but also can be a place where questions can guide what type of story or activity the librarian introduces to the students
    • “The design of our library spaces impacts how our learners interact with one another as well as with the resources and experiences in the space….Add a provocation table, a poetry center, a Wonder Wall, and flexible furniture as well as visual cues, sentence stems, and supports to guide learners in how the spaces can be used…the Library should be the hub of student-led interests and passions in the school.” (pg. 118)
  • Somehow combine classroom communication and social media (FreshGrade, Professional Blog, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, etc.)

I look forward to this upcoming school year and seeing how these ideas transform the learning community at my school!

I will ensure to update how it is going in the classroom this year! 🙂

Miss Miller

A new approach to teaching Math…

I have been inspired! In May I went to a workshop at Lions Bay Elementary School put on by Janice Novakowski and I have not been able to stop thinking about it! She works for the Richmond School District as a Teacher Consultant and her primary focus is Math. Her work these days focuses on teaching math inspired by the work of Reggio Emilia.

The Reggio Emilia approach to teaching values the child as strong, capable, and resilient. Every child is believed to have an innate sense of curiosity. The fundamental principles of the Reggio Emilia approach are; children are capable of constructing their own learning, children form an understanding of themselves and their place in the world through their interactions with others, children are communicators, the environment is the third teacher, the adult is a mentor and a guide, there is an emphasis on documenting children thoughts, and it is believed that there are many ways that children show their learning and understanding. Reggio classrooms are usually very neutral and filled with objects from nature. And the learning often happens through provocations and prompts in exploration centers.

Thankfully, the classroom that I am moving into this year is already very neutral and filled with nature based materials such as; wooden counting blocks, rocks with numbers and mathematical signs on them, and pinecones, leaves, rocks, and horse chestnuts for counting and sorting.

Since I am going to be teaching the early years – most likely grade ½, these are the years it is extremely important for students to develop a strong foundation of math principles and number concepts. Therefore, I am going to take advantage of my students curiousity about the world and to problem solve and present provocations once a week (at the beginning of the week) surrounding our math big ideas. This way – especially for my English Language Learners – they can explore the materials, show what they know, and have a basis of understanding to build on for the rest of that week, the unit, and the year. Here are some examples of provocations that teachers have done following Janice’s work. Some of the information that I am going to be following to help support me in this journey of exploration are: the book ‘Visible Learners: Promoting Reggio-Inspired Approaches in All Schools’ by Mara Krechevsky, and Janice’s Pedagogical Content Knowledge documents that can be found on her webpage.

Janice Novakowski’s Blog –