I need to get a full time job in Live Theatre!

Don’t get  me  wrong – I very much enjoy my job as a principal – the main source of satisfaction being working with students  through classroom teaching,  beyond the classroom  program, choir, roadrunners, etc….(I guess the  NON administrative stuff!). At the same time, as I’ve  said many times  before, there is  something so alive and so electric about live theatre. It constantly gives me pause for thought and inspiration for discussion. That’s exactly how I felt at the end of YPT’s Munschtime.

Full disclosure – I went into Munschtime not expecting much. After all, it  was a play for which we were taking  our JK-Gr.  2 students. How motivational or  inspirational  could it  be? Our Gr. 5/6 class was there  as well but that’s only because they were involved in the voice overs as part  of our Beyond  the Classroom work.  That was one of the many neat experiences from seeing  the  play. Hearing the  student  voice overs gave instant  connection which is always one of the drawing cards of any story. Another  connection came from having had the experience in the Beyond the Classroom program to see a rehearsal in action.  Getting to see the rehearsed  scene in polished  form was fantastic – and interesting to note that there  were not many changes from the  rehearsed to the final  with the exception of costuming and being off book for the script.

While  it  was the Beyond the Classroom experience that  gave an entry point for the play to me, it was as always, the story line,  acting, set and direction that  served as the  inspiration. Munschtime for those  who haven’t seen the play before, takes 5 Robert  Munsch stories  and adapts them  into mini scenes in  a  play centred  around a girl who does not want to go to sleep; so her grandparents  tell her 5 different stories. Each one  left me with a great big idea and thought on which to reflect.

Pigs – With apologies to the gifted designation in education, we  are  all  gifted  in our own  way and whether  that  comes from academic success, hands  on  learning,  or  people skills, intelligence can be found  in  many places and in many ways. Yeah that’s right, I’m pushing back for the sake of the “dumb pigs”!

A Promise is  a  promise  – When we live by inflexible rules and leave  no room  for  discussion, we compromise our ability to adapt. The tables get turned in this story in a very creative twist at the end –  I won’t spoil it. Go see the play! And yes, it remains true that living  up to our promises is a sign  of honour. In that world of  connections, I read a great  quote the other day by C.S. Lewis  “Integrity is  doing the  right  thing even when no one is watching.”    I think the Promise  is a  Promise  scene may have been my favourite mini  scene.  The power of the  acting, the voice  overs, suspension of  disbelief and raw emotion  all brought  the scene so alive.

Too much stuff – likely the funniest of the  5 scenes to me and a great dichotomy to the intensity of a Promise is a Promise. And even with the humour, a powerful message was woven throughout – simple acts of kindness to  others always leave an impact. The  final  scene in this vignette confirms  the earlier point. And while we  live in a world  where gratitude is often  not modeled, this scene  surely empowered that virtue.

Murmel,  Murmel  – This was the scene we  saw practised  while  at YPT for the Beyond the Classroom program and while not a lot changed from  rehearsal to final  production,  the addition of costuming, audio voice overs and props helped to polish the scene to perfection. The big idea left on me was that while  many of us are continually searching for meaning in life,  the  answer to what we need is often out there,  as the  truck driver finds at the end of this scene.

Love you forever –  for  those  familiar  with the story, yes it will cause you to shed a tear or two throughout. It was portrayed with humour and emotion (as any good drama scene does) and left me thinking as I often do  about the passage of time and overwhelming importance of the relationships we form with others.

The  combination of big ideas along with the power of music; innovative set; stellar acting based on energy, power of voice and character plausibility; creative  sound; and solid directing made Munschtime yet another exccellent YPT play, and of course lead  me to wonder how to get our students reflecting in the same way that I had. With  that in mind, a reflection  sheet was  developed to give students  the opportunity to provide feedback. A few samples are below:

ypt beyond the class feedback

Congrats YPT on another job well done. Sign of a good play is when you leave not just inspired, but inspired to return, and with that in mind, I think I just found an  experiential activity for my wife (and kids) on Mother’s Day!  Don’t  worry, I won’t ask my wife to fill out the reflection after the  play, but over dinner, some good conversation inspired by an excellent play is sure to follow!

Math for the Love of it

No I’m not  starting a conference to parallel Reading for the Love of it, but it’s not a bad idea…. I like Math. No I’m serious. While  I clearly enjoy reading and  writing, and while the majority of my teaching is definitely language based, I have always  considered  myself to be a strong math  student. My daughter  who  is  taking Gr.  9 math this semester is a  little concerned  by my “excitement” when we work on algebra  word problems together. Don’t  worry Chantelle, you’ll soon see how exciting it is.  And really that’s what it’s all about. Excitement  in learning. I get it. I get it. There are not many kids or adults who are going to stand  on a table and cheer when  they’re learning  their  timestables  or other basic numeracy facts. And  yet in that world of experiential learning, as soon as students see  that having the “basics” is what allows them  to use Math in their daily lives, I think  progress does follow.

To  go back  to equations, I even came  up with  one  to  consider for  this  blog: Language plus math multiplied by inquiry based learning and the big idea = ? Keep reading  on for  the  answer!

As a province, Ontario has placed a renewed focus on mathematics instruction. For those unfamiliar with the strategy, some of the highlights include ensuring an hour of math instruction each day, professional development for all educators and tips for parents around math instruction. All standard  stuff to my mind.

There is some key language in the strategy that jumped out to me:

“Through mathematical activities that are practical and relevant to their lives, students develop mathematical understanding, problem-solving skills, and related technological skills that they can apply in their daily lives, and eventually, in the workplace.”

Practical and relevant to their lives are key words to me in the above sentence. Equally important is the idea  that  math applies to their daily lives and eventually the workplace. Our students need to see how math truly does surround them every day and while I don’t want to invoke Jon Sciezka’s Math Curse because some one might shut me down saying “Keep math  positive!!!”, the point remains…. Math is everywhere we look, and the fact that a story was written about it also confirms my next point, and takes us back to my equation – Language and Math go hand in hand.

If we are to solve most math problems (especially at the JK-Gr. 8 level), it starts with understanding the question and more often than not, that’s language based. Teaching our students to read, and re read, and slowly focus on key words in any problem is the first step. And as we recently found out from doing inquiry based math with our Gr. 7/8  class, getting  students keyed in on finding  their own math  questions  is essential to that  life long learning process.

A key line in the Ministry’s parent guide to mathematics speaks of the need to communicate in mathematics. Specifically the guide highlights the need to  “Explain how we solved a problem and why we made a particular decision.”  As teachers have been telling students for years, explain and show your work. Giving an answer is not enough. Finding ways to explain your answer is critical and yes once again, therein lies the literacy connection.

So if the idea is to explain our mathematics and find practical and relevant ways to do this, how can an integrated language and math approach work best? Well that bring us to the last part of my equation – consider the big idea and inquiry based learning.

Inquiry based learning puts the onus on students to ask the questions that intrigue them and then to go out and find those answers. Below is a link showing how one Gr. 8 class started with their interests and developed their own math inquiry questions.


And  yes this was a lesson  from two years ago. This  years real life experiential  math is in process. It’s interesting  to note that it’s been more of a struggle to get the students  enthused  this  year. In fact, when  we talked to  the students in  an open and honest way, many expressed a preference for the more traditional math  learning. While this was somewhat  disheartening, it also confirms a belief of mine – our minds have become attuned to being told what to do because it’s easier that way. Real thinking  takes work, and as a result, many prefer the simple worksheet as opposed to  the  real thinking.  Ask yourself though –  in  life, does progress come about simply? No. Are the ready answers always the best one? I think  not. We’ve taken a quote from Howard Thurman and encouraged the students to find passion in their learning and go with it because it’s such  a better way to spend your days at school engaged in what  you’re  learning,  or to quote Mr.  Thurman  “Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then  go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” Hopefully there will be some good examples to show you in about a month. We’re not giving  up! Check our website if interested.

That goal of finding  genuine excitement in math  is so important. By immersing yourself in a topic, you can find mathematics in many different ways. Our Beyond the Classroom program has aimed to make experiential Math a key learning in each experience.

A few links are pasted below showing more


Government Math Day 4

Both of the above examples confirm and support the ways that literacy education and mathematics education can go hand in hand.  And for those looking for the answer to my initial equation? Well let’s take one last look – Language plus math multiplied by inquiry based learning and the big idea = ?   I’ll leave it to you to fill in the blank as we know there is more than one answer to any question. To my mind though, it’s all about engaging our students in the learning process, and that in the end is a strategy we can all work towards achieving.



Never stop Learning!

“The  day you stop learning is the day you stop living.”  I may have used this quote (not  mine) before but based on recent experiences, it continues to hold very true for me.

Will break it down into 3 experiences

  1. Our recent Beyond the Classroom Nutrition program. It was a mini experience unlike some of our previous ones.  Only two full outside the classroom days. One was at Boston Pizza where we learned about the ins and outs of restaurant management.  Among the  highlights  of  our learning were learning about the budget (8-10% profit margin  is  the goal)  and  setting of  menu prices (the costs  of running  the restaurant work  into  the cost  of  all menu items).   Next  we spent  a day at  George Brown’s  Culinary arts and Hospitality  program. It was a phenomenal  day that included the chance to visit the classrooms used for  cooking and mixology. We were mesmerized by the pan  that  can cook up to  100 steaks  at once, and inspired by Dale’s discussion  of  his  role  as Hospitality Ambassador, as well  as by Chef  Hogan’s  journey from basketball  player to personal  chef  for  the Queen.

The culmination of our nutrition unit had the  class  design, budget, shop, and prepare  snacks  for  each class in the school.  Original plans were fairly straightforward and included items such as cream cheese bagels, pancakes and yogourt. After some Austin’s Butterfly work by the classroom teacher where she  pushed  the students to come up  with more exciting and fun creations, final products included fruit crepes, apple sail boats, and rainbow creations. While this was one  of our shorter Beyond the Classroom units,  it was also a chance  for the students to truly move up  on Bloom’s Taxonomy and create a final product – and a tasty one at  that!

We know there is more work to be done as we try and get some students to improve their skills of analytical thinking by reflecting and interacting with their new learnings  but our hope and plan is to continually model and show exemplars of quality work. For those so interested, feel free as always to visit our website to see some examples of student work.  https://www.tcdsb.org/schools/stsylvester/beyondtheclassroom/Pages/Nutrition-Experience-5.aspx  The goal as stated at the start of the blog  is to  keep learning alive and keep learning at the forefront.

  1. Experience #2 got  me thinking about the  power of the brain. I had a 36k training  run to do on the first Saturday of the March Break. As Saturday approached, I found myself getting increasingly agitated over the hideous forecast  – 15c with -22  windchill, and wind speeds of between 30-45 km/h. Sigh.  Not what I was hoping for on March 11. And then a funny thing happened.  There was a fresh coat of  snow on the ground when I started (another nail in my run plan) but  with the  brilliant sunshine  glistening off the snow, and music  plugged into my ears, I felt a  bounce  in my step and didn’t even feel or notice  the cold and wind. In fact, the start of my blog took shape in my head  during my first 8k.  My opening line was going to be  “forget exercise, just workout your brain instead.” My thought was that our mind can convince us of so many things  – positive AND negative. By focusing our mind on the positive, so much good  can happen. That was my thought from km 1 to maybe about 25. As for the last  11 k, sure I was holding on for dear life, but completion was the goal – so mission accomplished. Let’s see if this Friday’s 40k puts the power of the mind to the test.


  1. What’s left? Well the plan is now to find ways to spread the message on the value of the Beyond the Classroom Program. We are clearly on the back end of year one of the program and it’s been a year of trial and error, new learning, flexibility, more learning, reflections, and of  course LEARNING!

So here are some initial brainstorms between myself  and the classroom teacher.  If anyone is reading this and has thoughts to contribute, please send them my way.

  1. WHO do we want to  tell about  the Beyond the  Classroom program (other teachers, parents, school board, ministry, teachers’college, etc)  I know the students won’t  come up  with some of  these but we should tell them that  the idea is we want to spread the  word about  how this program  should be done in other schools

 2. HOW do we want to tell people (posters, radio  commercials, video ads, letters, skits).  We have the draft  1 of their letters to the Ministry, and I think that  should be our starting point. In true  Austin’s Butterfly method,  let’s  go over the letters and focus on a few things

 a. What do we really want people to know about the program?

b.How can we clearly and coherently explain why it should be replicated in other schools?

c.What is needed to allow the program to continue?

d.  An invitation to view our work

 Our goal should be EVERYONE  does a letter and then one other method – either poster, video/radio ad, skit.  Maybe we can also get some feedback on the video we used for literacy night and what we should do to improve it.

Another thing on our list is to plan and discuss where we see needs for improvements still.  If we go back to Bloom’s  taxonomy, where are they  at? I want to keep pushing them on the learning logs – great that you can include what you learned – more reflection, analysis and wonders needed. Positive sign – paragraphs are being used!

This is just a small  glimpse  of the constant communication between myself and the classroom teacher. The goal between us is the same one we have  for the students  and the same thoughts that started  this  blog –

  1. never stop learning
  2. keep exercising the brain.

And as my teaching partner Barb reiterates,

  1. “keep the kids really EXCITED about their learning! When they get, or are excited, they want to and WILL learn!”

Amazing where those three simple thoughts can take you. To those living the March Break life – enjoy the time …even if you’re not enjoying the weather. And  power to you if you find the time to get excited about learning something new – your brain will thank you  for it!

SickKids and Beyond the Classroom…Undeniable!

If you’ve seen the awesome SickKids ad campaign, you’ll know I’ve borrowed their line. If you haven’t seen it, click on the link at the end of this blog.


Six  months into the school year  which  means six  months  into the Beyond the Classroom program and I find myself wondering how to share with people that  our pilot project  is a worthwhile, energizing and invigorating program.

Let’s start with some disclaimers – if you think that learning can only take place in a classroom with textbooks and that the  way we  learned  10, 20 or 30 years ago is the way we  should learn now, then I might not be able to convince you of the  value of what  we’re  doing.

On the other hand, if you’re open to new ideas and want your child’s education to be a reflection of the times we’re in, then read on.

And if you’re on the fence about which is  the best way to  learn – consider this: When Sick  Kids Hospital  first  opened  in 1875, they had one doctor, no x ray machines  or  ultrasounds and little  to  no research capability. Over 140 years later, and they have a workforce of over   15 000 people, a budget of  790 million, the latest medical equipment and close to 200  million in research grants. (just some of the things we learned from our 4 days at Sick Kids) Not sure  about you,  but I’d  much rather  take  my chances with the medical field  of today  than the  medical field  of yesterday and that’s the connection to  Beyond the Classroom. Our world and our society has changed, and that’s precisely why our way of teaching and learning can and should change.

I reiterate that we can learn in the classroom and we should learn in the classroom but wow, how being outside the class incites  our learning.

In four days at  Sick Kids, we learned  about hospital budgets (revenue and expenses and how to  balance  the budget); we learned about empathy  from hearing  about the brave story of a patient  who has  gone through over  24 surgeries in  24 years; we learned about the future of  healthcare and possible  innovations; we met  a therapy dog;  we  reflected on our learning both visually  and in words; we contributed our thoughts  to an online padlet; we  sketched  in the hospital  lobby  while  ensuring  we  knew  how to courteously be  aware of the people  in the hustle  and bustle of  the  hospital; we learned and inquired into  jobs  in the medical field that interested us.


Our learning took  place  on the 8th and 11th floor boardrooms  in the Sick  Kids Office  tower  across from the hospital  and included presentations by archivists, social  workers, learning coordinators, electrical engineers, and financial officers.

Great learning parents – don’t  you agree?

Here are  comments from parents  that resonated  in my head after our last  experience (Cieslok Media) .

“The students  need  to  learn from textbooks”

“I think at least one parent if not more should attend each beyond the classroom experience to see hands on what the children are learning. Then parents can better buy into Mr. Fernandes’ vision for learning.”

“I would like them to have an opportunity to buy lunch”

“Their writing, spelling and grammar needs to be corrected”

“Thank you for arranging these experiences. I know it’s a lot of work.”

“This  beyond the classroom  program  not only creates opportunities  for  our children  to learn outside the  textbook knowledge, but it allows  them  to  experience what  society is all about.”

“The Beyond the Classroom program  has given my son exposure  to  all  the subjects in one experience  and for  this I am very grateful.”

I’ll focus on the last two comments first  as I think the first four comments  might be more difficult to answer other  than referring  back  to  three  main ideas 1. Our program is not a field  trip  – it’s a learning  journey that we hope parents will talk to their children about and read about online to have a better understanding of what we are doing.    2. The vision is not mine but what inquiry based learning and engaged learning should be all about . 3.   Textbooks are mostly obsolete in a world  when every answer  is  at  our finger  tips  with  google. Critical thinking, analysis and higher  order  thinking all  come through exposure to  experiences, discussion, and a recording of thoughts.

The  last two comments had  the most  impact on me and I  thank Mrs. Chua  and Mr.  Lins (as I thank all  the parents  who had  comments  to  make  – positive, negative , or  uh…..food driven). And for the  record, the  overwhelming  majority of parent  comments  have  been  very  positive (more can be found on our school website). It’s through your  comments  that  we get  to  understand how you  are  seeing the program and what  we  need  to  do  to  improve.  We also know that your time spent reading about the program  and talking to  your children  about  it makes  a  world  of  difference  in their  learning even when you  can  not join us for the various  experiences.  We will try to make an attempt  to  have one parent join  us per day for   upcoming experiences (no guarantees).  Just make sure you’re comfortable with sitting on the floor  and journaling with us, while not  getting to any gift shop – it’s not a field  trip!


Sick  Kids allowed  us to  cover  Math, Science, Visual  Art, Writing, Reading,  Media  Studies, Social Studies, Health and Physical  Education, and it allowed us to do so in an authentic  manner.  We do not aim to correct spelling and grammar  mistakes  in students’ binders because  the  writing  process  encourages  students  to  write  freely. Final  copies of  published  work  is where  we  expect  editing to be flawless. All  we  covered  we  managed  to  do  without textbooks, but  we were  able to expose our students to wealth of  learning that just  couldn’t have  happened  in the  classroom.

The  experience included time for  the students to  sketch,  complete two  visual and written learning  logs, and email a primary source to find out information about a health care professional  – a key research skill and step  to becoming  an effective  communicator. If interested, you can see sample student work and our padlets on our school website.


We  are  tremendously grateful for the  amount of  time and  care  that  the SickKids  planning team put into making our experience  as  phenomenal  as  it  was.  This is a journey that  has  been  planned since  May 2016 (again, that ain’t  no regular  field  trip!). Huge thanks to the team: Lara, Leah, Farah, Melody, Michelle, Kelly, Ihtisham

Four experiences are complete – Toronto Zoo, Government, Cieslok  Media, and SickKids. At  least  3 more  to come – Food  and Nutrition, YPT  and Transportation.

With  each  experience, there has  been an underlying  theme. At SickKids it was  clearly the theme of Creative,  Reflective, Holistic Thinkers.

Creative –   Our look  at  Health care in the future had our minds  racing  and considering  the incredible options  out there.


Reflective – We learned about the patient experience for Amanda – a Sick Kids patient with cleft palate who has had 24 surgeries in 24 years. What courage she had and what good fortune to have a hospital like Sick Kids around. The more we reflect on our experience and the experiences of those around us, the more we are able to make the world a smaller place. Amanda talked to us about how much easier her life became when she knew there were others like her around. Hatred and prejudice becomes less in our world once we stop to reflect and understand what it is like to be someone else.

Holistic – We continue to encourage students to look at the whole picture. People talk about how underfunded hospitals are and many are, but the whole picture had us see how much the operating budget is at Sick Kids – 790 million, how much the government contributes – $450 million and how much comes from donations and incredible ad campaigns like Sick Kids Vs.

When we see the whole picture we are able to make more informed decisions and that is what true education is about. So go ahead and use your creativity to find solutions for problems that exist in the world. Through reflection we can continue to look at why and how change should happen. And at the end of the day, combining our creative and reflective abilities gives us the power to make informed holistic decisions in life – to borrow from the sick kids ad campaign. Our resolve and our learning will be undeniable. Cue the music (if you haven’t seen the ad, now’s  the time to click on the link, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=78mNZeDaMtk)  and thanks to Sick kids for four inspirational and educational days. Days that were Beyond the Classroom.

Create, Captivate and Connect – The Cieslok Beyond the Classroom Experience

“?We need  a sizzle reel for our school….70% of our time is spent outside the home….brands are designed for you to build an emotional connection…..Mr. Fernandes! Slow down!!!!…..Is there wifi in here?…..Johann, sit down!…..Why is there an orange chicken ad on my phone?….Look at the fountain….Those digital boards are massive!” Just a few of the lines heard  at our Beyond the Classroom Cieslok Experience.

It’s amazing how much learning there is out there when you stop to take the time to look, observe and listen. Our time at Cieslok media was an excellent Beyond the Classroom experience. Our world of life life long learning is in full swing.

Day 1 was an intro to the principles of advertising as Cieslok sees them. Create, Captivate and Connect is their mission statement and we were able to see their Sizzle reel that aims to get companies to advertise through Cieslok. It worked on us. We’re trying to figure out how to get them to do one for St. Sylvester! We also learned how they plan their operations budget. What do you think the most money would be spent on during the day to day operations? To my mind, it would be employee salary. I was wrong. Chris Doyle the Chief Financial Officer (CFO)  broke it down for us in a perfect to follow graphic. Of every $100 that comes in, $35 goes to leasing the spaces for their ads, $16 goes to Employee salaries, $15 goes to operations cost, $1 goes to marketing, and $33 to profit. Not sure if this is how every company is set up but one of our research pieces is to definitely find out how much various companies spend on their advertising budgets. Some neat stats out there– go check out Apple’s Advertising budget in 2004 vs 2016

Other figures that jumped out at us on day 1:  $31 200 000 is the amount of revenue that Cieslok brings in from their ads as the 4th largest OOH firm. And what does OOH stand for you ask? More new learning – Out of home advertising. Makes sense right? Ads that you see on tv, or read in magazines or hear on the radio are generally when you’re in your home, office, car, etc. Out of home is becoming more and more prevalent for two big reasons

  1. We spend 70% of our time out of the home according to Cieslok (not me, I’m with my dog!)
  2. Many people have started to live their lives on their smart phones (that’s a topic for another day).

Our Day 1 included time to sketch at a busy street corner where we noticed different billboard ads that were up and the message of the day was simplicity. Simple, clear and concise ads leave their mark.


On our return to school, we knew so much new learning had taken place that we had to find a way to capture it –  the padlet was the solution. Students were asked to consider the three whats (credit to the Ministry of Education for that idea. ). What (new learning has taken place)? So What (Why is the new learning important?). Now what (How will you use the new learning as you move forward or what do you want to learn next on this topic?).



Day 2 began with a quick curve ball. Pouring rain, freezing rain and cancelled buses. Uh oh… Not to worry though, we managed to get a school bus to take us downtown and before you knew it we were right in the midst of Downtown Toronto. Yonge and College to be exact. That’s when we looked up….way up. It wasn’t a bird. It wasn’t a plane. It wasn’t even Super Ms. Stoner! It was the huge, make that massive, make that monstrous (in a good way) Cieslok Digital boards. We saw three different locations. Yonge and Gerrard, Yonge and Edward St and Yonge and Dundas Square. They were impressive and gave us a sense of what OOH is all about. Dundas Square is clearly Toronto’s version of Times Square and Cieslok has cornered some prime space.


We spent some time sketching and journaling in the Eaton centre to avoid the pouring rain and then took the PATH system to manage an indoor route to Yonge and King (again the aforementioned rain). A few stops on the way to see the spurting fountain, some lit up trees (Mrs. Stoner made me stop for that) and a quick pop into St. James Cathedral which got another beyond the classroom idea in motion.

We arrived at Cieslok hungry (this time for food, not just for knowledge). Like true business professionals, we had a working lunch while learning from Mike who talked to us about the future of media and mobile technology. We were fascinated to hear about how companies are taking part in programmatic buying on a supply side platform to get our dollar. Translation? There’s literally a frenzy of activity that is taking place every time you open up a website or app on your phone. Companies are bidding for their ad to capture your attention and the winner takes all….your partially undivided attention.  Apparently there are 5000 apps opened in Canada per second so that’s how may bids the computer is processing.  A rant on the amount of time people spend on their cell phones another day! Mobile phone ads are definitely the wave of the future in large part because of the personalization that takes place. As Mike told us, it’s all about Brands and finding ways to build an emotional connection with the consumer.

Ali followed up Mike’s talk with some great info on marketing and how best to make an effective creative. Students were able to learn key strategies like 7 words or less for a print ad, and finding the way to bring ads to life. For those with time, we highly recommend you check out Cieslok’s Text and Drive Campaign – a public service announcement billboard that got people thinking about why a funeral home would encourage you to text and drive  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KX-23o17utY  ; or the Snowden project that took over Yonge Dundas Square and was able to project people walking though up on their digital board – how cool is that?!  https://youtu.be/ZUaN7FqGTxw

Two days in and the learning was already significant. Students were given time to journal, sketch, learn about the advertising business, and reflect on their learning while applying the new knowledge to their own creations of a digital, print, radio or tv ad.

The final day of learning was geared towards finding ways to make the student ads as ready as possible and with that in mind we started by sharing and discussing Austin’s Butterfly with the students.

Austin’s butterfly

The moral of the story  – quality takes time, revision, helpful suggestions and perseverance. You can visit our website to see examples of draft 1 to final draft work.

A few final copies of original student ads are below:





Our parent summary letter is also attached below.


Another Beyond the Classroom experience in the books and we continue to see success in the way the students are slowing down and immersing themselves in authentic learning in many locations. I close with an excerpt from my journal on day 1 of the Cieslok experience. It was written while sitting in the Cieslok Board room on the floor.

“I really like being out at different  places finding ways to learn – new ways to learn. There is so much authenticity in coming to an organization and immersing yourself in the work they are doing. This is what Beyond the Classroom is all about. We could definitely have done our advertising unit at school but how much more effective is it when we come to the actual organization.”

Start working on that Sizzle reel Ethan; Erika, get the music soundtrack started and Johann….SIT DOWN on the bus!

Beyond the Classroom makes learning experiential, and it makes learning come alive. I can’t wait to see what we’re going to learn next.





Beyond the Classroom Continues to Move Forward

I was going to compose a blog on experience #2 – Responsible Government when I realized the parent letter we’re sending home nicely encapsulates what we did, so rather than re invent the wheel (I’d like someone to work on a time machine instead!), here’s the parent letter. For those who are interested in more detail and seeing some student sample work, please visit our Beyond the Classroom Web Page.  https://www.tcdsb.org/schools/stsylvester/beyondtheclassroom/pages/government–experience–2.aspx


Jan 9, 2017


Our second Beyond the Classroom experience saw us immersed in the world of government.  Our hope was that the students would find topics of personal interest to them and learn how to confidently research and speak about their topic. Analysis and perspective were keys for us in this experience.

Our four days included:

  • time to journal about their thoughts and interests
  • discussions with government officials about both their topics and day to day life in government
  • the chance to sit in on Question Period at Queen’s Park and City Council at Queen’s Park.
  • Visits to the constituency office of both Jim Karygiannis and Soo Wong
  • Time to develop our research skills at the Metro Reference library and Milliken Mills library
  • daily math challenges – students were given some pre teaching and then asked to solve a math problem related to the government in a way that allowed us to create real life math problems

Some of the positives from the experience:

  • Every student meeting the expectation of speaking to a primary source – MPP Soo Wong or Councillor Jim Karygiannis. (effective communicators). This is considered a primary source since they gained information from an expert on the topic.
  • Students researching further on a topic of interest to them (life long learning)
  • Students taking time to approach their government from both sides as we learned about perspective (creative, reflective, holistic manner)
  • Some higher order thinking in the final artifacts that shows our students are consciously thinking of Bloom’s taxonomy and moving from the simple research phase to the higher levels or analysis
  • Students learning how to present effectively using a digital platform like prezzi, powtoon, imovie, etc (21st century learning AND effective communicators)

Some areas for improvement we have noticed (and our proposed next steps)

(Couldn’t get this to format properly so apologies but you may need to scroll over to see the complete plan of action)

Area to improve Plan of action
Some students had difficulties including statistical analysis in their research
  • We are showing students how to research using numbers and  then commenting  on those numbers (our Day 4 math aimed to do this).

Many students simply read their final presentation out


·        We are modeling how to do creative presentations that capture the audience’s attention through the use of pictures, cartoons, sound effects and  more.


Many students were able to research but did not apply their  knowledge in a more detailed way (life long learner). We noticed this particularly in the very brief, surface level answers of some ·        We continue to model for students (and you can find examples on our school website in the beyond the classroom section) how to expand on their ideas.


Overall, we are pleased with the level of reflection your children have done. For Gr. 5 and 6 students to be immersed in the world of government, understand perspective and be able to somewhat confidently discuss and analyze budget surplus, deficits, voter efficacy, majority governments and constituency, it is clear that they have exceeded the curriculum expectations. We are continuing to push the students  to strive to a higher order.

To quote one student “It’s different than just sitting in the classroom. We actually got to meet our Constituency leaders, watch Question Period live at Queen’s Park, and experience a debate on a major issue (toll roads) during a City Council meeting. This was definitely for me and now one day I want to run for City  Councilor or Prime Minister of Canada!”



Our next Beyond the Classroom activity is quickly approaching. Cieslok Media from Jan 16-18 (just  the Gr. 5/6 class) and then Sick Kids Hospital at the end of January and start of February for all the students in Gr. 5 and 6. We hope you are continuing to see improvements in your children’s skills of communication and analysis as that has become our main goal – immersing your children in experiential learning while helping them to develop their excitement about life long learning, becoming an effective communicator, looking at issues from a creative, reflective, and holistic approach, and applying new information learned in order to be a responsible citizen.

You are encouraged to fill in the parent reflection sheet after you look through the work your child has done. We thank you in advance for your support.


Mrs. B. Stoner      Mr. R. Fernandes

P.S. We are also applying for various grants to help fund the Beyond the Classroom program. If are willing to help us by allowing us to record your thoughts about the Beyond the Classroom program for our imovie, please let us know.

The Goal is to get Every Student Reading for the Love of It

I would really like you to  read this blog, but…..once you’re done I need you  to find 3 good vocabulary words, and jot  down the most interesting parts of the blog. You could maybe even do a big idea reader response. And finally it would also help if you put in your book log what  time you started reading this and  what time you finished.

Facetious though I’m being, the fact is, this argument has been playing out in my head a lot lately. I’ve always been a proponent of authentic life long reading and writing activities. I eschew and to be honest disdain book reports, reading comprehension sheets, and grammar worksheets for the simple reason that I do not know any literate adults who spend their evenings and weekends engaged in these activities. And yes, I know, I know that when I was a student that was precisely what school was about and yet here I am now a literate adult. When I reflect more though, I’m convinced that the two biggest reasons I’m an avid reader and writer  both have to do with authentic modelling.


  1. My mother took us to the library weekly as kids and she has remained a model of reading and writing my whole life. She thoroughly enjoys reading and it shows in her continued library visits (now aided by the ipad to help her look up and reserve books!).
  1. Larry Miller was my language professor in my final year of university at Queen’s and he introduced the class  to  the reading  and writing  workshop model based on the  ideas of Nanci  Atwell and  Linda Rief. It remains the most useful course I have ever taken and served as  the basis for my own reading and writing  program even until today.

I’m running what I consider to be an authentic reading and writing program. I’m giving students choice on what they read and write. I’m modelling my own reading and writing process and most importantly helping students see that I truly am a lifelong reader and writer. I’ve learned from the ideas of Regie Routman, Penny Kittle, Patricia Cunningham and more. So what’s the problem then? Assessment.

Much as I’d like to continue maintaining that if the end goal is to get students to read and write, then just let them read and write, I know that there’s a bit more to it then that. I know I need to find areas of strength and improvement in student work as that’s what will help them improve most. I also know that the  reason I don’t see the point in  grammar  worksheets  and  reading  comprehension multiple choice questions is that they are not teaching students in context and they’re not going to encourage the development of effective communicators.

My solution has been the writer’s workshop program which I’ve written about in the past, and independent reading along with reader response journals centring on the big idea, passage analysis, and vocabulary development.

Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer has me rethinking how I want the response journals to look. I’m currently working with our Gr. 7/8 class and while they’ve been dutifully filling in their reader response journals with big ideas, jot notes and vocabulary words, something is missing. That something is enthusiasm. I see the enthusiasm anytime I start talking about the books that I think they would like and model my absolute love of reading. I’ve had students of widely varying ability pass me in the hallways, the office, and the school yard, and they stop to ask me “Hey Mr. Fernandes, have you thought about a book you can recommend to me?”. This is what I want to create. In ten or fifteen years from now, the majority of these students might not have the slightest concept of a jot note, or big idea reader response but if they’re still enthused about reading and writing, then I’ll have done my job. And I know a big part of that job involves finding books to draw  each of them in especially the reluctant readers. No such thing as a non reader – just have to find each  person the right book.

Of course, I still have a problem…how will I assess them? Get ready for the fusion model. Starting in January, the reading program will consist of several key parts.

  1. Most importantly the continued opportunity to read. We’ve set a class goal of 20 completed books for each student from Jan – June. Miller challenges her class to 40 for the year but I’ll work up to that next year. This will allow us to meet the expectation of reading a variety books throughout the year. I think we’re going to say at LEAST  3 different genres from a list including fantasy, science fiction, graphic novels, suspense, adventure (mini lessons will include genre study – another idea from Miller). And I guess here’s where the book log will come in – tracking their 20 book including what genre each book is.
  1. One book talk a month per student. The book talk is NOT a book report but rather a quick recommendation on a book students think other students will enjoy. Book talks will include a short passage from the book, This will help create the goal of effective communicators who are able to coherently discuss what they’re reading with others. An initial guideline that we’re giving the students is attached.


  1. The reader response journal. This is the one I’m most curious to see about. A great line from Miller’s book is “ Readers whispering back and forth about their reading experiences – this is how reading should look.”      I’d really like to take a leap of faith and go straight to having students simply respond to what they’re reading in whatever format they like (pictures, reflective thoughts, letters, etc). I’m not quite there yet so I’m thinking of a combination.

Students will make a minimum of one entry per week and this entry will be about the book they’re reading or the DAILY class read aloud (if I can my teaching partner to be consistent with this!). The entry can be one of three things – a. standard big idea reader response   b. jot  notes    c. reflections on what they’re reading. The way Miller describes part c is very appealing to me as a reader  “Reflect on what you are reading. I am not suggesting that you write summaries of every book you read or your personal responses to them, but you can if you would like to. Think about what you are reading, and observe what you like about the book or what you don’t like about it. What makes it challenging or fun to read? What sticks with you about the book when you are done?” 

As I write this, I’m thinking I might tell them that they need to do one of the a, b, c options listed above each week with the fourth week being their choice. My internal struggle is that I know as an adult that I do NOT keep a reader response journal but I also know that I need to guide students in how they’re immersing themselves in their reading. And when I think about it, I think I WILL keep my own reader response journal for the next 6 months as a way of going through the process with the class.

A few different examples attached for those who are interested in the idea.



  1. I’m not sure how much of the reading period will be devoted to mini lessons, but I do think we’ll need to model at least once a week what a good reader response journal looks like. Maybe we’ll even develop some success criteria together so that students know what they’re aiming towards. The goal as always is to help them continuing to develop as readers and writers.
  1. Still want to work the vocabulary words in but not sure if it’s too contrived. Thoughts?

My blog normally serves two purposes – allows me to organize my thoughts on ideas I’m trying out in class; and lets others know what I’m trying in that world of professional sharing. Mission accomplished hopefully with thanks to Donalyn Miller for the inspiration.

Early wishes for a 2017 filled with health, happiness fulfillment (and lots of reading!).

Now then,  who’s ready for the reading comprehension multiple choice questions?!