November 22, 2014

CLICK HERE to view the past week at Cambridge Elementary in TWEETS!




IMG_7571The best part of the work I do in schools is visiting classrooms and participating in the learning taking place.

Something that has become evident to me is that students are just like adults: they thrive when doing work that is interesting and meaningful. As adults, we value our time and consider it precious. We don’t tolerate requests to do tasks that are irrelevant to us. We demand to know WHY we are doing what we are doing. BUT…

Do we treat students’ time the same way?

Do we ensure that students see the relevance of the work we ask them to do?

Is the work we ask students to do in fact relevant?

How do we react to students who express (in various ways) that the work they do in class is not personally meaningful?

Do we pay attention to these reactions and what do they mean?

When I speak to others about school, I always say that if I ever went back to classroom teaching, I would be far more effective than I ever was before I became an administrator. Why? Years of visiting classrooms and witnessing what does (and doesn’t) work has given me valuable perspective. Where I used to focus on the teaching, I now focus on the learning. Teachers jokingly  say that they get nervous when I visit their class. Of course, that is never my intention. I visit to experience the learning from a student perspective. I ask questions:

What are you learning?

Why are you doing this?

How will you know you’re done and that you’ve learned what you were supposed to learn?

Most of the time, students respond by explaining what they are DOING, rather than what they are LEARNING. Students always find it challenging to  articulate WHY they are learning something. Most of the time, there is value and a good rationale for the work teachers ask students to do. The missing link is that we often don’t share this information with students. What we are talking about is “Learning Intentions“: sharing with students WHAT we expect them to learn and WHY. Learning intentions are most effective when they are clear, visible , and in language students can understand.

This past week during class visits, I noticed students in several classes engaged in hands-on, meaningful, and interesting learning experiences.

My first learning story comes from a grade 5/6 class that participated in a hands-on activity whereby they learned to frame a wall – a REAL wall, with lumber, nails, screws, and carpentry tools. This activity was part of a larger project in which students design an actual home. The why of this work is obvious:  our students will one day be homeowners, they will be required to design and build, they will measure constantly throughout their life…

Before constructing their walls with power drills and hammers, the Learning Intention for this activity was made explicit for students:  they were doing this work because eventually, they will have to use tools to perform tasks in their own home. If we are skilled in taking care of small tasks on our own, we can be independent and not rely on others all the time. We also shared that there will be a huge demand for skilled trades people in the future and for students to consider trades the next time someone asks, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” The following images show students excited, engaged, proud, and fully understanding not only the WHAT of learning, by the WHY.

My second learning story comes from a Grade 3 class I visited. When I arrived, I was intrigued by what I saw: black tarp on a table, and four eggs standing lengthwise in bottle caps. This I had to stay for! Students were going to test the strength of these eggs by slowly stacking heavy textbooks on top of them.  All of this was part of a structures unit where students were learning how structures could be built to maximize their strength. As each textbook was placed on the egg, suspense grew. 25, 26, 27, 28 textbooks. Then the 29th textbook was placed on the stack and there was a slight movement. A moment later, the eggs began to crack and the stack toppled:

IMG_8120The students in this class were riveted, and so was I. Because we decided to record the event in slow motion, we had the opportunity to view the eggs cracking over and over again. Eventually, students identified the egg that cracked first, second, third, and last. They noticed that they cracked in sequence and in a clockwise direction.  The “wheels were turning” and the questions started.  What if we did this demonstration again? Would the eggs crack in a similar way? This is evidence that learning isn’t always about coming up with answers!

My third learning story is about how we do our morning announcements. Students have ownership over this activity and take it very seriously. Very often, students arrive early to school to prepare, even though we don’t do announcements until 10:15 a.m. When it is time to do announcements, students arrive on time and prepared.  I think a large part of this ownership comes from the fact that not only do the 650+ students and staff hear what is said, but that the announcements are recorded, tweeted, and published on our school website and blog in real-time. In other words, their audience is the world. Listen to our morning announcements HERE. This is doing real work!

IMG_0321My final learning story comes from Kindergarten. I love to visit Kindergarten classrooms because of all the pictures and cards that get made for me. Students experiment with language and demonstrate that they understand that language is used to communicate their thoughts and feelings. During a recent visit, I received a detailed drawing so I asked the student to tell me about it. I had my iPad with me so I asked if the student wanted to send his story to someone. He said “Yes” and that he wanted the story to be sent to his teacher, our music teacher, and our teacher-librarian. Using the ShowMe app, I recorded the story. Hear Keaton’s story here. Once others knew they could record their stories and send it to others to hear, I soon had a line of students ready with pictures in hand. Again, I think this goes back to the inherit need students have to do work that is meaningful. The audience in this example made the learning meaningful!  Listen to a few other stories HERE and HERE.

All of these stories took place in the last week and all have a common thread: students actively engaged in interesting, hands-on, and meaningful learning experiences. As educators, it isn’t always possible to prepare “home-run” lessons that wow students. What is important is to ask good questions during planning:

Would I want to do this task?

Why are students learning this and how will I let them know?

How will I engage students? 

I am buoyed by that fact that many of these questions are being asked at our school!



IMG_8112With mixed emotions, we share the news that our head clerk, Beverley Lacey, has accepted a position at the Human Resources department of the Surrey School District. Ms. Lacey has been with us for several years and she will be greatly missed. I know that I speak for Ms. Vogstad when I say that Ms. Lacey made our transition into the Cambridge community a smooth one. We have appreciated her hard work, efficiency, warmth, and kindness. Best wishes!

Term 1 is quickly coming to a close and that means Student Learning Communications (also known as Report Cards) will be coming home soon: Monday, December 15. This is will followed by two early dismissal days on Tuesday, December 16 and Wednesday, December 17 at 1:30 p.m.

Throughout the term, we have been sharing information about how some teachers, as part of a District Pilot, have been exploring alternative ways to communicate student learning. A new tool called FreshGrade has been used by many teachers. FreshGrade allows teachers to capture ongoing learning evidence and share this evidence with parents, either through “HighLights” that are sent via email, or through full portfolio access (if your child’s teacher is at that point and has shared a private access code with you).

Most important will be to remember that come December 15th, some of you will be receiving communications that may look different. Essentially however, the information you receive will still include:

  • What your child can do.
  • Areas requiring further development.
  • Ways you can support learning at home.

If your child’s teacher is using FreshGrade this term, you may also have the option to access your child’s Student Learning Communication electronically through the FreshGrade Parent App. Please ask your child’s teacher about this.

Screen Shot 2014-11-08 at 12.33.02 PM

You can access the ANDROID version HERE.
You can access the iPHONE/iPAD version HERE.

Hear and see what Cambridge teachers, parents, and students are saying about FreshGrade:

Thank you for your continued patience, support, and feedback during this exciting time.


IMG_8096We are pleased that our Grade 7 students at Cambridge will participate in our first ever “Cambridge Cares” 30-Hour Famine. The purpose of the event is to raise money for selected charities. This past week, we met as a group and brainstormed charities our students were passionate about. Students also learned about KIVA – an online microlending platform that will allow us to fund loans to entrepreneurs in third world countries. Find out more about KIVA:

Through a voting process, our students also decided to support the B.C. Cancer Society and Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Students will collect pledges from family members and friends, then from 8:00 a.m. on December 4 until 2:00 p.m. on December 5, students and teachers will not eat, consuming only water and juice.

As an added bonus, students will stay at school overnight. Waking supervision will be provided by a team of parents.

It will be a challenge for our students, but we know they will persevere! If you know a Grade 7 student, please encourage them and support them financially. Thank you!

We are quickly closing in on our season-end playday and our student athletes have made great progress in their volleyball skills. The season wraps up for both teams this coming week with playdays at neighbouring school, Woodward Hill. Go Comets!!!!

November 26      PLAYDAY – at Woodward Hill – 12:00 – 4:00 p.m.

November 27      PLAYDAY – at Woodward Hill – 12:00 – 4:00 p.m.

Screen Shot 2014-11-22 at 12.42.07 PMBACK TO “IN THIS ISSUE”

Watch this heart-warming video of a little girl and sea-lion playing tag. Then watch the reaction of the sea-lion when the little girl falls. It’s a great reminder that in order to care for others, we need to pay attention to those around us.


24-PAC Meeting – 9:00 a.m.
26-Video contest submissions DUE – Theme: “Thoughtfulness”
26-Boys Volleyball Playday at Woodward Hill – 12-4 pm
27-Girls Volleyball Playday at Woodward Hill – 12-4 pm
27-PAC Poinsettia orders arrive
28-PAC Hot Lunch Day
28-Assembly-1:45 p.m. Theme: “Thoughtfulness”

2-Kindergarten Vision and Hearing Screening
4-5-Grade 7 30-Hour Famine
15-Student Learning Communications sent home 
15-18-Book Fair-Multipurpose Room
16-Parent Teacher Conferences – Early Dismissal – 1:30 p.m. 
17-Parent Teacher Conferences – Early Dismissal – 1:30 p.m. 
19-Last Day Before Christmas Break
19-Pajama Day
19-PAC Pancake Day
19-Christmas Movie afternoon – “ELF”

5-School Begins
19-PAC Meeting – 7:00 p.m.
23-Professional Day

9-Family Day
16-PAC Meeting – 9:00 a.m.
19-Student Led Conferences – Early Dismissal – 1:30 p.m.
20-Professional Day

6-Report Cards
9-20-Spring Break

1-Running Club Starts
3-Good Friday Holiday
6-Easter Monday Holiday
20-PAC Meeting – 7:00 p.m.
30-Running Club Ends

1-Professional Day
7-Parent Thank You Tea
18-Victoria Day Holiday
22-Spring Family Fun Fair – 5:00-8:00 p.m.
25-Professional Day

1-PAC Meeting (AGM) – 7:00 p.m.
3-Kindergarten Introduction Parent Meeting
4-New Kindergarten Student Visits
12-Sports Day
19-Grade 7 Assembly

25-Last Day Before Summer Holiday
25-Final Assembly
25-Early Dismissal 1:30 p.m.

4 thoughts on “November 22, 2014

  1. Amanda says:

    Thanks for sharing the classroom stories and especially the “Show Me” app clips…it’s wonderful to see some highlights of the school day

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