January 13

Graphic Organizers

These things are KEY…

Often, students get into a rut of receiving the same grade over and over again. They are quick to see a trend in what they are accomplishing and end up settling for that mark as their goal. But how can students excel past their normal quality of work without receiving a little guidance from the teacher? How can a teacher help a student go from a level 3 to a level 4 while also offering differentiation to students who are not even reaching a level 3?

Graphic organizers help students classify ideas and communicate more effectively, which help students achieve that next-level quality of work. The many uses of graphic organizers include structure writing projects, help in problem solving, decision making, studying, planning research and brainstorming. These organizers provide students with the opportunity to transfer ideas from their minds down to paper while also writing them in structured, yet creative, ways. Most importantly, they’re FUN!

Here is an example of a graphic organizer that I created with some fellow teacher candidates in our Social Studies course:

Graphic Organizer

In Math class today, I had my students a chart-based graphic organizer about various types of angles:

Graphic Organizer2
Graphic organizers can be used in every subject and are a great learning activity for students. Try them; they might just become your favourite thing!


January 5

Teen Pregnancy

The relationship between teenage pregnancy and education goes in both directions. Teenagers who become pregnant are more likely to drop out of school and teenagers who drop out of school are more likely to become pregnant. Also, children of teen mothers are less likely to graduate from high school than children whose parents were older at the time of childbearing.

– Missionaries of the Sacred Heart

We often talk about poverty, race, and learning disabilities as key factors that prevent students from excelling in school. But another trend in education is the amount of teenaged pregnancies and their effects on success in school. During my time in high school, there were a few girls that I knew of that had given birth or had an abortion, yet the stats displayed below really intensified this topic for me:

Abortions and childbirths are occurring in astronomical numbers, and these stats are only from Canada! But just how serious of an effect does pregnancy have on the academic success of a study?

  • Only 38% of teen mothers who have a child before the age of 18 graduate from high school, compared to approximately 75% of women who delay child bearing until 20-21.
  • Parenthood is a leading cause of dropping out of school among girls. 30% of teen girls cited pregnancy or parenthood as a reason for dropping out of high school.
  • Woman who are 20-21 when they give birth are over 4 times as likely to have a college degree by the time they are 30 as woman who have a child before the age of 18 (9% compared to <2%).
  • 2/3 of children of teen mothers graduate high school, compared to 81% of the children of parents who were older at the time of childbearing.
  • Children of teen mothers are 50% more likely to repeat a grade as children of older parents.
  • Teenagers who drop out of school are more likely to get pregnant than their peers who stay in school.

Catholic schools teach abstinence; public schools teach contraception. Which is more effective? Is abortion a better alternative for teen students than childbirth? And what are the effects, if any, on the father? I will definitely look into these questions and more during further research on this topic.

December 18

1 Year and Counting…

Happy 1 year of blogging to SpencerBurton.ca!

A lot has happened since I started up this website: I got accepted to uOttawa for a Bachelor of Education, I graduated from Wilfrid Laurier University with a Bachelor of Arts in Honours Psychology, and I officially began my journey of becoming a teacher. With all of those milestones comes many moments of learning, and since this website is focused on “learning about learning”, I figured I would share some things that I learned with you all.

1 Year

  1. Teaching is a lifestyle; it must be something that is in the back of your mind at all times. I can’t even go to the dollar store anymore without thinking of a teachable moment for everything I pick up.
  2. There’s a lot more to the field of education that I could have ever imagined. Students, the system, curriculum, and teaching methods are topics that only scratch the surface of the magnitude of education.
  3. First Nations, Inuit, and Metis communities are an important aspect of Canada’s education system. These cultures must be represented and emphasized in our lessons.
  4. It’s not always easy keeping up with blogging. Thankfully, some of my classes have me writing blog posts which keeps me up to date on reviewing and commenting on education-related topics.
  5. It’s a challenge going from a lecture-oriented education system (university) back into a student-centered learning environment (elementary school).
  6. Making students want to learn is just as important, if not more, than what they are learning.
  7. Classroom management is a huge part of teaching, more than I ever expected.
  8. The more you can make learning fun for the students, the more they will be engaged and retain what is being taught.
  9. Learning about teaching allows me to reflect on my previous teachers and what they did that was either extraordinary or lackluster.
  10. Teaching is most definitely still my dream job!

Thank you for following me on this journey for the past year. Here’s to many more years of learning about learning!

December 14

The Importance of a Positive Self-Image

Last week, there was a student that came in after recess and looked visible distraught. I motioned for him to come over to my desk and proceeded to ask him if everything was alright. At the drop of a dime, he started to cry. I took him out into the hall and let him tell me what was going on. He talked about how he got bullied during recess and the most hurtful comments were the ones directed at his weight.

This whole situation was very alarming for me, for a few reasons. This was one of the first experiences I had on the teacher’s side of bullying; that of counseling a student that was negatively impacted by their peers. This put bullying into the forefront for me as a teacher, especially as I reflected on some of the bullying I experienced at the same age as this student. Alternatively, the idea that comments about this student’s weight were more harmful than those directed at his character left me with a few questions.

Self-image may consist of three types:

  1. Self-image resulting from how the individual sees himself or herself.
  2. Self-image resulting from how others see the individual.
  3. Self-image resulting from how the individual perceives others see him or her.

Fostering a positive self-image is an important thing for everyone, students included. We need to realize that the negative things that people say about us should not be internalized, potentially replacing the positive aspects of our character. What that being said, I created an activity that centered around fostering a positive self-image and disregarding the negative things being said about us.

The activity started with a brief conversation about self-image, targeting areas such as what creates a positive self-image and why it is important. Each student then received a handout that looked like this:

Each student was instructed to write any negative comments about themselves that they’ve been told. Some of these comments included words like “gross”, “ugly”, “stupid”, and “gay”. Next, students were told to write the positive aspects of themselves that they cherish. After a few minutes, students then cut along the outline of the person, removing all of the negative comments said about them. I placed the recycling bin in the middle of the classroom and students were allowed to rip up and throw away these nasty words. Students were left with a “positive self-image portrait” that outlined all the characteristics that truly have an impact on our lives, which is often clouded with all of the negativity present around us.

Here are just a few of the final products my students produced:

Self-Image (3)

Self-Image (1)

Self-Image (4)Self-Image (6) Self-Image (5)Self-Image (2)

























The activity concluded with a video by Soul Pancake centered around the importance of giving compliments rather than spewing hate. This video definitely resonated with students, leaving a few in tears (happy ones of course)!

We can never truly know the impact that our words can have, positive or negative. But we must always strive to spread love rather than hate.

December 8

Field Trip to MacSkimming Outdoor Education Centre

Field Trip9
Today, I accompanied a group of grade 3 and 4 students to MacSkimming Outdoor Education Centre in Ottawa’s east end. This beautifully scenic education centre is located on over 40 acres of land! They provide high quality, hands-on outdoor programming that is designed and delivered to compliment classroom learning in many sections of the Ontario Curriculum. This trip was focused on the life of the pioneers! The students were introduced to the beauty of the natural world, as well as our place in it.

The day began in the central cabin, where many of the students ask the all-important question: Did those animals used to be alive? All I will say is that we had a great little introduction to the fur trade…

Field Trip1
After our initial gathering, we began a 5-station activity that introduced students to the many jobs that Canadian pioneers had to complete on a regular basis:

Field Trip2
1) Yoke and buckets for transporting water
Field Trip6
2) Mortar and pestle used to make flour and various medicines
Field Trip5
3) Two-person saw used to efficiently cut lumber
Field Trip4
4) Device to carry blocks of ice
Field Trip3
5) Manual drill to tap for maple sap

Next, we all worked as a community to build a log cabin! Families from Spain, France, and England worked well together, proving that many hands make light work.

Field Trip7

We ended the day by practicing our penmanship, memorization, arithmetic, and proper classroom behaviour, including writing with our right hands only (as was the case years ago). All of this occurred in a 1-room school house that was built in 1886! Mistress Crabbtree felt more like a drill sergeant than a teacher…

Field Trip8
Our day at MacSkimming Outdoor Education Centre was very educational and taught us just how fortunate we are to live in the world our ancestors worked so hard to create for us!

December 1

ABC Poems

Last week at my Community Service Learning placement, I lead a lesson for my grade 7 students about ABC Poems. —An ABC poem usually has 5 lines, but sometimes it is a little longer (which is great for differentiation!). Essentially, the poem has very few rules and restrictions except for the following 2:

  1. The first word of each line (1-4) is in alphabetical order from the first word (ex. G-J, P-S, etc.).
  2. —Line 5 is one sentence, beginning with any letter.

I instructed the students to choose a topic and brainstorm as many different things about the topic as possible. Next, the students chose a letter that they would use as the first letter of the first line. And was I surprised by the positive reception and amazing work from my students! What started as a simple writing strategy to introduce students to a different approach of poetry turned into something much greater. Some students decided to write from A-Z, while others combined two ABC Poems into one. The best part: the select few students who typically refuse to write or complete work were passionate about this activity and actually asked to perform their written piece to the rest of the class!

I definitely recommend this activity! Check out some of the final products below (Note: spelling, grammar, etc. was not assessed).






November 30

Sponge Activities

Some of the most awkward moments in the classroom are caused by a lesson ending 10 minutes before it is supposed to. There are no worksheets to work on, no more topics to cover, and no more to review. These ten minutes can quickly turn into a 10-minute battle of trying to keep students in their seats and keeping their voices at a low level.

Sponge Activities
That’s where sponge activities come in! Theses activities are used to fill the last 5-10 minutes of class time with activities that will not only occupy the students, but will also challenge them to think critically. The following is a list of sponge activities suggested by Scholastic.com:

  • Play a guessing game that challenges individual students or teams of students to identify as many historical figures as they can in a set period of time. You can also play the game by asking students to identify countries, cities, bodies of water, plants, animals, vegetables, authors, fairy tale characters, weather conditions, cars, television shows, or movies. This game is easy to adapt to a particular content area, unit of study, or student interest.
  • Invite student groups to add the numbers in their phone numbers, ages of family members, or street addresses. The group with the highest score wins.
  • Go around the room and ask students to name foods, cities, countries, boys’ names, or girls’ names in A-B-C order. (For example: Asparagus, Beef, and Crepes; Albuquerque, Boston, Columbus; Argentina, Botswana, and Cambodia; Aisha, Brittany, and Camilla.)
  • Use the newspaper or a supermarket circular to create your own version of The Price Is Right. Ask questions such as “What costs more this week, a head of lettuce or three cucumbers?” “Do you think a mattress costs more or less than a cell phone?”
  • Challenge students to identify where various geographic locations (continents, countries, cities, landmarks, bodies of water, etc.) are on a large map. Provide clues as needed.
  • Have students figure out the distance between two cities on a map using the scale. Start with short distances and increase the distance as students get more proficient at doing the math and identifying locations.
  • Call out states and have students name the capital. Call out capitals and have students match them with the state.
  • Call out sports teams (baseball, football, hockey, etc.) and have students identify the city and state they play in.
  • Have students identify careers in which people wear uniforms. Have students identify as many careers as they can in a set amount of time.
  • Provide students with the monthly average rainfall and/or temperature in your city or state (or have them investigate). Then have them use these figures to determine the average total rainfall for the year and average temperature during each season of the year.
  • Challenge students to write acrostic poems for the main character in a story they are reading, a topic they are studying, a favorite subject, or special interest.
  • Play short versions of word games like Scattergories, Boggle, Taboo, and Password.
  • Write three related words on the board or overhead and have students figure out what they have in common. For example:
    • Bears, bats, stalactites (things you might find in a cave);
    • Brake, bell, chain (parts of a bike);
    • Fiction, mystery, biography (types of books/genres)
    • Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento (cities in California); and
    • Niagara Falls, Grand Canyon, Redwood Forest (natural wonders).
  • Ask students to write down as many food items, animals, flowers/plants, boys’ names, girls’ names, colors, sports figures, historical figures, etc., that begin with a certain letter of the alphabet in two minutes. Use a timer. When time is up, work with the class to write a final list on the board. For example: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, beans, baloney, bagels, Boston cream pie, beef, barley, bell peppers, bok choy, or bread.
  • Tell students to list all the words they can using the letters in their last name, first name, a vocabulary word, month of the year, or day of the week.
  • Invite students to develop five quiz questions (with an answer sheet) and then exchange papers with their seatmates for an impromptu review.
  • Let students become critics and write or deliver quick reviews of recent movies, TV shows, video games, sports events, or restaurant/cafeteria meals.
  • Give individuals, pairs, or teams of students a chance to discuss the question “If you had $1,000 to donate to a worthy cause, what would it be and why?”
  • List five historical events on the board and ask students to put them in chronological order. Then ask them to list five important events in their personal history and put them in chronological order or on a time line.
  • Write a haiku about a favorite relative, holiday, hobby, emotion, or place.

What types of sponge activities do you find effective? Are there any others that you suggest trying?