5 Unexpected Lessons from Tech

When our school received our first cart filled with 30 brand new, shiny iPads. My principal at the time, Jackie Howard, said to me, “Iram, this is all going to be you.” I went home that evening terrified. Tech doesn’t like me, it NEVER works. I don’t know what she was thinking!
Well, I sucked it up and acted like I knew what I was doing. Reflecting back, I have realized that I have learned many unexpected lessons from tech that have influenced other aspects of my life and career. Here are my top five.
1. Patience
Yes we are in the 21st century and tech can do amazing things, but sometimes it takes a little time for all the pieces you are trying to connect to register what you are asking it all to do. Who doesn’t work at a school that is trying to squeeze the limits of older tech on sketchy wifi, right? Just take a breath, and let it do what it is doing. That “circle of death” is now, for me, a “focus for meditation.” Who am I kidding, I hate the circle/line of death, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if it was a focus of meditation?
2. Have a Back-Up Plan… Or Twenty
If things aren’t going they way you planned, be prepared to shift gears and try another plan of attack. This is why it is important to have a variety of tech resources in your tool belt ready to pull out, like cords, dongles, apps, YouTube tutorials, the staff of Apple shrunk to an inch put away in your pocket etc.. There is nothing more frustrating than having a brilliant lesson ready to go and not being able to even begin because of “tech issues”. Most of the time, there are ways around the problem. Your tool belt just has to be full of different options and you have to allow yourself to think outside the box.
3. Let it Go
Sometimes, no matter what you try, things just don’t work at all. That’s when it’s okay to just shrug your shoulders, abort the mission and take time to chew on what went wrong.
4. Let it Go Part 2
The best way to teach tech and encourage tech integration is to let students and teachers explore and integrate it in their own personal lives. I can preach until my face turns blue, but until people have time to actually play, nothing will change. They will just look at you as the “crazy mentally unstable techie” who has drunk way too much of the kool-aid.
5. Build Capacity
The more people who learn the lessons above and the more we allow ourselves to learn from others no matter how old you are or what your job is, the easier it gets! It’s not rocket science!
Which leads me to the the phrase, “you are so techie”. I have realized this means more than just being able to set up and trouble shoot tech. It is a mindset. When someone asks me a tech question or throws a problem at me, I am now comfortable enough to say, “It’s okay, relax. I don’t know, but let’s figure it out.”

The ConnectEd Canada Conference: Connecting and Reflecting

ordinary dayI have been struggling to write this post mostly because I didn’t want a repeat performance of this:


There was so much that happened and so much that entered my brain during the time I spent in Calgary for the ConnectEd Canada Conference. I arrived back at school and many wanted to know, “So, how was it?”…. A garbled mess ended up coming out highlighted with bursts of “awesome”, “amazing”, “so cool”, “blew my mind”, “wonderful”. My colleagues, I understand, were not able to piece together the transformative experience that I had just gone through. So, I stopped talking about it, mulled it over, read blog posts about it, read the Google Docs and Slide Shares that were created from the sessions here and sat.

Before attending, I honestly had no idea what ConnectEd was all about. My friend Tia Henriksen sent me a link one day and said I should go. It looked like a good time, so I signed up. Even the night before I left, I wasn’t really “in to it”. The weather forecast for Calgary was not good; I am miserable when I am cold, and I hate packing.

Thank goodness I had great travel companions (@TiaHenriksen, @RobynThiessen, @teacherdiana1, @KLirenman and @EMSCarlson) who lifted my spirits. After attending the tweet up that night, I realized quickly that this was NOT going to be a normal conference.

I think the best thing that I experienced at this conference was the connecting (the name ConnectEd Canada is perfect).

  • Connecting with the students at Calgary Science School, who were very eager to share and were aware of the kind of learning they were participating in.
  • Connecting with the teachers at Calgary Science School, who not only spoke about inquiry and student led learning, but practice it each and everyday in everything they do.
  • Connecting with the speakers, who all gathered and led “unconferences” to stimulate and allow the participants to share and teach each other.
  • Connecting with teachers and admin. from my OWN district, some whom I have never met before, and excitedly discussing how all of us can go home and influence our students, our schools, and our district.

I wrote about the value of Twitter for educators in my last post. This conference was a perfect example of discussion and face to face meetings stimulated by Twitter.

20130608-175106.jpgThis was written at 12:50 a.m.. I stayed up intil 2 a.m. reading, sharing, and continuing conversations!

20130609-091204.jpgMet these people at the cocktail reception and found out through Twitter that they were sitting at the table next to us.

Then, as quickly as I had been thrown into it, the conference ended and we all headed home.

Coming back from Calgary, I admit, I felt a little let down. I felt like I just test drove a Cadillac and came home to drive an ’88 Ford Escort. However, after three particular district events, the final Engaging Digital Learner Series Dinner, the tweet chat debriefing about ConnectEd on #sd36learn and the Innovative Learning Grant Celebration Day, it hit me that we are a distrct that’s got it going on!

It is often said that sometimes you need to leave to appreciate what you have at home. I truly believe that my district, the Surrey School District, is leading in B.C. for innovative, inquiry based, student led, collaborative, technology integrated education. There are many schools in our district who are on their way, which means we are on OUR way, to changing the face of education.

I recently attended a retirement party and was talking to another teacher who retired a few years ago.  She stated that she was very concerned for the future of education and that she was glad that she “got out” when she did. I responded, I hope passionately, by saying that my view was different.  I can feel that we are in a great time in education.  I can feel the excitiement and the hope. I am so fortunate to be an educator at this time of great change!

Thanks to the ConnectEd Canada Conference and Twitter, I came to realize even more that I am fortunate to be in a school district who supports and encourages us in this movement. I will continue to share and celebrate (particluarly through social media!), to promote this feeling, so people in my district and beyond can see and hear about the great things that are happening right in our own backyard.

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So, I will absolutely be at next year’s ConnectEd Canada Conference and everyone, watch out! I will be bringing MORE of my district family with me. We will be exuberant, proud and definitely wearing matching t-shirts!… Now, that’s if we don’t host it next year! ;o)


The Value of Twitter: An Open Letter to Stephen Toope, President of UBC

stephen toope quote

Dear Stephen Toope,

I saw this quote from you, the President of UBC, in my issue of Trek recently and it made my heart sink. I’ve been thinking about your statement for a while because I wanted to try to understand where you were coming from and what message you were trying to convey.

I am quite shocked that the president of an educational institution like UBC, and specifically an institution that trains teachers, would make such a statement.  I am sure you have heard your share of backlash from this quote. I just wanted to present to you my thoughts as a UBC alumni, an administrator and a teacher.

When I joined Twitter not that long ago I, too, had my heels dug deep. I viewed Twitter as another time waster I didn’t need to introduce to an already busy life. Initially, I did not see the value of it either.  I joined, though, because some of my colleagues wouldn’t stop gushing about it and because I secretly wanted to prove to them that I would hate it. So, I joined and jumped in with both feet… boy was I ever quickly eating humble pie.

Twitter has flattened the walls of society.  I am able to directly connect with people I could never dream of connecting with before. Recently I attended the ConnectEd Canada conference in Calgary. Through Twitter I was able to easily connect with the organizers, the speakers, and fellow attendees.  What made it even more exciting was that we made an effort to meet face to face and connect even more. The conversations I have had, and the potential projects these connections have sparked, are all a result of Twitter.

Twitter has been a tool that has led to deep reflections and connections in the education community. It also has been an outlet for people who are too shy to share at conferences, workshops and meetings. But, you suggest that nothing of importance can be communicated in the limited number of allowable characters Twitter provides. As well, you are concerned with the immediacy of the medium. Why does it have to stop at the limited number of characters? You can just send another tweet! Why do you have to respond immediately?  You can quote people and respond to them later, sparking more conversation at another time!

I am proud to say that my school district has welcomed Twitter.  We have our own hashtag stream where people from the district and outside of the district share, collaborate, and celebrate all in the name of improving education. We also have recently started holding a weekly chat time every Sunday night where people who are interested gather on our hashtag stream to chat about a preplanned topic. The topics have included inquiry based learning, assessment practices, and success stories. Weekly chats like this are happening all over Twitter.

I invite you to join twitter… even under an alias! Give it a try.  Take a look at the many hashtag streams related to education that are out there.  You can not negate the potential of a tool without trying it yourself. Oh, and if you do, let me know @teachermrskhan so I can follow you!


Iram Khan

Joy and Laughter: Why I Became a Teacher

I’ve been working on this post for a while now… actually, since coming home after spending the day with George Couros and fellow educators in my district… Yes, that was about a month ago! We worked through the day sharing and being inspired to foster innovation in our district. George ended the day with a request for bloggers in the district to write about why we became teachers.

Well, this was a harder task than I expected it to be, so I chewed on it for a while. Then I attended Tedx West Vancouver and received the final push I needed! The inspiration resulted from Dean Shareski’s talk, Whatever Happened to the Joy in Education?.

I became a teacher because of the joy I experienced when I was in school. I was joyed when my school supplies were purchased, when we opened new textbooks, when we watched celebrations in the gym, when my teachers would ask ME to share my ideas, and when I passed by the staffroom and the smell of coffee and the sounds of laughter spilled out into the halls. I also felt joy at one time events like finding a perfectly intact butterfly to add to my insect project in grade five; making my teacher laugh hysterically at the story of me running down the hill through a forest on the way to school and losing control of my feet, then losing my shoes and lunch bag and laughing so hard while watching my sister do the same; spending a whole lazy June day with my grade six class walking around in the bush for no reason, but just because, and stumbling upon a cow’s skull; and finally being able to show everyone that I could moon walk in the main hall of the school, which was open often for kids to play games in, dance, and/or just talk at lunch and recess. I could go on and on, school was a joyful place!

Now, I didn’t go through school completely with rose coloured glasses! Try being one of the few minorities in a cautious small town of 1,500. Try being placed in the lowest reading group and knowing it. Try navigating this world as the eldest daughter to immigrant parents who want the best for their child, but are in conflict with what the best in Canada means. Despite it all, I just had great people at school who supported me. I had teachers and administrators who helped me see the joy in everything.

I laugh when others typically laugh, but I also laugh at the joy I get from all the absurdity that happens in this world. I laugh when things aren’t going as planned and I laugh when things go as planned. Yes, I actually was laughing at my friend’s father’s funeral, but my mother was so embarrassed that she violently folded my body in half and rubbed my back to make people think that I was crying. But, to defend myself… We were singing a very sad hymn, and there was a lady next to me singing her heart out to a completely different hymn. I just lost it, it was absurd that at such a serious, sorrowful event, this was occurring beside me.

As Dean Shareski often shares, there is a lot in this world to laugh about. Sometimes we need to laugh so that we are not overcome by all that isn’t good in this world. It is no surprise to me that when things get really stressful at school, I end up laughing a lot. It doesn’t mean that I do not treat things seriously, far from it, but laughing and finding the joy is a way of coping and seeing the light.

I became a teacher, for purely selfish reasons… because school makes ME joyful! It always has and it always will. I also want to share that with everyone. School often takes itself too seriously. We get bogged down through debating what’s best four our students, recording every single thing  to use as “data”, believing that if we take a break kids will fail and not become good citizens of our world. What school needs to do is change out of its three piece suit and put on some pajamas! Schools need to be a source of joy for everyone!

So This Happened: Kindergarten Boy 1 Mud Puddle 0


After teaching a crazy Friday morning in K and trying to juggle too many balls in the air at the office, this happened…

20130420-201122.jpgand this happened…


and this happened…

muddy headand this happened!

muddy profile

As the supervisor brought him in after lunch, I just didn’t know whether I wanted to laugh or cry.  My two K teacher colleagues got a sense of this and whisked him away. Photos were taken, an interview was done, and this is the result. Sometimes, you just have to shake your head, smile and be grateful for parents who send a change of clothing right down to socks and shoes!

Teacher: Was the mud fun?

Boy: “Yeah, SO MUCH FUN! We were playing a game, we had to cover the mud with rocks and the ground where the sand was, but NO woodchips! Eight of us, we didn’t cover all the mud, though we’ll finish on MONDAY!”

Not sure about that!

Thank you to my dear colleagues who rescued me from going over the edge!

Yes, Genius Hour in Kindergarten!


I have been reading a lot about Genius Hour and have been inspired by my own district’s Gallit Zvi and her journey with integrating it in her classroom. The teacher of our Grade Five buddy class went to a workshop that Gallit ironically spoke at and decided to integrate it into her class.  Wow, am I ever lucky that our classes are buddies!  Her Grade Fives have been doing amazing work during their genius hour time.

So, as January came to a close and we noticed that the kindies in my class were becoming more independent and fully capable of using iPads, we set them to work with their buddies in our first Kindergarten Genius Hour project. Because this was our first time, we had to put some parameters around it. I know, I know, less direction the better when it comes to Genius Hour… but you have to give us some credit for loosening most of the strings!

Our kindies thought of something that they would like to learn about and brainstormed some questions about the topic. The topics and questions that my kindies, yes FIVE year olds, were thinking of were beyond my imagination. They were vibrating with excitement at the possiblity of actually controlling what they were going to learn about. Some of the topics that were decided on were cowboys, cars, dresses, birds, and owls.

Then the magic happened.  The Grade Fives paired up with their Kindergarten buddies and off they went.  Engagement, conversation, collaboration, and critical thinking just happened… and we, the teachers, were minimally involved.  After meeting every Friday morning for a few weeks, the kids were ready to present their finding in a Keynote presentation.  I was so proud!  Our kindies confidently presented with their big buddies beside them helping them along the way.

IMG_0500I am excited to further explore Genius Hour more in our class, with the assistance of our big buddies. We will now be changing the name of “big buddies time” to “Genius Hour”! I also can’t wait to show the parents how much we are learning, once agian, from playing around in Kindergarten!

If you would like more information on Genius Hour, Gallit Zvi has some excellent posts on her blog here: Integrating Technology: My Journey

Below is a sample of some slides from a priceless presentation on Ninja Turtles.


 7441b4d6692ffc6ddda8f03d8c6b90d5_zps32cc502f 805c9225abc735ed1674961107c80c9c_zps66e899f2 91b2b71f17ee1e711b67a88f378de311_zpsd2c30e56


Your School’s Online Presence

thumbs upThumbs_down_smiley2

I recently read a blog post written titled Apparently My School Sucks where Greg Miller writes how his school fared on the Fraser Institute rankings based on their Provincial Achievement Tests that are given to their Grades 3 and 6 students. As the title hints, you can guess that they didn’t do so well!  At the end of his post, Miller links to a great video about his school and the wonderful initiatives they are taking part in, showing that his school is a much better place than what the Fraser Institute presented.

This got me thinking about the current online presence of our school. I hope it is not simply a Fraser Institute ranking. When people are Googling our school, what are they seeing?

Almost two years ago, when I was told  the name of the school where I was to be the new Vice Principal, the first thing I did was look at our district website. Here, I was able to see the school’s student enrolment, address, teachers, and presentation of self through a dull boring photo of mostly a parking lot (yawn).  Then, I went to Google.  Here I found a video of a girl (presumably a student at my school) running around our field screaming (woo hoo some excitement), some old pictures on Facebook that ex students had posted (future blackmailing possibilities), AND the Fraser Institute ranking…

A parent last year told me during Kindergarten interviews that she and her husband moved from another province with no ties to the community and decided on living in the north area of our district because it was close to her husband’s work.  Before they bought a house, they looked online and found that the Fraser Institute ranked our school as one of the highest scored school in the area (which isn’t that high, believe me!).  So, they proceeded to buy a house near our school and register their children here. That’s it!. (Boo hoo to all the other schools in the north who lost out on a great family just because the only info this family could find online was the Fraser Institute’s!). I was shocked that they made their decision as a result of one source. But, as she explained, they knew no one, they had never been here and had no idea of how to find more information.  They wanted their children to start school in September and were on a tight schedule, so there you go.

Where can people look for the other valuable information that we like to hold up high? Where can people find how dedicated our staff is; how happy, engaged, and safe our students feel; and how we celebrate successes and overcome difficulties?…

I believe that we are on our way to providing a more rich online presence now that we have blogs, a class website, photos of our celebrations, and our school plan easily found through our district’s website, but I can’t help feeling that we need to do more.

A new set of Kindergarten parents are trickling in to register their children at our school for September. This is such a great opportunity to put our best foot forward, not only in person but online. I don’t want parents to rely on the Fraser Institute results to help them decide what school to send their children to. I want them to see that we are more successful than that!

What is your school’s online presence?

Hello Spring!

photo of cherry blossoms

Hello springy sights, sounds, smells, and feelings! I am glad you are finally creeping into our classroom.

After the much needed rest during spring break and Easter, we have hit the ground running yet again. Literacy centres and guided reading are still generating shouts as though it was announced it was an inside recess day. I’ve now brought in the iPad to reach those kids need some extra TLC and for those who believe they are the next Mark Zuckerberg. In particular we have been playing with the “Smarty Pants School” app. It is so perfect for the classroom. You can upload different students and after an assessment, each of them can play at their own pace through letter recognition, phonemic awareness, and site word games. Fabulous app!

One of our learning outcomes is to be able to identify characteristics of the different seasons. When fall changes to winter and when winter changes to fall, I always sing the goodbye season song (in the Spring songs and poems section in CanTeach, see the link below). We sang goodbye to all things winter and then hello to all things spring. After singing it and reading enough books about the coming season to become experts, it was time to assess. I created this sheet for my firsties to record characteristics of winter and characteristics of spring. Yes I could have just asked them, but then I wouldn’t have a nice piece of work to show off! Here is a printable of the “Goodbye Winter Hello Spring” sheet.

goodbye winter printable

Many of you are studying eggs and chicks right now since the Easter season has just passed. This is a favourite activity of mine that I love doing every year. It is a spin off activity from an oldie but a goodie book, “The Golden Egg Book” by Margaret Wise Brown. There are a few different versions of illustrations of this book out there. I don’t know maybe Little Golden Books was trying to keep up with the times, but this version is THE BEST. My mom bought it for me at a garage sale when I was in the teacher education program and I fell in love with it as soon as I saw the cover. It’s so beautifully illustrated and this bunny compared to the other ones is the sweetest by far! So, if you come across this version, buy it!

the golden egg book cover

Okay, on to the activity. I read up to the part where the bunny falls asleep beside the egg after trying hard to break it and find out what’s inside. Then I ask the kids what they think is inside the egg. OMG, you will be surprised at the kind of answers you get. Yes, you’ll get every bird imaginable, but year after year I always get someone who thinks that there is a chocolate bunny inside. I guess that’s what they would hope is inside if they came across an egg. My favourite this year was “I think a burping chicken is in the egg.” Ummm, okay, but I’m surprised that he didn’t say that it was a farting chicken.

Here is a printable for everyone to record their prediction of what’s inside.

egg prediction printable

And… you can’t celebrate spring without looking at cherry blossoms and emphasizing that it is not a good idea to throw handfuls of rocks at them just so you can bathe in the petals (we had several injuries the other day). Let mother nature take its course and wait for a windy day.

I have to credit my grade one teaching buddy for this one. I’ve done the boring tissue paper cherry blossoms and this was a nice change. Make foamy paint by mixing equal parts shaving cream and white glue, then add food colouring, and voila. Gorgeous and fun to use!

cherry blossom craft 1 cherry blossom craft 2

Finally, here are some spring songs and poems related to the months of April and May as well.

Happy Teaching!

Why Can’t we all Just be Friends?

hugging pic

It’s been ages since my last post. At this time our province and teachers are in the middle of emotionally charged contract negotiations. So, it has been a little melancholic around here lately, which has made it really hard to write. Time to share, though, I can’t let another week go by without gushing about my Firsties!

As I have gone on about in other posts, my class is a tough group. It’s the kind of class that makes you seriously rethink your teaching career and run for the hills so you can live in a small cabin with no chance of a child interrupting your solitude; however, as the past few weeks have proven, they are also extremely kind and caring. We have had two students leave our class family within one week and the reponse their classmates had was… well, let’s say very surprising to me. I honestly didn’t think they’d really notice and that they’d be able to move on.

We knew about one of the students ahead of time so we made her a little book about things that we would miss with her leaving. Now this little girl (by little, I really mean little, she’s a tiny thing) is spunky, funny, and very caring. My students, not missing on an opportunity to be silly wrote about the following things that they would miss with her leaving:

I will miss when _____ barks and whines like a dog.
I will miss _____ nibbling on my shirt at story time.
I will miss picking _____ up and carry her around on the playground.
I will miss _____ jumping and spinning around.
I will miss _____ playing with my hair.
I will miss _____ hanging off my arm.
I will miss how _____ makes cards for me.

Not your traditional good bye book, but these came straight from their hearts. It’s a given that they will miss their fellow classmate because she is kind, caring, and fun… but these reasons are what makes their friendship unique and irreplaceable

Right before spring break began we had another student move suddenly. We found out at recess and had to pack up all of his things for him to leave by the end of the day. Despite it being the last day of school before spring break, having two performance groups to watch in the gym and crazy fun time in between, they were all sad. I eavesdropped on a number of private conversations that kids who I thought hated him were having with him. They were filled with just as much care as they had put in the good bye book they made earlier in the week.

My students will move on, new friendships will be made, but I hope that they will remember for the rest of their lives how much people that they met in school do actually care about them.

Not surprisingly, this theme area was a great one for my students to do. I think our friendship unit has been one of the most engaging themes I have done all year. In a past post I shared a friendship interview sheet. LOOK at my students, they are actually working!!! I had NO behaviour issues through this and they were so proud to share what they learned about their friend.

kids working pic kids working pic 2

I have to do this again, so here is part two of the friendship interview.

friendship interview pdf

This is a great book by Nancy Carlson for your friendship unit. I use it every year.

How to Lose All Your Friends book thumbnail

After reading this book, we worked through qualities of friendship that are valued and behaviours that prevent friendships and the students recorded their thoughts on this sheet.

how to make friends pdf

… and here is a booklet students can make to go along with the friendship poem “I Have a Friend”.

friendship book pdf

Happy Teaching!

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

heart flowers picture

I’m so glad Valentine’s day is here, my class has been desperately waiting for a day to indulge themselves in candy, chocolates, and craftiness. Christmas and Valentine’s Day, the two holidays when glitter bombs the classroom. As soon as the Valentine themed calendar display went up, the kids have been counting down!

I read this headline in the newspaper today: “There’s No Gift Problem Chocolate Can’t Solve”. Yep, that about sums it all for me. Honestly, I’d take chocolate over jewellery any day! Last year, I made myself some chocolate covered strawberries for the first time. They were so much easier to make than I expected and oh so good! You just have to melt chocolate chips and dip the strawberries in it. Yes, that easy! “What is that? Oh yes I’ll have another, don’t mind if I do”.

Okay enough about chocolate, let’s go to the classroom. Like I said, glitter glitter all around. Here’s a decoration we made to hang in the room. It was very simple, we just cut out hearts and then finger painted with the brightest pinks, reds, and whites we could find. Finger painting is so good for those kids who can’t control themselves. They go nuts with the paint… which in the end makes their project look so beautiful!

hanging heart picture xo heart picture

I also printed out x’s and o’s on which they glittered any which way they wanted. Another great thing for the kids who can’t control themselves, but not good for you or your custodian as glitter gets into every corner of the room and every orifice on your body. Watch your kids when they glue the letters on, we got a few gluing “ox” instead of “xo”! Here’s an XO template you can print off. This was harder than I thought it would be to find on the internet, so I just made up one myself (which probably took less time than the time I spent Googling and Pinteresting!).

xo template in pdf

In our literacy centres I included the following activity. This was the first time my class did a words around the room job. I thought it would be chaos, but the groups worked well together and enjoyed the challenge of finding as many words as they could.

valentine words pdf valentine words 2 pdf

Enjoy Valentine’s Day and the love and friendship around you!

Happy Teaching,