An Open Letter to my students

To my amazing Tech Titans,

Our time together this year has come to a close. I was hoping to spend the year as your teacher but Baby Bowker came. Becoming a grade 6 teacher has truly been my dream for so long and becoming your teacher has been even better that I could have ever imagined. 

You have taught me so much throughout this year and I need to thank you. 

Thank you for being brave to share your true feelings with me and showing me how truly vunerable you are.  

Thank you for speaking the truth even when you could have gotten into trouble for it. 

Thank you for being your goofy, fun loving selves that don’t care what others think. 

Thank you for being protective of our classroom and me as I got more and more pregnant. 

I know that this year will be a year that I always look back on fondly and note it as the year of change for me as a teacher. 

You have showed me that teaching is fun, interactive, and a partnership with students. 

You have also shown me that students can be trusted in controlling their learning, on the Internet and grading themselves. 

I will continue to take leaps into the unknown since you have proved to me that students can do anything. 

I am so proud that we go to spend these 7 months together and I will miss you.

Love Always, 

Mrs Bowker


Reflecting on my 1st year teaching Grade 6

This year has been a life changing year for me. It was my first year teaching Grade 6 for a whole year and I was beyond excited for the opportunity to do so. I knew I wanted to do things very differently. I know that March seems like a weird time to reflect on how the year went, but I am now on pregnancy leave until my Baby Boy comes in April.

Topics I wanted to focus on this year:

  • Student choice and voice
  • Student self assessment
  • Project based learning
  • Using technology to support and amplify learning

This year was an uncomfortable journey as I wrestled with the image of what school should look like to what I wanted my classroom to look like.

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I discussed my uncomfortability of these differing viewpoints here. It was a transition for me and my class. I went from thinking that a classroom should be quiet to a classroom should be a buzz of discussion and questions. It was a lot and some days I grew frustrated with the change and some days it was incredible.

Student Voice and Choice:

Students in my class had choice in most things we learned about this year. For example, they got to choose an important person to write a biography on and they decided which Canada History Event they wanted to learn about for social studies. Having choice in the classroom and their learning allowed them to remain very focused on their learning since they were extremely engaged.

Students also decided this year how our classroom was going to be set up and what jobs we needed to cover so our classroom would run smoothly. We had many classroom discussions about behaviour problems, problems we ran into, and classroom decision making. For example: I started to notice a trend of students getting off task and unfocused at around 10:20am each day. They would start talking about subjects not related to school and be quite loud and distracting about it. After a couple times of noticing this, I called a class meeting. I mentioned what I had started to see and asked them what the problem was. The class spoke up and told me that were finding it hard to focus for that long period of time and they would like a break. Some students wanted a break to chat with their friends about something that happened that night, or some needed to move or some just wanted a quiet minute to draw something. I started a break time. They had 20 minutes of a break to read, draw, chat or participate in a Go Noodle.


I’ll be honest, to get into their routine it took me a while. I kept on forgetting and their behaviour would continue to be off task. I decided to put reminders in my FitBit so my wrist would vibrate when it was time for a break. Starting the breaks everyday made a huge difference in their behaviour and focus. It also gave them the chance to problem solve a solution.

I also asked my students what having voice and choice in their classroom meant to them. Check out this post for more details about that.

Student Self Assessment:

Students knowing how to self assess how they are doing was something I really wanted to focus on this year. I wanted them to know what mark they were going to get even before they handed in their work to me. This took a lot of planning and practice but creating rubrics and checklists as a class was the best way for students to know exactly what was expected of them. From the beginning of the year until now, I’ve seen a huge improvement of how my students self assess themselves. Before, I would get random A’s or D’s that didn’t fit into what I was seeing at all. Now when they self assess, it is usually exactly the same as what I marked them or within one grade difference. I truly believe that this will help them do better in higher grades going forward.

I remember the stress of bringing that report card home and knowing that you would be in trouble for whatever it said but always assuming the worst. I did not want my students to feel that way about school and marks so I decided to be as transparent as possible with report cards. I worked with my students to teach them about self assessing their own learning skills. This was a learning process for me, so please read the linked blog article to know more.

Grades in my classroom are not a taboo topic. We talk about them at length, students share stars and wishes and reflect on what they did well and what they need to do better next time. I stress to my students that school is a learning process so they should be asking for help and redoing work they made mistakes on, that is how we ALL learn. All grades are self assessed by students, discussed with me, or shared with students who reflect on their grade and learning and store their marks in their student led conference binder. Before report cards home, I print off my draft copies of the reports and share them with the students. I ask them to edit my work if I made any mistakes, to look at the grades and comments and see if they agree or disagree. If they disagree, they must circle the problem and come up with an explanation of why they deserve a better mark and then we can discuss it. For more about this process, check out this blog post. Most students feel that their report card is a fair representation, some challenged their grades and I have changed marks based on their arguments and for some it is a wake up call that their lack of responsibility in their learning has affected their mark and will be communicated to their parents.

Project Based Learning:

I wanted for my students to have real world experience of collaboration. Working as a group gets all students to share their expertise, strengths and to help each other with their weaknesses. Some of my students who struggle produced amazing projects with the help of their group. Of course, these students probably didn’t contribute as much as the other students but by working together I know that they understand the topic we are studying more deeply than they would if they were working on their own.

Also life isn’t separated into learning subjects by themselves, it is a mess of subjects integrated with each other.

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I wanted to give my students the chance to learn authentically using the internet and finding relevant information. I also wanted to mark them on many different subjects at once. For example, for the space unit we just completed (addressed in this post) I marked their knowledge of space and writing since they were also learning how to write a report. All the projects we worked on this year assessed more than the subject we were completing the work in. I felt it was more authentic that way.

Using Technology to support and amplify learning:

I’m going to be honest. I’m a terrible speller and I thank google for auto correct and siri everyday. I wanted to teach my students how to use these amazing tools we have at our fingertips properly and how to help them in their learning. I have used Siri in my classroom, in front of my students to show them how to spell different words. I use it on a daily basis and why shouldn’t they? I have also shown them that while using google docs, if you misspelled a word, it will underline it in red for you so you know that you need to correct it.

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I’ve also shown them Google Read and Write and how to get the program to read what you have written back to you. I use this when I am writing report cards to make sure it makes sense. So many students need to use this tool but don’t know about it. Getting them the tools they need to succeed is just a smart thing to do.

Before smart phones, teachers used to drill in times tables into our heads. even completing those mad minutes, I still don’t remember all my times tables.


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With smartphones being in our pockets, who of us haven’t reached into our pocket to help us calculate something while out shopping? Why not encourage our students to do the same. Understanding the concept of multiplication or division is so much more important than knowing all their times tables.

Continuing Next Year:

Some of the things we did in class worked so well and I am so proud of my students for how well they did them.

Students’ learning how to self assess themselves was one of the highlights of my year. I want to continue doing this but I want to make sure that they are deeply thinking about what they have done well and what they need to improve on.

Student Led Conferences was something I really focused on this year in class. We spent a lot of time saving our work and reflecting on what we could have done better for next time. Although I sent notes and emails home and had very open times where parents could come into our classroom whenever they were free, we had limited parents who came. I would love next year to have more parent involvement.

I let my students have a say in every part of our classroom and that was also problem solving. It was clearly needed that we needed to set up classroom jobs, but I waited until the students brought up the subject and what jobs they thought we needed for our classroom to run smoothly. Many of my supply teachers mentioned to me how much that they loved that the jobs just ran themselves. Some of the jobs we had were recyclers, date, calendar, Tweeter of the day, Technology organizer, and more.

My class met often to discuss problems we were having in class to try to create resolutions together. My students would even notice issues and call meetings so we could vote on certain topics. I would like to have classroom meetings more often so the shy students can get more comfortable sharing in these settings. I’m just wondering how often to have them and what to share and talk about.

Bring your own device (BYOD) was such a great aspect to our classroom. As discussed above I wanted my students to actually use the tools they had at their disposal so they could  see these devices as a learning tool rather than a music player and learn the responsibility that comes with it. I only really had to have 2 discussions with my students about how to use the devices appropriately and since we used them everyday, it really was not a big deal.

Connecting our classroom with the world through twitter was an awesome experience. We started just tweeting from my computer as a class and then I gave the tweeter of the day our iPad and they were allowed to take pictures and tweet what we were learning about. Next year I would lay out clearer guidelines for what they are supposed to be doing. I would get the tweeter of the day to introduce themselves in the morning on twitter, and get them to share their learning and questions they have, tweeting to people of interest that can help them and using hashtags correctly

What I need to do better next year:

Using twitter in the classroom was an amazing experience this year. As stated above I need to improve how we use it in the classroom. Next year I would project our twitter feed onto the screen every morning so students can look through our feed together and read blog articles or watch videos they are interested in. I think this would engage them more and they would want to tweet more often.

I want to meet with students more often and figure out a better way to take notes about how they are doing and what they are working on. This year I used a Google Form to document but I’m not sure if that is the best way. Sometimes I’m going to need to meet with certain students or students are going to need to meet with me. Next year, I’m going to have a ‘I NEED to meet with Mrs. B’ spot where students can sign up to meet with me and they will be the first priority that morning.

I felt that through blogging, emails, and notes home, I did communicate well with parents. Obviously some more than others. I would really like to set up a system about how to send more positive notes home about the students on a daily basis.

We blogged this year at We didn’t get as much traffic and comments as I wish we had. Next year I want to think about what is the easiest way for parents and others to see what we are doing in class. Maybe a facebook group?

This has been my most exciting, thought provoking, inspiring year for me as a teacher. I’m so proud of my class and what we accomplished this year. I would be very grateful if you have any tips or feedback to share if you could comment below.


Including Student Voice in the Curriculum

This year I really wanted my students to have a say, a voice, in everything we did in class. I was stuck on how to get them to have a say on what we learn about when we have this huge curriculum to cover.



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In the beginning of the year, I let them brainstorm what they wanted to learn about a specific topic we were learning but I wrote the checklist and rubric about what they needed to cover. As I could see that they began to become adjusted to this, I wanted to give them more say.

I decided to print out the Grade 6 curriculum about Space, our next unit we needed to cover. In Google Classroom, I gave them a shared document where the whole class could write and I asked them 2 questions: ‘What do we need to know about?,’ and ‘What do I want to learn about.’

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In groups, the class read through the curriculum and decided what the big ideas they needed to learn were and what they wanted to learn about. Check out the document here. Through a discussion of those ideas and using other science texts as examples, we created a checklist and a rubric.

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Global Play Day

Global Play Day is a movement that is raising awareness about the importance of unstructured play for children. It is a whole school day where the students come to school to play-all day long!

The Rules:

  • No structure
  • No screens or toys with batteries
  • No interference from teacher unless necessary

When I first read about this day, I immediately thought that even though my Grade 6 students are amazing  and well behaved that they couldn’t handle it. My mind immediately went to chaos, fighting and mess.

The only instructions I gave my class was to bring in toys. No electronics and battery toys allowed.

Here are some pictures of how we spent our day.
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I asked my students at the end of the day what they thought about our day. Here is some non edited quotes from them.


I learned today that there are more ways to have fun than always playing at your gadgets.-H.B

That there is much more ways to let time pass by or learn by doing non electronic -A.A<3

I think that it’s good that we’re dedicating a day to playing with toys that don’t contain batteries or screens (Ipads, Iphones, Ipods, Androids, PS3 ect.). I think it’s better for kids that spend a lot of their day on electronics to see that board games and toys can also be fun. -L

I think that global fun day is really awesome and it’s important for students to have a break and do whatever they want in a good way . We had lots of fun playing with our friends , and our class always uses electronics and we had a break of electronics too . We had so much Fun – L.J

I really like the idea that we are having a global play day, because so much people in the world use way too much electronic and I am not going to lie I am one of those people,but I wanna stop using it it too much this day helped me. -H.M. 😀 <3  

I think that global school play day is important, because i learned that you CAN live and have fun without the internet or wifi! – H.A.

I think it’s great that we get to have a chance to be kids without using electronics and getting to embrace who we are -<L.A. +  +

I think that it’s a great way to get to know everybody and give people a break. L.M.

I think that it was great to not use any electronics all day and it was a great experience – A.D.

I think that it was fun and smart to have a fun day because we express ourselves and play with our friends and get the sillies out for the week -A.A- >.< :) loved it.

today was awesome because we had fun – I.H.

we had a awesome day because we enjoyed so much-Y.




Welcome Colouring Book for Syrian Refugees

One of my amazing colleagues, Shauna Pollock, is going to meet with some Syrian Refugees in Toronto soon. She had the idea to team up with a class that could create a colouring book for young children to learn important things about Canada.

Since many of my students in my class are experienced with coming to Canada, I asked them if they wanted to create a colouring book. They were thrilled with the idea and immediately started coming up with ideas.

Some students drew the drawings and some students changed what we wanted to say in English to Arabic. Here is our result. To see the colouring book, click on the image.

Title Page of Coloring Book: Says “Welcome to Canada”

Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 4.09.19 PMInside the Colouring book we have everything from freedom of religion, that Justin Trudeau is our Prime Minister, and how maple syrup is made!

Take a peek and please send all the credit to my amazing Tech Titans!



Building Trust and Accountability through Report Cards

Report card time is here again. For me, it’s a dreaded time since I don’t believe in marks and find that report cards do not give enough feedback for students and parents.

My students this year have been working on self assessing and are pretty bang on with it now. They self assess how they do on projects and even their learning skills.

I work on their report cards with the marks they have decided they deserve by self assessment and also my marks. I enter in their marks and corresponding comments into the report card software. When I’m finished, I print the report cards out and hand them back to the students. I give them time to read through them, look at their grades and comments.

All of their completed assignments and rubrics have been handed back to them previously and they are stored in their Student Led Conference binder. The students have access to these binders all year round and are encouraged to bring them home to show their parents. They also refer to these binder when looking at their report card.

I always begin this process by talking to my students about how a grade doesn’t really reflect what you know and if they are upset in any way, to come and chat with me about it instead of leaving upset.

Then, I hand out the report cards. Some of my students were excited and some were so nervous. I gave them quiet time to read through them and some were thrilled with their report cards and some had questions about certain grades.


If they had any issue, they were to circle the mark and say exactly why that mark should be changed. Then, when the class was working we met and discussed their thoughts and mine.

I have to say that being really organized using Google Drive helped me pull up all their grades, self assessed or teacher assessed and then we could really discuss it.

Some students made quite persuading arguments and their marks were changed. Some students forgot that they self assessed themselves with a certain mark and that influenced their grade. Some students disagreed with their learning skills mark that they had written themselves and I had to remind them that they decided on that qualifier and grade themselves.

The process of sharing the report card before it actually goes home has been essential in my classroom. It helps the students learn, consistently self assess, demonstrates mutual respect and trust and reduces stress since they know exactly what will be going home to parents on February 4th.

I would highly suggest that other teachers use this method as well.

Here are some thoughts from my students:

I think that it’s good that Mrs Bowker does that because before we go home with our report cards we know our grades, we have more confidence and are not stressed out. -K.A.

We don’t have to worry about how our parents are going to react to our marks because we know what grade we got and we agree with the marks. -L.A

I like how Mrs Bowker lets us see our report cards before they go home so we can check our marks and tell her if we disagree with them and we talk about the marks so we aren’t upset. -L.J.

I like that Mrs Bowker gives us our report cards so we know what level we are at and how we can improve. -H.A.


Students Self Evaluating Learning Skills

This year I wanted to give my students the responsibility and experience of marking themselves on their work.

We marked ourselves on our learning skills back in November and I found that they struggled with it. I created this document and let the students mark themselves on learning skills. 

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Screen Shot 2016-01-20 at 5.38.21 PMAfterwards I wrote a paragraph to use for the comments addressing the learning skills that we have been working on in class. When I started filling in the appropriate words to the students mark they didn’t match up.

This semester I decided to try it a new way. I pre-wrote the paragraph for the learning skills comment. I left blanks for the qualifier that would make sense for their level of achievement and gave them a table of the grade and corresponding qualifiers.

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I printed out copies on paper for each students and went over what to do. The students got the paper and filled in corresponding qualifiers and then they had to decide their mark for each learning skills based on which qualifier they used.

Then I shared the online version in Google Classroom and each student had to replace ‘Name’ with their name, he/she with their corresponding gender and enter in their choice of qualifiers.

I read them through before entering them into their report card and have honestly found that they are accurate marking themselves most of the time or too hard on themselves. It really is a great way for them to check in and see how they are doing.


A Constant Evolution

Who am I? For the past 10 years the answer to that question has been an aspiring teacher, and a teacher. Becoming a teacher was all consuming for me. From talking courses to get into teachers college, to working jobs to pay for college, to supply teaching and so on. The process never seemed to end.

When I finally became a supply teacher I quickly realized that teaching was what I am meant to do but I still had to learn so much to become a teacher.

I dove into the world of blogging as a way to keep busy and keep focused on my dream of becoming the best teacher I could be. was born as a way for me to collect and organize ideas and be current on teaching trends. This blog snowballed into Twitter, Edcamp Ottawa, Playdate Ottawa, ONedchat, and Think Tank. It also stemmed to creating my current blog so that I could have more interaction with my followers and force me to reflect on my teaching practices more.

Blogging throughout this time has truly been a huge blessing in my life. It has introduced me to amazing educators that have pushed me to be a better teacher than I could have ever imagined.

But then this happened…. 

And my whole world shifted. I was quite sick for my first trimester and could barely eat let only blog, tweet and participate in all my extracurriculars that I had been so active in. I felt a shift that I wasn’t expecting. From being so invested in the educational community to completely separating myself from it. I couldn’t focus on it at all. And to be honest, I felt a bit lost.  10 years of focusing on education to nothing was quite the shift.

Now, I’m 6.5 months pregnant and thrilled that our baby boy will be arriving in April 2016. 

I’m left wondering Who am I now?, Where do I fit in now?, What do I really want to spend my time on?, Is blogging and sharing really that important to me?, Do I continue to blog and share through another blog?, Do I combine my personal and professional Twitter accounts?
So many questions. Change is never easy but I have to say I have never been so excited.


New Years Resolutions

Normally when I reflect on the past year, I make new education resolutions for the next one. Since becoming pregnant I have noticed a huge switch from my education based focus to a focus on myself and my upcoming family.

Today I am 6 months pregnant. I am growing life inside of me and it is pretty incredible. I’ve decided to not push myself as I normally do for my resolutions this year. I’m going to focus on me and my family. Here are my 2016 New Year Resolutions.

  • Trust my intuition
  • Take care of myself and my family
  • Be kind to myself
  • Do things that make me happy: read, make crafts, draw, cook and bake
  • Spend time with family and friends
  • Do not compare myself to others

Seems like a great start to a new year and a new member of our family.


Student’s viewpoint on Choice and Voice

This year I have been giving my students choice and voice in everything we do in the classroom. It was a huge, difficult and sometimes frustrating change for me but one that I see is so hugely beneficial.

Before the Christmas break, I asked my class

Being given Choice and Voice in the classroom means to me….”

I asked them to discuss how this impacted their learning and feelings on coming to school. This is the unedited feedback they gave me (I just removed their names).

“Having voice in my classroom is fairly new to me, since in the past few years all my teachers have been strict and only cared about what they said. In my opinion classes that are given choice learn more responsibility and function better. In class we are given the opportunity of helping to create our projects. It also feels like she cares more about us, and cares about our opinion. I definitely learn better when we are given choice, since Mrs. Bowker adjusts how we learn so it’s easy for everyone.”

“by giving a choice i think the teacher cares about us because all other teachers are mean and don’t give us a choice and we won’t be interested the only teachers that i think are giving kids a chance are ms.bowker and ms. h.I also think that i learn more by having a choice.”

“Having voice in Mrs.Bowker’s class is fair to me because all the teachers I have had before don’t care about the kids, there like “I teach these kids, and I get money.” but Mrs.Bowker cares and is way different. My other teachers don’t care about the kids, they care about themselves. But no, that’s not the case with Mrs.Bowker, she cares, but now and then she will get a little annoyed with us or we don’t agree and so on. But Mrs.Bowker is the best teacher I have ever had. Before As Well teachers did not ask for our opinions,”

“I feel important that i get to pick what i do not the teacher or and cuz in the years i’ve been in school teachers think that  all i have to do is tell them what to do except for ms bowker and ms h.”

“To me given choice is being equal.  In the past no teacher asked for my choice.  I want to say what’s in my mind and tell everyone, if I agree or disagree. Mrs. Bowker gives us choice and lets us say what we want, she teached us to be honest. Mrs. Bowker lets us be the teachers. To be given a voice I feel free. To be given a choice it is important because you get to learn how to be responsible. I wish you’re my teacher every year and giving our class “choice” and “voice” is the best choice ever! Thank you Mrs. Bowker.”

“knowing that someone cares about you and can help you grow as I person and help you get set for life challenges. having a voice is important too, it gives you power and responsibility. Choice is also important to me, because I feel free. I hope all teachers were like you Mrs. Bowker.”

“Being given choice in class means a lot to me . It means to have freedom and do whatever you want , Kids should have there own choice with what they are doing just like adults do . For me Mrs. Bowker is being fair with all the students . She trusts us with everything and she is always honest with us . I also like to choose to work with who and i like to pick the topic i want to do a project about.”

“I love the idea because I never had a teacher that does this and it’s very fun. I have a voice you have a voice we all have voices and we can use them that is why Mrs.Bowker has a very fun class.I love this year. I learn more this year because we have choice and it makes me want to learn more then before”

“I think I am learning way more and about school I think it is great and new I love going to school. Last year I DID not like going to school that much.”

“I think I work better when I choose what to work on. I like it better when I go to school better than going to school last year. That’s how choice affects me.”

Reading the students comments made me realize how much students need to be offered choice and voice in the classroom and in their learning. Having students that hated coming to school and now love coming to school has been a huge turn around for them and I’m so happy for them.

In my class, I rarely have to discipline the students. I’ve had to scold students for being too excited about the projects we are working on and going home and working on it all night long. But isn’t that what learning is supposed to feel like? Being so excited to work on a project that you can’t think of anything else? I’m so thrilled that my students are feeling safe, loved, cared for, excited and that they are important!





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