My Blog in 2017

Last year I wrote up a bit of a summary or review of my blog for the year 2016 after reading similar posts by others around the MTBoS. So here is the look at my most read blog posts in 2017 and some other stats that I find interesting to look through:

Most-read blog posts from 2017:

  1. Building #ThinkingClassrooms (March 15th):
    Detailing the research of Peter Liljedahl, including the use of vertical non-permanent surfaces & visibly random groups. My sketchnote of the elements of the thinking classroom has been updated to accurately reflect his additions to the framework & a link to the most current version is at the top of the post.
    Thinking Classroom Sketchnote 14 elements
  2. Self-verbalization & Reciprocal Teaching (March 1st):
    This one surprises me. I made a couple of sketchnotes on the topic of self-verbalization & reciprocal teaching as way to take my own notes about them when I was tasked to read up about them before our lesson study at my school. I quickly posted them to the blog. The concepts must have been coming up at other schools too, perhaps as part of RMS, and thus being often searched online.reciprocal-teaching        self-verbalization
  3. Course Packs for the #ThinkingClassroom (November 11th)
    I was very lucky to have Peter Liljedahl visit my classroom this year to see how we implement his Thinking Classroom framework. In his keynote speech the next day at the OAME Leadership Conference, he said some kind words about the “course packs” I create for my students as a “shell” for them to complete their own notes about our learning (one of the elements of the thinking classroom – student-created notes). I got many requests to share my course packs that day, so I put together a blog post w/ links to download course packs for the courses I teach.
  4. Khan Academy … everyone loves to hate it (November 28th)
    My response to a blog post by David Wees titled “Online Practice is Terrible Practice”. The original post was shared to a wide audience on Twitter by Dan Meyer. David then shared my response to his large audience as well.Screenshot 2017-11-28 at 3.45.27 PM
  5. Kahoot: game-based learning (February 15th)
    A bit of a primer on Kahoot; what it is & how it works. Includes a sketchnote of course 🙂

Other Stats I Thought Were Neat:

Views my blog gets, year by year. Growth is a good sign.
views by year

Where in the world the views came from this past year:
readers by country

The search terms that lead people to my blog (a lot of searches are encrypted so don’t show up in these results). But I find them interesting nonetheless:
search terms
Someone out there must have their students researching Roger Schank b/c my book summary of his book is often at the top of the views list also.

Finally, these are the top-viewed posts on my blog, NOT necessarily written this year:
most viewed this year - not written this year

Have you done a similar year-end review or summary of your blog? I would love to have a read; leave a link in the comments below!

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)


My Tweets in 2016 #MTBoS


I started out sharing on Twitter, and it wasn’t until I felt the real need to move beyond 140 characters that I tried blogging. My blog has been a place to go into more detail on activities I’ve done with my classes or strategies I’ve been implementing. But I wanted to look back and archive some of what I shared on Twitter here on my blog. So I’ve compiled a rough list of top-ish tweets (as best as I can tell using

The Ottawa Slow EdChat was the brainchild of Derek Rhodenizer & Sandra Walker. It fizzled out at the end of 2015, so with their permission I tried to get it back up and running for 2016. It now has its own Twitter profile so everyone can easily find the weekly question. If you live in the Ottawa/Gatineau area I hope you’ll consider giving it a follow!

Jo Boaler is pretty incredible. She released a great article on her YouCubed site all about Visual Maths. I sketchnoted a summary and shared it.

It’s no secret that I really love Pear Deck!

People seemed to really like my sketchnotes of the OAME conference Ignite sessions. They’re a bit wordy -should be more visual, but it made for a good review of the talks. And got a lot of people asking more about sketchnoting too!

This tweet proved popular and I wanted to make sure to include it as it’s one a few top tweets not including a sketchnote. The #BFC530 chat is a great 15 minute chat in the morning for early risers!

I have still yet to read the full book (I made this sketchnote from a shorter article on the topic) but it’s on my list!

I put this together in order to share some posters that I have on my classroom walls all in one image.

Two sketchnotes from the #EdInnovation summit in Ottawa.

A sketchnote from the EdTech Team Google summit in Rosemere, QC.

This last one is sort of cheating as this exact tweet was posted in January 2017. But as I finished the sketchnote for each section of the book through the fall of 2016 I posted them to Twitter & they each got big views. So I finally used some holiday time to finish the book and posted all 4 sketchnotes in this tweet above. So it’s summarizing the earlier tweets here.

Mostly I notice that all except one of my tweets that did the best contain sketchnotes. People really love the visual summaries of talks, videos, articles & books! Get in touch if you’d like to learn more about sketchnoting. I will hopefully blog about the topic in 2017 as well!

A big thank-you to my Twitter PLN for sharing, listening, advising, and pushing. I can’t being a teacher without all of you to work with!

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

My Blog in 2016

My blog has steadily increased its views over the years which is great:blog-views

It’s pretty neat to see where in the world readers are from:blog map.JPG

It turns out that none of my top 5 blog posts for this year were written in 2016. Not sure what to make of this fact. Perhaps I’m not blogging about things that interest others as much; I have been blogging more about specific activities than big ideas lately. Thoughts?

Here are the top 5 most viewed posts from my blog in 2016:

  1. Teacher Interviews: April, 2014. All about the topics that teachers in the OCDSB should be ready to speak to in an interview. Viewed 2.5 times more often than the next place finisher. When I meet new teachers in my school or board, this is the post they mention to me most often.
  2. Number Talks in High School: November, 2013. Written at a time when I still opened each class with a bellwork / warm-up. I no longer do, but I still use the basic concept of a number talk to structure discussions in class about a given calculation. Also, with my ELD (pre-ESL) math class, I had my student teacher doing one number talk a day to start each class in December.
  3. Visibly random groups & vertical non-permanent surfaces: November, 2014. Incorporating VRGs & VNPSs into my classroom was a game changer for me and my students. Teachers often find this post when they Google the acronyms VRG & VNPS to find out what they are. I also share this post online often with teachers if I think it’s something they might be interested in.
  4. A day in the life of a Math teacher: November, 2014. This was a blogging challenge put forth by the Explore MTBoS team a year previous. It also happened to be a very strange teaching day due to a scary incident that ground much of our city to a halt for lockdowns.
  5. Assessment & Evaluation in the OCDSB: March, 2014. My school board implemented a big shift in our assessment & evaluation policies & strategies. Many teachers were reluctant, but I found a lot of great things about the new system. I created a 4-part series about the new system to try to share what I knew about & how I was using the new ideas in my classes.

Did I peak in 2014 in terms of blogging?

Thanks to everyone that has read something I’ve written this past year! I appreciate all the great feedback I get on Twitter, in the blog comments and face to face. It’s this online community that helps pushing my thinking and encourages me to keep trying new things, so thanks to all of you!

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

My Classroom Setup

This morning’s BFC530 chat was about one’s ideal classroom setup:

I said that my room is pretty much ideal as is & then realised I didn’t have a good current photo showing off our setup. So once I arrived at school I fixed that scenario:

PANO_20161102_075457 (1).jpg

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

Problems We Solved in #MFM2P

My plan was to blog about every problem-based learning activity I did this year. I did not succeed; I think I blogged about two from the my MFM2P course? So as a runner up to a full blog post reflection on each, you’re getting one post with a summary image of each activity or problem & a link to my materials for it.
I’ll group them by strand here, but they are not listed in the order that we did the activities. If you’d like to see the progression of activities I used, you can see that here.

Linear Relations

26 Squares: This one I did manage to blog about.Summary (11).jpg

Banquet Hall2016.04.22 2P summary.png

Phone Charging2016.05.19 2p.JPG

Phone Plans2016.04.27 2p.png

Gummy Bears: I did blog about this one here.Summary 2016.02.29 2P.jpg

Measurement & Trigonometry

Lamppost: w/ shadows 2016.04.15 2P Summary.jpg

School Height: w/ mirrors 2016.05.25 (1).JPG

Tree Height: w/ clinometer 2016.05.11 2p summary.jpg

Wheelchair ramp2016.06.08 2p (1).JPG

Filing cabinet post-itsSummary Filing Cabinet 3-Act.jpg

Pyramid Post-its2016.05.13 2p (1).JPG

Quadratic Relations

26 Squares: I did blog about this one2d 2016.02.08 (1).JPG

Visual Pattern2016.04.12 2p summary (1).JPG

Not every lesson we did was problem-based. Sometimes I need to do some direct teaching right from the get go, like with expanding & factoring. Other times we explore & investigate by drawing & cutting out shapes, like with similar triangles & trigonometry. But in any case, maybe someone new to the MFM2P course (or not so new to it) will find these activities useful!

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

What pedagogical skill took you the longest to learn? #BFC530


This morning’s #BFC530 chat was on this question:

And this week I’ve been trying to sketchnote some summaries to the chats in advance of hosting Thursday’s chat about how we could use sketchnoting with our students in class. I posted my visual summary of today’s chat on Twitter but it wasn’t until this tweet . . .

. . . that I thought maybe it’s worth sharing on my blog, also, for new teachers.


A colleague and I who are both on prep period together were just discussing  how beginning teachers might view this list differently than a seasoned teacher. Thoughts? Are you a beginning teacher? How do you feel about this list? Leave a comment below or get in touch via Twitter!

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

#GAFEsummit Demo Slam

Last weekend I attended & presented at the #GAFEsummit in Ottawa; the biggest Google Apps For Education summit in the world they tell me. Each day of the summit is topped off by a Demo Slam & so I decided to broadcast it live using Periscope; it was a good excuse to try out the app for the first time. Here’s the video:

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON

A Principal’s Perspective on Teacher Interviews

Last year I wrote a post about topics that one should be prepared to speak about in interviews for teaching positions. That post is still the most read post on my blog. It doesn’t tell you how to answer the questions, nor any specific questions. I simply made a list of topics that I, and my colleagues, remember coming up over the years in our interviews.

But that post was written by me – a teacher – and I’ve always been interested in hearing about interviews from a Principal’s perspective. So I reached out to a highly respected former principal from my school board, Mark Lafleur, who kindly agreed to share his thoughts on the topic with me.

About You: Tell us a bit about your career in education and the work you’ve done hiring staff.

For three decades I have worked in public education.  I have been an administrator in three schools and I have worked centrally as the Student Success Lead for the Ottawa Carleton district.  As an administrator I have interviewed and hired hundreds of staff.

Mark Lafleur [photo]

Mark Lafleur
Retired Principal w/ the OCDSB.

Portfolios: Should a teacher bring a portfolio? What format do you like to see? What content do want to see in it?

This is a great question because it deals with an aspect of interviews that is tricky.  The difficulty is that candidates are not sure about the use of the portfolio or the effect its misuse can have on the interview. So, here is my answer.  Yes bring your portfolio, but understand that walking an interview committee through the portfolio will turn your limited time into a “show and tell” session that will answer questions only coincidentally. There is a way to use your portfolio to an important advantage and it’s not about format. Typically a candidate will have time to prepare answers to the specific questions. When you are preparing your thoughts, there may be an artifact in your portfolio that helps you be clear about your answer.  A carefully selected artifact should provide evidence of what you have done in your practice. Pull it from your portfolio and have it ready to share as you articulate your answer.  An example might be an assignment you created that helps demonstrate your understanding of inquiry based learning.

So your portfolio can be with you, but never put the “BFB” on the table.  The “Big Fulsome Binder” will derail the flow of the interview.  Refer to the notes you just prepared and share an artifact only if it helps you speak directly to your answer for that specific question.  Ultimately this has everything to do with timing and I will come back to that later on.

First Impressions: What are some of the details about a teacher that create a good & strong first impression?

Most candidates are a bit nervous. Figure out what your tendencies are in these situations and deal with it.  Looking the panel in the eye, saying hello and shaking their hands is important.  It’s a social convention that matters and you should know that it sends important messages to the panel.  So does your appearance.  It is not about what you wear as much as how you wear it.  For me it’s about comfort and authenticity.  These are tough moments. If you’re comfortable in your own skin and how you have presented yourself through your clothing that will help.  I have seen people be both comfortable and clearly uncomfortable in a suit and tie.  Be authentic and dress comfortably.  Finally, you should presume that how you present yourself will result in the panel drawing conclusions about how you will appear day by day if you are successful in getting the job.  What messages are you sending?   Are they professional and authentic?

Look Fors: Overall, what are you looking for in a candidate? Qualities, experience, etc.

Passion!  The best candidates have passion about public education and they know how to articulate it.  So, get comfortable with your own narrative.  What do you love about teaching and learning.  How can you tell that story in a concise and authentic way that speaks to the specific question at hand? This is the great equalizer when it comes to experience.  Passion trumps experience almost every time for me as a Principal.

When it comes to qualities my answer is less than clear.  People are diverse and we need that diversity in our schools to speak to the diversity of our students.  There is no specific set of qualities I am looking for.  But, I can tell when someone is who they are and when someone is trying to be who they think they should be for the interview.  Don’t waste that time.  Be you; tell your story.

When it comes to experience I would remind you that there are many ways to glean wisdom from this life.  Candidates these days often have genuine and important experiences outside of schools.   Again this is part of being you.  Where have you been and how have those experiences resulted in your understanding of the role of public education and the necessity of a passionate commitment to teaching and learning?  Your most significant learning comes from the path of your story.  Tell that story.  This will lead to the comfort and confidence of a strong candidate.  Finally, it is not about the experience itself, it’s about what you gleaned from it.  Are you a good learner?  Do you know your strengths and your challenges?  Are you comfortable talking about where you are right now on that journey?

Answer Format: Is there a format for responses that you find works well or that you are specifically looking for?

No, I’m not looking for a specific format but good answers have some important components in common.  First, I want to know what you believe.  There will be little passion in your voice if I don’t hear from you about your core principles and how they drive you.  The second component is what have you done about these beliefs.  In response to the specific question, tell me what you have done.  Do you have an artifact to share to make your actions clear?  The point is, what you believe may be very interesting but not very helpful if it has not translated into specific actions in your practice.  The worst candidates often talk at length using all the buzz words but it is never clear that these interesting ideas have driven their practice to the benefit of students.

The final component for me is about your learning.  Once I know what you believe and what you have done, I would like to know what you have learned.  In other words, what was the impact for students and families and for you as a learner?

Many times I have prepared candidates for interviews.  This ranges from long term occasional assignments to Principal competitions. I would like to suggest a method of dealing with questions that will help you get where you want to go. Assuming you have five minutes to answer a question, divide your time in this way.  One minute to tell the panel what you believe, three minutes to tell the panel what you have done in your practice based on this belief, and one minute to reflect on what learning resulted.  Caution!  Make sure that what you say is an answer to the specific question.  I have called this model the “BDL” model for believe, do, learn.  I have also called it the “1-3-1” model because of its timing.

I think the model can be helpful for a couple of reasons.  You can prepare your answer to any question quickly and efficiently with this approach.  Divide your page up and jot down some key ideas.  What is your core belief about assessment and evaluation? Why is it so important?  Is your narrative ready?  Great, now what have you “done” about that? Are there artifacts and examples to demonstrate that your beliefs drive your practice? Next, what have you been learning through your practice? Are you a life-long learner who is aware of your journey as an educator?  What’s next for your learning and your practice?

This model can also help with nerves.  When we are nervous, we can get caught up in our own heads and ramble without really dealing with the question.  Worse than that, sometime we lose track of time and undermine the structure of the interview making the panel uncomfortable and making the candidate appear to be lost.  If you can control the timing of the interview by controlling the pace and length of your answer this will allow you to make your best case.  It will also allow for clear answers that are easy to hear.  This also produces answers full of your best evidence from your personal narrative.

Answer Content: What are you looking for in a teacher’s responses generally?

I have addressed many aspects of the question above but I would add this: Authenticity is everything.  If you are a new teacher candidate with limited classroom experience that is fine.  Speak to the experiences you have had in a genuine way.  For me this is more important than talking about hypothetical situations.  Experience matters only if you have learned from the experience and allowed it to grow your practice.  Speak with conviction about where you have been as a learner.  This is the best chance of being you and being well received regardless of your level of experience.

Key Words: Are there “buzz words” or “key words” that you are looking to hear explicitly or is it enough for a teacher to speak to that topic without saying the exact buzzword? How do you suggest new teachers become familiar with the buzzwords & trending ideas of the moment in order to prepare?

I don’t mind if the common buzz words turn up in an interview, but there is a real danger here.  Candidates sometimes choose to talk about “as, of and for” when it comes to assessment and evaluation.  The danger is that sometimes they are repeating rote phrases that do not tell me about what they believe or how this has affected their practice. There is no shortcut to the development of competence or mastery as a teacher.  It’s about your intelligence and your humility as a learner.  It takes time and you have to accept where you are and be thoughtful about that.  The use of buzz words seems inauthentic because it can make a candidate sound like they are checking off a list rather than providing thoughtful authentic reflections on their journey and their learning. You’ve got to be you!

Trouble Spots: Are there questions on which candidates tend to perform poorly & what advice would you give to teachers in order for them to improve their responses?

The short answer is yes and there are two reasons.  First, some questions are not well worded and a candidate can answer the question they perceived when the panel had something else in mind. If you are not clear on the question, when you answer it you can share your understanding of the question by saying something like “for me this question is about…”.  At least the panel will know why you have taken a particular approach.

The second problem is that sometimes candidates talk at length about what they think and we do not know how this has affected their practice.  Regardless of the question, you have to talk about your experiences and what you have learned as a way of responding to the specific question.

Improvement Plans: Do you expect teachers to be familiar with the school & board improvement plans? If so, how do you suggest teachers find out about each school’s improvement plan?

If a candidate talks about a school or a district improvement plan that is fine but I need to know how they connect.  The people in the room know the plan. Any comment you make must connect directly to you and your experience.  How does the plan support your thinking?  There should be a clear reason you referenced the plan and it should have to do with your practice.

Other: Any other words of advice you’d like to share?

This work you are choosing is an extraordinary thing.  The fundamental structure of our democracy in Canada is dependent on a solid public education.  If this work is in your heart it will drive your efforts and these efforts will be noticed.  Your time will come.
If you want to talk more, please feel free to contact me at:

Thank-you so much to Mark for taking the time to share his wealth of knowledge and experience with our new teachers. Best of luck to all of you as we head into the hiring season!

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

What makes Ridgemont High School different?

20140416-191116.jpgSomething I’ve noticed about Ridgemont from the day I started working here is how the students’ friendships stretch across grade boundaries. Grade 9 kids hang out with grade 11 kids, 12s with 10s . . . whatever goes. Maybe it’s because we’re a smaller school (~800 students)? Maybe it’s because that’s the kind of friendly environment we’ve set up for the kids? I’m not sure. But I do know that I noticed it early in my time here and it’s one of the things that really impresses me about our school and our students.

Today was a “spirit day”; student’s council declared it Juniors VS Seniors day where the juniors all where red and the seniors all wear blue. Spirit days are a great way to make the students feel a connection to each other and the school. They also tend to be just plain fun (like ugly sweater day!). I was all in for today’s spirit day. As a teacher, I decided I should wear both colours as I am an ally to all students in all grades. Here I am, pictured above-right, in all my red & blue glory for today.

20140416-191125.jpgBefore the 9am bell I usually stand in the hall by my classroom door, reminding students to move along & get to class on time. A student that I know passed by me in the hall and I noted “Well that doesn’t look like blue to me!”. He is a senior student who participates in many school events but wasn’t wearing blue to represent the seniors . . . what gives? He replied “Miss, I believe in unity; it shouldn’t be juniors AGAINST seniors!” with a huge smile on his face. That’s when I noticed he was wearing a purple t-shirt (combining both red & blue) and had “RHS Unity” inked across his cheeks. So perfect.

I love that this student thought critically about the message behind our spirit day, decided he didn’t agree, and then adopted his own related message to spread. This particular student is part of a club that serves as mentors to our incoming grade 9 students each year; Link Crew. And today reinforced why he is such an awesome person to have on that team. Who better to welcome our new grade 9s than a senior student who doesn’t feel we should be against or higher up than our junior students; but friends and allies with them.

Just one more reason why I love Ridgemont and our students!

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)