Making Math Fun with Picture Books

Picture Books are more than entertainment. They can be great tools to teach concepts such as math. This works for children of all ages and also for second language learners. Here are some of my favourite math picture books:

A fun counting book for the very youngest readers, is Going for a Sea Bath by Andrée Poulin, illustrated by Anne-Marie Delisle. Leanne’s father has a great idea. He brings more and more sea creatures for her bath. Until the tub is overflowing. Then Leanne is the one with the best idea. ISBN 978-1-927485-92-7

Growing Patterns, Fibonacci Numbers in Nature by Sarah C. Campbell is a beautiful nonfiction picture book with photos that will fascinate young readers of all ages. From pineapples to pinecones, from snails to shells – this is a close look at numbers in nature. ISBN 978-1590787526

Mysterious Patterns, Finding Fractals in Nature by Sarah C. Campbell is an equally interesting picture book with photos. It looks at spheres, cones, cylinders – manmade and in nature and finds patterns from tree branches to broccoli. ISBN 978-1-62091-627-8

Fibonacci’s Cows by Ray Galvin is a fun short, chapter book. Ryan has to do his homework assignment before he can play soccer. But he needs to research Fibonacci cows and doesn’t know where to start. With a little bit of help from Leonardo, Ryan discovers amazing patterns in flowers and animals and ends up with a great classroom presentation. ISBN 978-0769913568

Fractions, Decimals and Percents, David A. Adler, takes young readers to the County Fair. Each booth offers tickets, cotton candy, or games that deal with decimals, percentages and more. ISBN 978-0823423545

Perimeter, Area and Volume by David A. Adler is a ‘monster book of dimensions’. The monsters are making a movie and need to know all about area, radius and other measurements. ISBN 978-0823427635

Equal Shmequal by Virginia Kroll is a fun picturebook about how to decide is both sides of a game of tug-of-war are equal. Is bear stronger than mouse? How should the animals make teams of equal strength?ISBN 978-1570918926

Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi, Cindy Neuschwander. Radius has a problem. He has given his father the wrong potion and turned him into a dragon. How can he solve the circle’s riddle and save his father from dragon slayers? ISBN 1-57091-164-9

How Much Is A Million? asks David M. Schwartz in this picture book illustrated by Steven Kellogg. How high a stack would a million kids form? How long will it take to count from one to a million? This is a fun text to read out loud and keep the attention of kids fascinated by ‘a million’. ISBN 978-0-688-04050-5

As with all books, it is always best to support a local bookstore. If you order online, check out: There is no shipping fee to most countries.

Credibility vs Visibility

Lady Gaga has 83.2 million followers on Twitter. The Dalai Lama has approximately 20 million. Cap’n Crunch, the iconic sugary cereal mascot of my youth, has 790. CBS News in America has 335k.

Our ‘truths’ seem to be measured in likes, views, followers and retweets. Visibility, casting itself as the gatekeeper of what we want to believe.

Much has been written about the polarization of people thanks to algorhythms that suggest more of what we want to see and hear. This keeps us in a comfortable, likable, predictable (and dangerous) bubble. Your customized news, entertainment, sports and cultural sources are all here to serve…you.

Kara Swisher the host of the podcast “Pivot,” recently said that ‘feelings are not facts.’ In other words, you cannot just decide not to believe something because you don’t like it or it’s not convenient. You have to do some work.

We used to rely on the teacher, the priest, the judge, the parent, the text as those sources of credibility because they were close to us, visible in the community, tangible and accountable to those around them, and invested in the truth.

Now, that person or information source doesn’t have to be visible to the naked eye or touchable. Credibility is now in the form of upward thumb signs, followers, and shares, a true democratization of what people want rather than what they need to believe. I even read once that most celebrities and influencers don’t even manage their own social media accounts! Can you believe that?

Twitter is starting a crowdsourcing service called ‘birdwatching,’ where, similar to Wikipedia, people can become certified fact checkers and contribute to a credibility rating for postings that trend. On one hand, it’s nice to feel that people are empowered to contribute to truth. On the other, it opens up a world of possibility to those that want to shape others to their versions of what is true.

I belong to a social media group that posts a lot of messages about bikes and bike repair. Lots of people weigh in on a lot of ideas about things from derailleurs to seats to tires. It’s tempting to go with the most liked advice on the best seat to cross Siberia but no one is saying, ‘seats are dumb and don’t exist.’ We all have that basic agreement.

When I was teaching in the 1990s, I used “Lies My History Teacher Told Me,” (by James Loewen) and “A People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn to offer research based alternative views on factual events. These texts gave voice to the unheard, portraits of actual events that were not invented, but omitted. They made things already credible visible, not credible because they were visible. My students had the opportunity not to decide what to believe (because it was all true), but rather base their opinions on the facts in front of them, contrary as some of them may have seemed. It was also a quieter time, when the information age was only a trickle, allowing students to consider a couple of truths and deciding where to land before they moved onto the next question. Now, it seems as though the firehose is fully opened.

It’s not easy to resist something that has 2M likes or retweets. The visibility, the comfort in knowing others agree, is so human it’s hard to resist. We think something is cute, inspiring, sad, dangerous and we cannot help but to believe it because it makes us feel a certain way.

Feelings are not facts and credibility is not always visible. It takes hard work and a willingness to look past what is easy or agreeable to make up our minds about basic truths that we need to accept in order to keep learning on course and communities together.

I remember when reality TV first started. I couldn’t believe that regular people with no credibility as actors could just be on TV. MTV’s The Real World. Survivor. Keeping Up With The Kardashians. Who would want to watch people just being themselves?

Well, here we are.

Now that we have crossed from reality being entertainment and now even questioning what is reality, we are, 25 or 30 years into the information/digital/conceptual age questioning fact, reality and credibility.

Twitter has removed several global influencers from their platform and is beta testing something called ‘birdwatching’ where people can become certified fact checkers and monitor information so that Twitter doesn’t have to, like a social media form of Wikipedia.

Rene Descartes was onto something when he said, “Je Pense, Donc Je Suis.” It was a fundamental truth that no matter whether or not we think our dream or awake state is reality, the fact that we are thinking means we exist. In this tenuous age, when people misrepresent feelings for facts, which they are not, we find ourselves looking for these anchors.

ET and Stranger Things. The fantastical themes of adults not believving the children as they save the universe. The upside down.

Birdwatchign. crowdsourcing truth.

Long distance biking. Repair advice. I don’t pick the truth that works for me. I am educated and made informted choices. When 250 people reply on the durability or quality of a Brooks seat, I am able to weed out the ones that say, “seats are stupid, don’t ride with a seat.” I think, therefore I am.

Inquiry cannot allow us to question everything. There are truths. It is true that the sea levels are rising a millimeter every year. It is true that the honeybee is going extinct. It is true that my father in law recently broke his leg.

I read recentlly that fake news or negative news is retweeted or shared thorught the internet 4x faster than truths.

Deserving Permission

Two bits recently grab my attention as I grapple to better understand each.  The first is simply a matter of syntax but the words I hear and choose to use clearly have an impact. The second is of much larger context and regards the commodification of education.  

“The self-talk you use regularly creates your reality and your destiny,” states Christopher Bergland in an article published in Psychology Today titled, “Scientists Find That a Single Word Can Alter Perceptions ~Language has the power to make the invisible appear real”.  Understanding this, two words seemingly have the power to raise the hackles on my hairless back.  


And “permission.”

Consciously I no longer use either, a disappearing act from within my lexicon.  The first, “deserve”, exudes entitlement. “Have a great break, you deserve it!” Or, “Go ahead and eat dessert.  You deserve it!”  

Caroline Myss, five-time New York Times bestselling author and internationally renowned speaker asserts, “The attitude of ‘deserve’, as a rule, is a one-way street.”  As if to say that the world and others are simply to revolve around an individual. Myss further adds, “Expectations do not get filled by themselves. Someone has to ‘make’ you happy; someone has to ‘provide’ security and safety; someone has to ‘provide’ love.”

The second, “permission”, appears especially out of place in the context of education.  A place where empowerment and innovation are essential.  Some these days even are proclaiming “fearless inquiry”.  Boldly questioning and willing to try everything. Yet, still hanging on are the enduring remnants of tradition and hierarchy.  A colleague in another school shared a pervasive example of a school community writhing in dysphoria.  “You have the permission to send Meghan to the office when she tells you to be quiet.”  A knee jerk reaction would surely need to be kept in check, a biting of the tongue just the same.  For surely there would be a desire to sarcastically respond, “Geez, thanks!”   Unfortunately this is not a stand alone example.  I have also overhead educators ardently disclose, “Jill (the principal) said we had permission to purchase supplemental materials with our PD funds.”  Like 7 and 8-year old children, professional practioners, those in the trenches, are so disempowered that they need to be given “permission.”  These examples are even more preposterous when we consider “teachers make over 1500 educational decisions every school day, a constant juggle of manager, content holder, master communicator, and support system.”

Occupying more of my thinking, at a 20,000 foot altitude is how might higher education be 10, 20, or 50 years from now.  Specifically, in the United States.  A proponent of alternative models and interested in learning from the past but also the pandemic present, a part of me is not entirely optimistic.  I have no sources to back my thinking, just experience.  

Last year, Forbes reported how student loan debt is just behind mortgage debt, a figure of $1.56 trillion.  Clearly a broken system, however with all the talk about the unsustainability of student loans, I posit “What would happen if we emptied the higher ed institutions of privilege?”  What if not a single American student attended the Yales, Harvards, and Princetons?  

A vacuum. 

That’s my prediction of what likely would see.  As true as gravity.  

A flood of F-1 student visas would result.  The elite from developing countries would fill the hallowed halls and desks up over night.  Education, a commodity bought up.  More than mere fad, attending such schools is a symbol.  Just as driving a fancy car, wearing certain designer clothes, or toting a $3000 purse.  In Bangkok, the city where I live, shopping is considered by some to be the nation’s favorite pastime.  With countless luxury malls, boutiques as well as upscale brands help fill a sort of void. Opulence a sort of addiction. Status but also appearance, the priority. 

Education is no different.  A commodity.  Only in much of Asia, education is rooted culturally, the pathway to success.  Therefore, what is considered the “best” or “first-tier” naturally is what is sought after. Not necessarily for better or worse.  An Ivy League sweatshirt worn with pride.

However, what is different is the messaging. A more progressive view wells up in the United States.  One example is the rampant rise in credentialing. This appears far more aligned with what it means to learn and work in the 21st century.  In the United States alone there are over 730,000 confirmed credentials.  According to Credential Engine, “Through an increasing array of credentials – such as degrees, licenses, badges and apprenticeships – job seekers, students, and workers have more options than ever to help them get ahead.”Again, I have just experience to make these claims.  Yet, for now my recommendation is to just give students “permission” to pursue an alternative approach.  Afterall, they “deserve” it!

Global Book Reviews

Using Poetry in the Classroom

What thousands of teachers have been trying for many years, was recently accomplished by one young poet: Amanda Gorman reawakened the world to the power of poetry. 

Teaching reading, writing and use of poetry in the classroom can be a powerful tool to help students of all ages realize their own voice, their own stories. It seems almost an oxymoron to find poetry on the NFL website, but this is the text to Amanda Gorman’s poem recited at the Super Bowl:

You can read the text of the inaugural poem, The Hill We Climb, here: Using this text, you can invite students to describe their own, personal hill. 

Canadian poet Shane Koyczan also has incredibly powerful texts. You can find some of his poems here: My favourite is ‘My Voice’. These are all to use with older highschool students but listen to the texts first to use your own judgement on suitability for your classroom. You can use these poets to demonstrate how they bring their own experiences to their writing, then invite students to try the same by looking at their own lives. Does their poetry rhyme? Free verse is a great way to write poetry that does not use rhyme but focus on the words themselves, using rhythm and sometimes alliteration.

Kindergarten poetry can be as simple as enjoying the rhythm of words with books like Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr and John Archambault. ISBN 0-590-43889-1 Your students can chant, dance, shout out loud and clap to this book.

A lovely new board book to share with the youngest children is My Heart Beats by Rina Singh, ISBN 978-145-98256-80. This read aloud text uses rhymth and words in my languages to describe a beating heart. A good Valentine read for preschool and early childhood ed classes.

Great in a global classroom is We All Went On Safari, A Counting Journey through Tanzania by Laurie Krebs and Julia Cairns. ISBN 1-84148-119-X You can read, chant out loud, even dance to this book. And then invite students to come up with their own sights in their own neighborhood of things to spot and count. This book includes numbers in Swahili. You can add numbers in any language that your students might speak.

Edward The Emu by Sheena Knowles is one of my all-time favourite examples of telling a rhyming story. Fun to read with all ages and again to use it as a springboard for your own classroom writing about favourite animals. ISBN 978-0-06-443499-7

Crossing over from primary to intermediate students, use wonderful poetry books by Jack Prelutsky such as A Pizza The Size of the Sun, or It’s Raining Pigs and Noodles, Something Big Has Been Here and of course There’s No Place Like School, Classroom Poems. One of my favourite Dr. Seuss’ books was finished, after his death, by Jack Prelutsky: Hooray for Diffendoofer Day, a hilarious poem about a principal who is worried about the students passing their test. As he worries, the school librarian tells the students:

“We’ve taught you that the earth is round,

That red and white make pink,

And something else that matters more,

We’ve taught you how to think.”

Here is a band new boardbook: The Sun Is A Shine by Leslie A. Davidson. ISBN 978-145982-6267. This rhyming story shows natural elements around the world, seasons, animals, diversity. It also includes the words for ‘thank you’ in Ojibwe, French, Arabic and many other languages.

For teaching the writing poetry, here are some of my favourite titles:

Fly With Poetry and Leap Into Poetry by Avis Harley, ISBN 1-56397-798-2. Both of these books use incredible techniques that show the joy of playing with language.

I Did It Because…, How A Poem Happens by Loris Lesynski. ISBN 978-1-55451-017-7

Pass The Poetry Please by Lee Bennett Hopkins ISBN 0-06446199-8

Poems Please! Sharing Poetry With Children by David Booth and Bill Moose, ISBN 0-921217-22-6

And finally, my own book entitled The Power of Poems, The Joy of Teaching Poetry, ISBN 978-1-934338-89-6, Maupin House

Have fun using poetry to reinforce the joy of playing with language.

Margriet Ruurs is a Canadian author who conducts live and ZOOM author visits to schools around the world.

The Changing Face of Feedback: Tools, tips and tricks.

Bitmoji Image
My Bitmoji for instant feedback to students.

Learning is an emotional experience and feedback is an integral aspect of the learning experience. It is a tool for knowledge construction and for making the emotional connection to learning. The hybrid learning model is changing the way we give and receive feedback, teachers need to learn to innovate feedback with the help of technology.  Feedback is the tool for developing critical thinking and problem-solving skills; there are many apps, extensions and tools that facilitate ‘on-the-spot’, ‘continuous’ and ‘formal’ feedback. Here are a few tools, tips and tricks that will help teachers manage the changing face of feedback.

On-the-spot feedback: This feedback focuses on one area only to help the student master one component. This is useful for students who need to master basic components of the curriculum, some tools which I find useful for on-the-spot feedback are:

  1. Pear Deck: This is a google chrome extension and a web-based application, a very convenient and easy tool for immediate feedback in a hybrid class.
  2. Evernote: Captures and organises thoughts and voice notes for immediate feedback to students on their digital notebook. A google chrome extension that can sync with multiple devices. Useful in giving instant feedback, for example, annotating works that are still being produced by students.
  3. Kaizala: Mobile messaging app, useful for users of MS Office 365 email groups in order to easily message, share photos, audio recordings and videos, and run instant polls. Students needing instant feedback on their work can just send a photo and teachers can easily provide feedback.
  4. Mentimeter: This tool helps to create interactive presentations to get instant feedback. Teachers can involve students to contribute to presentations with their smartphones and show the results live. Great for online lessons where students tend to be bored.
  5. Bitmoji: A Google Chrome extension and mobile application, Can easily insert your own emojis to show your feedback to your student’s work. Very effective for younger students.

Continuous feedback: Also known as closing the loop feedback, it means providing students multiple opportunities to demonstrate their learning or to submit their work with revisions focusing on learning; from product to process to progress.

  1. Kaizena: An add-on for google suite products; teachers can attach a rubric and give voice feedback, students can listen to the feedback over and over till they reach the objective.
  2. Edpuzzle: This tool is available on the app store, has desktop and tablet editors. It helps to crop, customize, remix online video content with an interactive tool and complete formative assessments while watching the video to record feedback.
  3. Classkick: This is a web-based application that allows for real-time monitoring, feedback, and assessment on student work and can be a bridge to more personalized learning in 1:1 online classrooms. It can be used from anywhere by anyone-parents, students, teachers!

Formal Feedback: Being a business management teacher, I would explain formal feedback as Kaizen-“change for the better”. Formal feedback is a process of improvement, beginning with goal setting and reporting on the extent to which the student has achieved the goals.

  1. Spiral requires no integration with the school learning management system and takes seconds for students to actively participate in live lessons and assignments. Spiral is free to support remote learning and has a range of formative assessment apps in one platform.
  2. Screencastify: A google chrome extension that records screen video feedback that can be instantly downloaded, shared and stored as formal feedback.
  3. Thinglink: A Web 2.0 tool used to annotate text, images and videos and record formal feedback. Runs on the cloud; accessible anytime, anywhere, and has desktop and tablet editors. 
  4. Poll everywhere: Allows to receive formal feedback from a live audience. Student responses are shown on the screen in real-time. A google chrome extension, add-ins to keynote or MS PPT, or a web tool.

There are many other innovative ways of receiving and providing feedback through technology; choose the one that suits your context best!

My Bitmoji reminding students to work on feedback.

Trans Athletes Are Not Stealing Anybody’s Athletic Trophies

The conversation around transgender athletes has been roused again of late, given the Biden administration’s recent guidance on gender inclusion in schools. Those against inclusion usually push the angle that girls’ sports are at risk of being overrun by trans athletes who will snap up all of the titles, leaving cis girls with no chance to compete. This is irrational fear-mongering; here’s why:  

Trans people have been playing in professional, amateur, and school sports for many years, and cis athletes still win the disproportionate majority of competitions. Transgender athletes have been permitted to play in the Olympics since 2004, for example, and literally none have taken home a medal. In fact, arguably the most famous trans athlete is Chris Mosier, who competes in men’s running (debunking multiple myths about gender and biology). This sure pokes a hole in the argument that trans girls are making off with all the trophies.

Trans students have been included in school athletics for many years and, there also, we see a real lack of evidence that they are edging out cis kids. The example oft-exploited to fight inclusion is a 2020 case accusing two trans girls at a high school track competition in Connecticut (USA) of robbing a cis girl of her chance at first place. The (rarely mentioned) sequel to this story is that, two days after a law suit was filed on behalf of the cis runner, she won a competition against those same trans girls. (And, incidentally, lost the law suit on grounds that excluding trans athletes is sex-based discrimination under Title IX). We can rest assured that any additional examples of trans athletes winning competitions will be swiftly brought to our attention but, until then, it seems this is still the main one. Hardly rampant trophy-theft.

Some of the irrational fear of trans inclusion comes, I believe, from the misconception that trans people are not real. This misunderstanding can be incredibly harmful to children. Indeed, the risk of suicide amongst transgender youth is consequential, with one recent study showing over half of transgender participants reporting that they had considered suicide within the past year[1]. In another recent, large study, almost all (95.5%) of transgender and gender nonconforming youth reported suicide ideation at some point in their lives[2]. However, rates of suicidality decline significantly when trans children have access to gender-affirming spaces. For example, mental health improves when gender-affirming names and pronouns are used[3], and when trans people have access to the bathrooms and sports teams that match their gender identity[4].

This might seem like an abstract peril for those not personally connected to any trans children. Take a look at this short video clip of some trans teens, and imagine requiring them to play on a sports team that aligns with their presumed chromosomes rather than their gender identity. Trans girls are girls, trans boys are boys, and non-binary people are real.

While I realize that school sports can be serious business, surely most international schools do not promote athletics merely as an opportunity for students to experience winning. I’m thinking (hoping?) that team work, persistence, fitness, responsibility, stress relief, discipline, problem-solving, resilience, fun, belonging, and other benefits are why schools spend so many resources to ensure that students have access to these activities.

For those interested in advocating gender equity in sports, I urge you to direct your concern to the very real problems of reduced attention to and sponsorship of girl’s and women’s sports, the measurable pay gap for professional women athletes, and lack of women represented in coaching and other high-level positions within athletic organizations. Indeed, celebrated women’s sport advocates Megan Rapinoe and Billie Jean King, along with 174 other women athletes have signed an amicus brief supporting the inclusion of trans women in athletics. Trans people are not an actual threat to girls’ and women’s sports.

Regardless of my own child’s gender identity, I would far rather they have the opportunity to play on a team that is inclusive than one that assumes only cis children are entitled to sport. The number of cis athletes who will come in second after a trans athlete is minuscule and, frankly, a not-very-consequential downside to the multitude benefits of practicing inclusion in schools. 

Please contact me to discuss crafting and implementing a transgender and gender non-binary inclusion policy to fit your school. I specialize in international school policy development and educator training for gender and sexual diversity.

[1] Taliaferro, L. A., McMorris, B. J., Rider, N. G., Eisenberg, M. E. (2019). Risk and protective factors for self-harm in a population-based sample of transgender youth. Archives of Suicide Research, 23(2), 203-221.

[2] Kuper, L. E., Adams, N., & Mustanski, B. (2018). Exploring cross-sectional predictors of suicide ideation, attempt, and risk in a large online sample of transgender and gender nonconforming youth and young adults. LGBT Health, 5(7).

[3] Russell, S. T., Pollitt, A. M., & Grossman, A. H. (2018). Chosen name use is linked to reduced depressive symptoms, suicidal ideation, and suicidal behavior among transgender youth. Journal of Adolescent Health, 63(4), 503-505.

[4] Goldberg, S. K. (2021). Fair play: The importance of sports participation for transgender youth. Center for American Progress.

Bridging The Worlds of Teachers and Students

“Put your hands up if you can name a YouTuber.”
“Two Youtubers?”
“Keep your hand up if you know three YouTubers.”
Then, 11.
And finally, seven hands remain in the air.

“Hands down.  Now, raise your hand if you know what is going on in neighboring Myanmar.”
Two hands hesitatingly raise up.

This fantastical visual served as a reflection of the need for a call to action.  The necessity to bridge a divide between a students’ world and that of ours, adults. Generation Z, or Zoomers, have an ocean of information to swim in, right at their fingertips.  However, just as I wish that students begin paying closer attention to the world around them, I too should have much to gain from taking a deeper dive into  what captures their 12 and 13 year-old attention.  

Beginning With the “Why”

We may profess that we promote environments where students become caring global citizens, yet how might we move beyond mere words and into action? At the school where I teach, an intentional approach was taken to provide opportunities for students to speak, listen and learn about the world, ourselves, and what is currently taking place around us.  This mission was designed to help us maintain focus on why we do what we do.  Further, it is aligned with a three item list that is a header on our weekly meeting agendas.  To design with the following in mind:  agency (voice/choice); promote a robust array of opportunities to develop skills of reading, writing, speaking; and to prioritize meaningful learning that motivates and becomes transferable.  Furthermore, our aspirations as social studies teachers is further backed by our school’s vision statement:  “to enrich communities through the intellectual, humanitarian and creative thoughts and actions of our learners.” 

How A Teacher Might Get Started

One method of going about this is a robust current events integration.  This begins by our modeling of a presentation.  This year it was an event about Elon Musk and Space X.  Specifically how on average every two weeks of 2020 there was a commercial space launch. The Hong Kong protests was a close second.  After the presentation we invited students to comment positively and specifically.  Following this, we roll out the rubric.  Simplified, the one standard addresses communication and a students ability to engage in discussion on public issues.  The “discussion” is ultimately the passion a student is able to spearhead in class.  Can they proficiently speak loudly, clearly, and knowledgeably? Is a visual utilized to help guide the presentation?  And, is there a call to action? 

At a More Granular Level

Once students are on board, we invite students to a simple Google Doc calendar and they self-select.  Some think of their soccer games and upcoming band performances.  A few students usually are quick to sign up to be first stating that they are either excited or “just want to get it over with.”  Whereas, others assign themselves towards the end, in an effort to be wise and build off the learning from all those before them.  

A Google Slides presentation houses everyone’s presentation, to create a quasi archive in the making. Seven slides are intentionally placed at the start:

Now we make no claim that this is “the way” to do it.  Simply, we have found that it works for our students.  The directions for how to create the slides are explicit, yet allow breathing room for students to fill out with creativity. And they do!  

Directions are to select one current event article to focus the presentation. This should be something the student cares about or possibly just wants to know more about.  The first semester students selected everything from whale migration to Black Lives Matter protests.  After reading the article and familiarizing oneself with the event, some students possibly will research more, but this is up to the individual.  Next their three slides are crafted.  The only parameters for the slides are that no slide should have more than 5 words.  This engenders brevity but also leads to the creation of talking points, as opposed to turning and reading slides during the presentation.  Note: this sometimes is challenging as “Death by PowerPoint” presentations have taken root and been accepted for far too many years.  It’s time to bring back tht personality of a presentation.  Remember Show and Tell and how much fun that was?  Imagine a first grader reading a PowerPoint to tell about the item they are showing!

Further, students are invited to thoughtfully incorporate the use  of visuals on their slides.  A range often is selected; charts and graphs, often along with provoking images. Last, we highlight the importance of structure. To begin with a title that hooks and to conclude with a call to action. Also in the beginning, the inclusion of a map will help the audience with context.  From the start the “what” and “where” is already highlighted. Logically, next students will touch on who, when, and why.  The call to action, the “how.”  The conclusion one that hopefully will leave us empowered either to change a habit or behavior. Or maybe just interested in educating ourselves more.  Ostensibly, all 5 Ws and How are addressed in the presentation. For students who may require or desire a template for more structure, we provide a graphic organizer to help with planning.  

A hurdle every year is for students to trust themselves enough to present without the use of a script or cue cards in hand.  The expectation is to speak, as opposed to read.  However, with practice all students have demonstrated success in this.

Beaming at the End

The final step, a favorite, largely hinges on classroom culture. Applause usually ensues following a presentation.  Then, students have an opportunity to comment positively.  Hands often shoot up across the room and the presenter selects.  Observing amidst the “audience,” tears have welled up in my eyes on more than one occassion.  Kind and specific words spoken directly to another.  A boost in confidence noted on a child’s face, easily detected even though masked. 

Since the precursory, “Put your hands up if you can name a YouTuber,” I made the decision to educate myself and join the legions of youth.  To do so, I openly took the recommendations of students.  Quickly three YouTuber names surfaced: Try Guys, Dream, and MrBeast.  The first, Try Guys clearly is a niche unto themselves.  Their online streaming of comedy already has 10 seasons of content. With an even larger fan or following base, Dream has close to 20 million subscribers.  This YouTuber is known for producing Minecraft and speedrun content videos.  The third, MrBeast, is just that.  Offline, known as Jimmy Donaldson, MrBeast has more than 50 million subscribers. A number larger than the population of Spain!  His videos often are expensive stunts, which combine his skills as an entrepreneur, along with philanthropy.  For example, successfully raising 20 million dollars to plant 20 million trees.  Then, there is of course the video of his preposterous counting to 100,000.  Sped up, over 40 hours of MrBeast just sitting and counting is condensed to a full day. Nearly as asinine would be someone spending a day watching MrBeast count.  

Whose World?

Though I do not lay claim to have fully swung open the door to our student’s world, I feel positive to have begun to glimpse inside. In doing so, it is intriguing to observe how our teacher and student spheres can intersect, collide, or even casually orbit unto themselves. Yet, one thing I am certain. YouTubers have a magnitude of influence. Their style, wit, and communication patterns emerge in student projects, but also in day to day interactions. In a world still gripping with a pandemic and where officials launch lawsuits against a city’s board of education in order force opening of schools, it is refreshing to enter the world of our students. If even to watch a YouTuber pull off the painful stunt of completing a marathon in American size 40 shoes.



Curated sources we encourage students to utilize can be seen below.  Some allow students to select their reading level which is a big help.  Additionally, we aim for our resources to be balanced and not necessarily promote any one country’s bias.

NewselaThe Good News NetworkDogonewsBBC– British Broadcasting CorporationTime for Kids
CBC Kids NewsKids News– Canadian Broadcasting CorporationKids News– AustraliaNews for KidsNewsbank
(our school database)

What to Read in 2021

So it’s that time of the year again when I get to order books for my birthday, which is my favorite gift ever because it keeps on giving for months and months and months. The deal is that I have to finish reading all of last year’s books before I get to order new ones, and this year I actually finished a while ago due to the lockdowns and quarantines that we all went through. 

As usual, I’m encouraging you all to take a few minutes this week to look through these titles, and to order one (or five) that resonate with you…or, do your own research and share those titles with me so I can add them to this list. The suggestions below revolve around the themes of education, leadership, creativity, innovation and culture building, with an overarching focus on becoming a better person and educator for our world. 

Anyway, happy reading in 2021…a good book can be transformative in so many ways, so please make the time, I promise you it will be time well spent. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

Quote of the Week…

There is no friend as loyal as a book

-Ernest Hemingway

Think Again – Adam Grant

Change – Damon Centola

Professional Troublemaker – Luvvie Ajayi Jones

Chatter – Ethan Kross

Bravey – Alexi Pappas

The Lonely Century – Noreena Hertz

The Sum of Us – Heather McGhee

Work – James Suzman

The Data Detective – Tim Harford

Beginners – Tom Vanderbilt

How Innovation Works – Matt Ridley

The EQ Deficiency – Brittney Savarda

Post Corona – Scott Galloway

Unleashed – Frances Frei

Teachers burn out as they are burning alone

Teacher burnout rate has always been a concern. Teachers burn out as they carry the burden of the education system, policies, national ideologies, global perspectives, parental demands, societal pressures while doing their day-to-day job. Burnout is definite and drastic! Teachers burn out as they are burning alone, all other stakeholders in education are adding fuel to this burnout. How can important stakeholders help prevent teacher burnout?

Role of Society – Teaching is considered a noble profession but at the same time not a highly rewarding (monetarily) job. On top of that everyone has a say into the teaching business of teachers. Teachers groom the next generation of thinkers, doctors, sportsmen, artists hence they need the utmost reverence and respect. The respect in the profession will help in addressing the most important cause of teacher burnout-emotional or affective exhaustion, as teachers will feel valued and needed. A few things to be considered:

  1. Remuneration at par with other industries in terms of experience and qualification,  investing in education by increasing teacher salary will bring in the much-needed esteem and respect to the profession leading to self-actualisation for teachers
  2. Retirement benefits especially for teachers, this will keep teachers in their profession, and act as a retention incentive to prevent turnover or burnout.
  3. The societal value of the profession has to change, a country’s GDP is deeply connected to its literacy rate. Teachers have most of the responsibility for improving the literacy rate, hence society needs to invest in teacher well-being and value. As per World Economic Forum 2021, Finland has the world’s best education system as they invest in teacher training and value the profession (Colagrossi, n.d.); in fact, teachers has the same prestige as a doctor or engineer.

Role of School -The organisation that is responsible for educating the youth has to be responsible for the wellbeing of its teachers. Schools can play the most critical role in preventing teacher burnout. As a business management teacher, I am able to identify one of the main reasons for burnout is the lack of motivation, intrinsic or extrinsic. Here are a few things schools can do to avoid this:

  1. Invest in an experienced and supportive human resources (HR) department. A strong HR can ensure that teachers are supported with their basic needs, they feel safe, motivated and happy to work. The HR should also be responsible to create and maintain teacher professional development framework.
  2. A clear and detailed job description (JD) with an outline of expectations is another big necessity, this is also a requirement for getting an international accreditation. The JD should limit non-teaching duties and focus on the core skill of teaching. 
  3. A support system for teachers should be put together by the school, for example, hiring an adequate number of teacher assistants, meeting all software and hardware requirements, creating a culture of teacher appreciation and of course reviewing the salary scale to be fair to all teachers.

Role of Students – Students can act as a catalyst to break down a teacher. Disruptive, disengaged and disobedient students are a product of multiple failures of the school, society and parents; but the blame is always on the teacher. On top of it, teachers are victims of violence in the hands of students; from verbal abuse to physical abuse to being shot, teachers have experienced it all. Students need to foster a mutual relationship of respect and understanding as this directly impacts their future.

  1. Students should sign and comply with a behaviour agreement to be cognizant of their responsibilities in a classroom.
  2. Students should undergo orientation at the beginning of the year to be more accountable for their academic and non-academic performance in school.
  3. Students should be made to realise that their success is an outcome of a healthy partnership with teachers. 

Role of Staff – Teachers can get the most needed support from peers; #staffforstaff. Teachers understand each other’s challenges hence should offer solutions to common problems:

  1. Form support groups and professional learning communities to provide an open platform for discussing curriculum-related issues. Be a part of existing groups either within the school community or outside like social media groups.
  2. Create a teacher ready toolkit to ease the transition for newbies in the school or into teaching. This should have all necessary resources for effectively managing a classroom for a newbie, for example, a list of all staff with phone numbers or subject guides or past papers/assessments, unit plans etc.
  3. Encourage, motivate each other, a kind word goes a long way and comes back quickly; smile and say something kind to your peers and it will come back to you.

Teacher burnout can be prevented; if you are reading this, you have a part to play. Support the growth of the next generation by strengthening the foundation-the teacher.

Colagrossi, M. W. (n.d.). 10 reasons why Finland’s education system is the best in the world. Retrieved January 28, 2021, from


Eric Walters is the author of over 100 books. His work includes picture books, early read novels and novels for teens and young adults. Many of these books are ‘everybody’ books and are often realistic fiction based on true stories. He was instrumental in building an orphanage in Kenya, which I was able to visit once. Many of his books reflect the true adventures of some 80 children who live here and are now able to attend school. Here are some of his titles that should be in all international classrooms:

My Name Is Blessing, illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes (ISBN 978-1-77049-301-8) This is a beautifully told tale, based on a true story, which takes the reader to the home of a wise, Kenyan grandmother who cares for many children as best as she can. The last pages of the book offer nonfiction information about the real boy whose name was changed to Blessing and whose future was changed by an orphanage. 

Hope Springs, illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes (ISBN-13 : 978-1770495302)This story shows the struggle, in Africa, to get water. The children at the orphanage have to walk daily to the public well to collect and carry back jugs of water. They stand in long line-ups but, one day, are no longer welcome. Is it fear that there will not be enough for the community if they let the orphans use their well? When the building of the orphanage’s own well is completed, Boniface has an idea to help the villagers. A lovely story of kindness, it shows that, through compassion and understanding, true generosity can spring from unexpected places. This book is perfect if your school takes part in an annual Walk For Water project.

Light A Candle, co-authored with Godfrey Nkongolo and illustrated by Eva Campbell (ISBN 978-1-4598-1700-5) is the story of the birth of the nation of Tanzania. It was the wish of President Nyerere to light a flame atop Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest point in Africa, to show the world hope for the future. Eric Walters climbed Kilimanjaro. The book is published in English and Swahili and gives background information in addition to a touching story of a young Chagga boy.

The Wild Beast, illustrated by Sue Todd (ISBN 978-1-4598-1589-6) reads like a myth, a legend, an old folktale. Africa’s wildebeest looks like it was created from spare parts. Eric Walters ran with this idea. Beautifully told, in words and vibrant images, this is the story of how the creator made sky and earth, then birds, fishes and mammals. Heeding her own message not to waste anything, she then creates the wildebeest. A delightful tale when studying myths and legends. Also look for The Matatu: based on folk tales, it tells a humorous story of the famous African busses full of people and animals.

Today Is The Day, illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes (ISBN 978-1-77049-648-4). Until reading this picture book, I had not realized that an orphan may not know his birth date. And if you don’t have one, you can’t apply for a passport or other important papers. Today Is The Day is based on the true experience Walters had when he gave the children a birth date as well as a gigantic party! A great book as basis for classroom discussions.

Hockey Night in Kenya, co-authored with Danson Mutinda (ISBN 978-1459823617) is a brand new release – a chapter book for beginning readers. It tells the story of orphans in Kenya who learn about a thing called ice hockey. They have never seen ice but read a Canadian magazine with pictures of a hockey team. Through hard work, kind friends and good luck, dreams can come true and even an orphan can end up having roller blades and a hockey stick.

Just Deserts by Eric Walters (ISBN 978-0143179351). A middle grade-and-up novel that will appeal especially to boys, Just Deserts is the story of a spoiled, wealthy boy who gets expelled from boarding school. In typical Eric Walters fashion, this page turner is full of adventure and suspense, when Ethan is dropped in the middle of the Sahara and left to his own devices. 

Walking Home (978-0385681575), this novel made me cry at the end! It is a touching, interesting, heart warming and well written story. This is the story of a brother and sister, orphaned in a troubled, violent time in Kenya. They decide to walk to the region where their mother grew up, in hopes of finding relatives who will take them in. Rather than be separated by government officials who will place them in different homes, they walk over 200 KM, through Nairobi, through villages and deserted stretches. Not only did the author make this trek himself, he also built an orphanage and supports it financially with the help of many schools in Canada. The story takes the reader right along on this amazing walk, introduces us to Kenyan customs and beliefs and shows the landscape and fabric of African life. it is backed up by a website full of resources including videos and ways to connect:

And finally,  From The Heart of Africa  (ISBN 978-1-77049-719-1). “It takes a village to raise a child” is likely one of the best known wisdoms from Africa. The author collected many sayings that traditionally share wisdom passed from one generation to the next. Beautifully illustrated these aphorisms form a book for both children and adults and will make great discussion points for any classroom.

Check out:

For information on the orphanage, click here: