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  • Hearts & Heroes: Exploring Mythology in a Cross-Curricular Odyssey

    *I am an Enrichment Special Education Teacher working with a diverse group of students with Gifted Exceptionalities and many with dual or multiple exceptionalities such as ASD and Gifted; Learning Disabled and Gifted (and many others). It is essential to understand your own bias and misconception of students (people) who are neuro-divergent - Students with a Gifted Exceptionlities are often misunderstood. *Students have given their permission to share work here and in a physical space (bulletin board). Please do not post student work anywhere (online, brick/mortar) without their permission. I LOVE MYTHOLOGY! Examples of the outcome of our Unit: Students are tasked with using symbols and settings from myths, Legends, or Vocabulary (figure of speech) to express a known story. Using Mixed Media is a metaphor for their practice of "Enrichment" (taking a task and giving it a wider, deeper and different dimension) Students will explore various myths from different cultures, understand the influence of mythology on language and culture, and express their understanding through creative projects in a mixed media format. I've recently shared my passion for Greek mythology with my family, travelling across Greece in 2022 with my husband and one of our children. We delved into the ancient landscapes, tracing the footsteps of the myriad characters and stories that have long captured my imagination - and that of my students. My love for genres —fantasy, historical fiction, science fiction, adventure, and the occasional romance—is perfectly echoed in the rich tapestry of Greek mythology, which often ventures beyond these genres into even more complex narratives. This was also when I started documenting our travels on YouTube - something I genuinely enjoy and plan to do more of! Two books I recently read (and loved) - although I don't think they are suitable for middle schools: My students' enthusiasm for Greek mythology has surged, largely thanks to Riordan's books and, most recently, the new series on Disney, of which I am also a huge fan. This resurgence of interest provides a fresh, contemporary context for exploring these ancient stories, making the mythology unit even more relevant and exciting. The connections students draw between the timeless themes of mythology and the modern interpretations they encounter in media enrich our discussions and creative projects, bridging the gap between the ancient and the present. This dynamic blend of literature, culture, and creativity enhances their learning experience and fosters a deeper appreciation for the enduring power of mythology. I recently watched an interview with him, which resonated, particularly his insights into the half-gods and goddesses who find themselves on a threshold - not fully belonging to the world of gods or humans. He draws a compelling parallel to middle schoolers, poised on the brink of adolescence, navigating their identities and belonging. This perspective is especially poignant for me as a middle school teacher. It's an opportunity to integrate geography, literacy, art, and culture, examining myths from diverse traditions and math and engineering into a cohesive learning experience. Bringing these stories to life through Minecraft has been a delightful way to engage students, allowing them to construct and explore the settings of these ancient tales. Rick Riordan: Share insights into Riordan's interview/video that shares the history of writing mythology-based stories relating to students' experiences and growth. Let me share how I bring these ancient stories to life, making each lesson resonate on a deeply individual level. Encouraging Personal Connections It begins with offering students a choice. I present them with various cultural myths, emphasizing the importance of selecting a story that speaks to them. It's about guiding them to find a narrative thread that feels almost personal, whether it's a story, they've always been curious about or making a connection. Flexible Exploration I try to encourage students to explore these stories in a way they feel most comfortable. I provide various resources: videos for visual learners, podcasts for those who prefer audio, and traditional texts for the readers. This flexibility ensures that every student can engage with their chosen myth in a way that best suits their learning style. My role is facilitating this exploration, offering guidance and materials to help them delve into their stories. Don’t just make it a “one-off” Unit - Instead, think of this unit as inspiring them to want more. I find opportunities to weave mythology into the fabric of our everyday classroom life. Whether it's the quiet moments before class begins or a break during lunch, we make space for these ancient tales, myths and legends and try to incorporate those from across the world. Sometimes, I'll share a short video or an interesting podcast episode with the class during these times, transforming a brief pause into a spontaneous mythological journey. This approach helps to demystify the idea that learning only happens during "lesson time" and shows that these stories can be a part of our daily lives. Mythology Lesson - Overview: 1.) Warm-Up with AI-Created Mythology Story: Begin with a story integrating students' names into mythological contexts, sparking initial interest and personal connection. This is so much fun, and I would not have the time to do this for all my classes/students without this tool. Students love seeing themselves in the story. For Example: In the heart of (School Name)  amidst its sprawling, verdant grounds, stood the Enchanted Enrichment Classroom, a place of wonder that Teacher Zoe called home. This classroom was not like any other; it was a realm where the boundaries between times blurred, where myths breathed life into the present, and where a group of students from various schools were about to embark on an unparalleled adventure. (Student Names) stepped into the classroom, their eyes wide with anticipation. They were greeted by walls adorned with ancient scripts and vibrant paintings depicting heroes and beasts from when gods walked the earth. With a gleam of excitement in her eyes, Teacher Zoe introduced them to the heart of their adventure: an ancient hourglass said to have been crafted by Hephaestus himself. This was no ordinary hourglass; it was imbued with the power to transport those who wielded it through the annals of time to the very heart of the myths they had only read about. "Our journey," Teacher Zoe began, her voice tinged with mystery, "will take us to the origins of the stories that have shaped the world. Today, you will not just learn about mythology; you will experience it." 2) Group Discussion on Mythology: Starting your lesson with a discussion or hook helps give context. Explain why we are learning this - allow for student agency and choice. Let them talk about what they know and what excites them. I try to start all lessons with a general discussion. It's a fantastic strategy for gauging what my students already know and figuring out where I want the lesson to head. Plus, I always aim to shake things up by hosting this phase somewhere other than their usual desks. It could be on a carpet, a comfy corner, outside, or around a work table where we can all gather together. Even my Grade 8 Students love the change of scenery. It seems like just moving to a different spot can help lower their anxiety and stress, making them more open and ready to engage. In this topic - I’ll toss out a question like, "What do you already know about how words and language are influenced by mythology and stories?"  Students start chiming in with words like "atlas," "Pandora's box," "Achilles' heel," "echo," and so on. We dive into how these terms, rooted in mythology, play a role in today's language. It's not just about listing words; it's about connecting with their origins and how they've shaped how we communicate now. (this could take up a couple of literacy blocks easily!). This is also the perfect time for everyone to share their favourite myths. The stories of Icarus and Daedalus, or Sisyphus, always seem to capture their imaginations. In this particular unit of study, I often wrap up our discussion by reading a short myth or inviting students to share or retell their favourite ones. It's a gentle way to end our chat, leaving everyone with some storytelling magic. For me, this discussion phase is all about giving every student a voice and a chance to share in a setting that feels a bit more relaxed and open than the usual classroom setup. 3) Cross-Curricular - Mythology and Language Arts: Integrating mythology with language arts in my lessons allows for a rich, cross-curricular exploration that touches on these ancient stories' historical and cultural significance and their enduring impact on modern language and society. This approach deepens students' understanding of language origins and invites them to see the connections between past and present, literature and daily life. One key aspect of this lesson is exploring how mythology influences modern language through phrases, idioms, figures of speech, and expressions. For example, we dive into how the story of Pandora's box has given us the idiom "to open Pandora's box," meaning to start something that causes many unforeseen problems. We discuss the story behind the phrase "Achilles' heel" as well, drawing from the tale of Achilles to illustrate vulnerability. This exploration extends to mass media and marketing, highlighting how mythological symbols are woven into the fabric of contemporary culture. A prime example is the Starbucks logo, which features the siren from Greek mythology, inviting a discussion on the symbolism and its appeal in marketing. I like to plant seeds for future exploration. While we only scratch the surface in our current lessons, I point out how this knowledge can be expanded in future grades, high school, and university or college (or other pathways of their choice). Whether it's delving deeper into classical literature, exploring linguistics, or studying the influence of mythology on modern storytelling and media, the possibilities are endless. This fosters a love for learning and encourages students to think about how they can continue to connect with these themes throughout their educational journey. By intertwining mythology with language arts, the lesson transcends traditional boundaries, offering a holistic view of how the past informs the present and inspiring students to explore the interconnectedness of knowledge. 4) Creative Myth Representation Project (Our Culminating Project) Students undertake a project to represent a myth or a symbol from a myth using mixed media, focusing on visual storytelling. This mythology lesson plan is crafted with the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) at its core, ensuring it meets the needs of a wide range of learners. This approach not only makes the content more accessible but also encourages higher-order thinking and creativity, embodying a "low floor, high ceiling" philosophy. Every student can participate and contribute, regardless of their starting point, but there's also ample room for those who wish to delve deeper. This inclusivity and flexibility mean all students can engage meaningfully, feel successful, and be challenged, making the lesson plan a practical application of UDL. Through this thoughtful structuring, we ensure that learning mythology isn't just about memorizing facts but about connecting with stories that span cultures and epochs, fostering a rich, inclusive, and engaging classroom experience.

  • The Transformative Power of Tea in Education: Cultivating Mindfulness and Connection

    By Zoe Branigan-Pipe Why do I Serve Tea as Part of the Educational Program? Yes, serving tea is unconventional in a school setting, but it's a practice that has profoundly impacted my educational approach. I believe this post will offer new insights into our food and drink choices in schools and how we can incorporate these into an experiential learning program. Since 2011- At the Innovation and Enrichment Center, where students participate in full-day workshops about once a month, tea has played a pivotal role in these gatherings. (Updated 2023.. at this time, this practice is paused) A Ritual of Calmness and Connection As a public teacher, adhering to all health and safety rules (like no kettles in the classroom), my team and I introduced the ritual of tea to my students uniquely. We looked into the historical culture of tea, a beverage with rich traditions across the globe. It's more than just consuming tea; it's about embracing a tradition that bridges cultures and continents, providing students with a peaceful, connecting experience. The Role of Mental Health and Well-Being (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2023) Mental health and well-being touch all components of development. Mental health is much more than the absence of mental illness. Well-being depends not only on the absence of problems and risks but also on the presence of factors that contribute to healthy growth and development. By nurturing and supporting students’ strengths and assets, educators help promote positive mental health and well-being in the classroom. At the same time, they can identify students who need additional support and connect them with the appropriate supports and services. What happens at school can have a significant influence on a student’s overall well-being. With a broader awareness of mental health, educators can plan instructional strategies that contribute to a supportive classroom climate for learning in all subject areas, build awareness of mental health, and reduce stigma associated with mental illness. Taking students’ well-being, including their mental health, into account when planning instructional approaches helps establish a strong foundation for learning and sets students up for success. The Power of Tea in Building Relationships Introducing tea or flavoured water into our classroom has led to remarkable experiences. The students eagerly anticipate discovering the day's selection. Our tea circles, where we sit and share stories, serve as an effective ice-breaker. However, the most touching moments are when I serve tea/water in a special porcelain cup (inspired by Reggio Emilia Pedagogies) and ask, "How are you today?" This simple question, combined with the act of sharing tea/water, fosters a genuine, stress-free space for open conversation. Looking back... During my tenure teaching a Grade 7 class (several years ago), we ended each week with a circle and tea. This was our time to reflect on the week's learning, discuss any issues, and engage in problem-solving. Tea became more than a beverage; it was a connection, reflection, and community-building tool. The Cultural and Indigenous Significance of Tea In my program, we honour and acknowledge Indigenous Peoples. Tea is significant in many First Nations, Métis, and Inuit (FNMI) cultures. It's a connector of people, a vessel for storytelling, and a community symbol. We explore tea ceremonies and the use of local tea, highlighting the deep connection to the land and ancestors. This enriches our discussions, offering a broader perspective on its role in different cultures. Linking Tea to Land-Based Learning and Environmental Education We connect tea drinking to land-based learning and environmental education. This approach has opened new avenues for learning and discussion, fostering a sense of calm and focus. We even grow our mint, making the experience more tangible and connected to the earth. This resonates with our students, especially those who are gifted and twice-exceptional (2e), many of whom struggle with anxiety. The ritual of tea helps them feel calm and provides an opportunity for individual connection. “Our connections to the land also give us a sense of belonging.” Facing History and Ourselves, 2020. There are variations of what land-based learning means, but the one common element is the Land and the connectivity each has with the Land. Each human has learned from many teachers in their lifetime. Note that teachers in this sense does not necessarily mean a certified educator, a teacher could be a family or community member, or something they learn from, including the natural environment. How we learn is not an isolated experience. We learn about ourselves through our interaction with others and everything in the world. There are many different ways that we have been taught; ways of seeing, ways of knowing, ways of connecting and the ways of learning. Our perspectives on certain things may also change due to our interaction with new information or experiences. Tea: A Cultural Exploration Across the Globe Culturally Responsive and Relevant Pedagogy (CRRP) (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2023) In an inclusive education system, students must see themselves reflected in the curriculum, their physical surroundings, and the broader environment, so that they can feel engaged in and empowered by their learning experiences. Students need to experience teaching and learning that reflect their needs and who they are. To ensure that this happens, educators in Ontario schools embrace culturally responsive and relevant pedagogy (CRRP), which recognizes that all students learn in ways that are connected to background, language, family structure, and social or cultural identity. Tea is a global phenomenon, and we explore its diverse cultural practices: Japanese Tea Ceremony (Chanoyu): A ritualistic practice embodying harmony, respect, purity, and tranquillity. Moroccan Tea Culture: Known for its sweet mint tea and the art of pouring from a height, symbolizing hospitality. Chinese Tea Traditions, from the Gongfu tea ceremony to the casual enjoyment of tea, reflect harmony and balance. British Tea Culture: The afternoon tea tradition, a social event for interaction and bridging meal gaps. Indian Chai Culture: Chai, a blend of spices, symbolizes warmth and hospitality in Indian households. Ethiopian Tea Tradition: Ethiopian tea, or 'shai', often includes spices like cinnamon and cardamom, reflecting the country's rich agricultural heritage. Exploring tea culture allows students to appreciate tea's diversity and cultural significance, similar to food heritage days. It promotes a broader understanding of global traditions and the universal aspects of tea as a shared human experience. Integrating tea into our educational framework opens doors to a world of cultural exploration and learning, enriching our students' educational journey through the simple yet profound act of sharing tea. Recommended Resource: For a deeper understanding of the philosophy behind our practice, listen to the Rich Roll Podcast episode 'The Zen of WuDe.' It offers insights into tea's role in health, healing, community, and environmental consciousness. Other resources: UBC Learning Circle - Making Traditional Teas With The Indigenous Plant Diva: This session features Cease Wyss, who introduces the making of teas from various mixes of special dried and fresh medicines. Cease Wyss owns and operates the Raven and Hummingbird Tea Co., which focuses on indigenous plant use and medicinal herbs​. Raven and Hummingbird Tea Co.: This indigenous-owned herbal tea company is operated by Cease Wyss and Senaqwila Wyss on traditional Coast Salish land in Vancouver. Cultural Survival - Indigenous Peoples to Share in Tea Industry Profits: This article discusses a historic benefit-sharing agreement that was reached in South Africa in 2019. The agreement allows the Indigenous Peoples of South Africa, specifically the Khoi and San people, to benefit from the multimillion-rand rooibos tea and honeybush industries. This initiative exemplifies how indigenous communities are recognized and compensated for contributing to the global tea industry​. SBS Food—Gulbarn Tea: Gulbarn Tea is an indigenous-owned, wild-harvested native tea company that incorporates ancient wisdom in its tea brewing. It's an example of how indigenous knowledge and practices are being preserved and promoted in the modern tea industry. "A History of Tea: The Life and Times of the World's Favorite Beverage": This book details the rise of tea in Asia and its spread to the West and beyond, covering the history from the Chinese tea houses of the Tang Dynasty to Japanese tea ceremonies developed by Zen Buddhist monks​​. "The Story of Tea: A Cultural History and Drinking Guide" by Mary Lou Heiss and Robert J. Heiss: This book was nominated for an IACP and James Beard Cookbook Award and received a Gourmand Award for Best Tea Book in the USA in 2008. It covers tea and tea culture in a comprehensive manner​. "Chai: The Experience of Indian Tea" by Rekha Sarin and Rajan Kapoor explores tea's history in India, tracing the story of tea from leaf to cup and delving into the culture and ceremony surrounding it across the country​. "A Social History of Tea: Tea's Influence on Commerce, Culture, and Civility" by Bruce Richardson and Jane Pettigrew offers an expanded view of the social history of tea and its influence on various aspects of society, including commerce and culture. "The Book of Tea" by Okakura Kakuzo: A classic in tea literature, this book discusses the spirit, philosophy, and art of tea as part of life, introducing the concept of ‘teaism’ as a cult founded on the adoration of beauty​. "Tea: History, Terroirs, Varieties": An updated edition of this book, acclaimed by the 2014 World Tea Awards, provides a detailed guide on the history and culture of tea, including regional varieties, cultivation techniques, and flavour profiles. It also includes interviews with tea experts throughout the world​.

  • NEW! Special Education: Ontario AQ Courses

    I am absolutely thrilled to announce that I will be teaching the brand new Special Education Part 1 course for Ontario Teachers. In collaboration with some incredible Educators - we developed Part 1, 2, and Specialist so that these three courses seamlessly connect, build on each other and support Candidates (Teachers) where they are in their Careers, whether a new teacher or an experienced teacher looking for leadership. This isn't just another course update; it's a complete transformation, meticulously reimagined and rewritten to empower Ontario teachers in today's dynamic educational landscape. We're all aware that the past few years have brought significant changes in education, including new curricula in health and physical education, math, and language arts. But that's not all. There have been crucial updates in policies and guides focusing on equity, inclusive education, culturally relevant and responsive pedagogy (CRRP), and Universal Design for Learning (UDL). This course is designed to not just acknowledge these changes but to deeply integrate them into its core. What excites me most about this course is how current it is. We will dive into modern tools and technologies that are reshaping the way we teach and learn. Expect to explore innovative practices that are theoretical and highly applicable in your classrooms. But there's more – this course isn't just about absorbing information; it's about experiencing it. Participants (Teachers) have opportunities for differentiation, working in partnerships, and benefiting from flexible timelines. This approach ensures the course adapts to your unique learning style and professional needs. As an educator, my goal is to not just teach but to inspire. This course is more than a learning experience; it's a journey toward becoming a more effective, empathetic, and empowered educator in Special Education. Whether you're new to this field or looking to refresh your skills, this course promises to be a game-changer in your professional development. Orientation (3-4 days, getting familiar with course, content, instructor, and fellow participants) Module 1 - What is Special Education? Special Education in Ontario; Ontario Human Rights Legislation, AODA; Human Rights Module 2 – Our Students ALL Matter Culturally Responsive Pedagogy; Behavioural Exceptionality; Communication Exceptionality’ Intellectual Exceptionality; Physical Exceptionality; Multiple Module 3 - School for All, Learning for All Support staff for students; Learning Environments; Physical Spaces and Accessibility for all; UDL look like in the school; Extra Curricular Module 4 – Inclusive Program Essential Conditions for Learning; Student Information and Student Records; Role of the EA in a Classroom; Classroom Health and Safety; SEL and Wellness in the Classroom Module 5 - Supporting Transitions K-12, Subject, Classroom Absences Module 6 - Literacy for ALL Understanding Struggling Readers/Writers and Early Identification Module 7 - Assessment that Works for ALL Growing Success, Triangulation, UDL Module 8 – Technology Assistive Technology and UDL; Remote Module 9 - Inclusive Program Design, THE IEP, Goal Setting, and Parent Involvement; Meetings; Pedagogies, Play-Based, Minecraft, Lego; Trauma and Wellness; Low Floor High Ceiling -Student voice and choice Module 10 - Learning Portfolio Course Reflection and Final Thoughts So, are you ready to join me on this exciting journey? Let's embrace these changes together and make a difference in the lives of our students. Welcome to the new era of Special Education training in Ontario!

  • Enriching Minds Through "Dixit": A Journey in Creative and Critical Thinking - By Zoe Branigan-Pipe

    Dixit: a simple name for a game that unfolds layers of imagination, language, and interpretation. This fantasy association game is more than just entertainment; it's a tool for enriching minds, fostering conversation, and unlocking the beauty of abstract thinking. The Essence of Dixit At its core, Dixit is a game of large playing cards, each adorned with fantastical, story-telling images that are detailed and open-ended. These images are not just pictures; they are gateways to worlds of interpretation, metaphors, and symbols. Players, both children and adults, are drawn into reading these cards, deciphering their meanings, and exploring the endless possibilities of their imagination. Personal Experience: A Family Affair In my home, Dixit is a beloved activity. My family, spanning ages from 16 to adults, finds joy in the shared experience of interpreting these vivid images. The game becomes particularly special with our ELL student, who uses it as a bridge to learn and express new vocabulary, assisted by a translator to share his unique perspectives. Dixit in Education: Beyond Just a Game As an educator, Dixit transforms into a powerful tool. In my classroom, it serves as a guided language lesson, where we delve into higher-order thinking skills, comprehension, and abstract thinking. The pictures become catalysts for discussions on story elements, perspectives, and symbolism, aligning with the Ontario curriculum's emphasis on advanced language skills. Key Learning Areas with Dixit: Comprehension & Abstract Thinking: Understanding the content and abstract associations of the pictures. Expressive Language & Conversation: Players articulate their choices and reasoning during gameplay. Interpersonal and Social Skills: Enhancing communication and social interactions. Critical and Creative Thinking: Engaging in imaginative and analytical thought processes. Communicating and Conveying Meaning: Using varied forms to express ideas. Transfer of Knowledge: Applying concepts and strategies to new contexts. Real, Purposeful Talk: Engaging in meaningful conversation. Analyzing Texts and Images: Evaluating communication effectiveness. Language Proficiency: Utilizing a wide vocabulary range, including non-discriminatory language. Interpretation Skills: Developing interpretations of complex texts and images. Elements of Style: Identifying metaphors, symbolism, and their roles in communication. Expressive Writing: Using vivid language and innovative expressions. Resources for Incorporating Dixit Several resources offer insights on integrating Dixit into educational settings: Teaching Games EFL Teachers House Shop C-Raine Sam Blanco A YouTube Video on Dixit gameplay Dixit is more than a game; it's a journey through the realms of creative and critical thinking, language development, and interpersonal skills. It's a testament to how play can be both fun and intellectually enriching, making it a valuable tool for families and educators alike. Sample Lesson Plan: Exploring Emotions and Perspectives Through Dixit This lesson plan utilizes the game Dixit to explore emotions, experiences, and actions, encouraging students to express and understand different perspectives. Suitable for a small group of 5-6 students, this activity can be adapted for various age groups and learning levels. Objectives Enhance vocabulary related to emotions, experiences, and actions. Develop empathy and understanding of diverse perspectives. Foster creative thinking and expression through imagery. Materials Dixit game cards. Emotional Wheel or vocabulary prompts (including nouns, verbs, adjectives). Whiteboard and markers. Voting tokens or small objects for voting. Procedure Introduction Introduce the Emotional Wheel or the chosen vocabulary prompts. Briefly explain the modified rules of Dixit for this activity. Setup Distribute several Dixit cards to each student. Place the Emotional Wheel or vocabulary prompts where all students can see them. Gameplay (30 minutes): Key Player's Turn: One student (the key player) silently chooses a card from their hand and selects a word from the Emotional Wheel or vocabulary prompts that best represents their card. The teacher writes this word on the board without revealing the key player's card. Other Players' Turn: The other students select a card from their hand that they feel best matches the word. These cards are submitted anonymously to the teacher, who then displays them. Discussion and Voting: Briefly discuss the displayed cards, encouraging students to express why they chose a specific card for the word. Students vote on which card they believe belongs to the key player. Reveal and Reflect: The key player reveals their card. Discuss how different cards reflect varying interpretations of the same word, emphasizing diverse perspectives. Reflection and Discussion Encourage students to share their thoughts on the activity. Discuss how our backgrounds, experiences, and interests influence our perception of words and images. Highlight the importance of respecting diverse viewpoints and interpretations. Variations For younger students, use a preset list of simpler vocabulary words. For older students, allow them to choose their own words based on a specific theme or concept. This lesson, through Dixit, provides a unique and engaging way to explore the complexities of language, emotion, and perspective. It not only enhances vocabulary and expressive skills but also deepens students' understanding of how different individuals can interpret the same concept in various ways. This activity fosters a classroom environment that values diversity, creativity, and empathy. Adapting Dixit Using UDL Principles Multiple Means of Engagement: Age-Appropriate Themes: Tailor the themes of the Dixit cards to suit the age and interests of the group. Younger children may enjoy simpler, more concrete themes, while older students can delve into more abstract or complex themes. Choice and Autonomy: Offer students choices in selecting cards or vocabulary words, empowering them with a sense of control and catering to their interests and motivations. Multiple Means of Representation: Visual and Verbal Cues: Utilize the rich imagery of Dixit cards along with verbal prompts to cater to both visual and auditory learners. Scaffolding: For younger or less experienced students, provide additional support, like simpler vocabulary lists or guided discussions, to help them engage with the activity. Multiple Means of Action and Expression: Diverse Expression Outlets: Allow students to express their thoughts and choices in different ways, such as through spoken word, written responses, or even artistic expressions like drawing. Flexible Grouping: Adapt the game for individual, small group, or whole-class participation, depending on the students' needs and comfort levels. Accessibility and Inclusivity: Ensure that all students, regardless of their learning needs or language proficiency, can participate meaningfully. This might involve providing translations, using simplified language, or allowing non-verbal expressions of choices. Cross-Curricular Connections: Use Dixit to connect with other areas of study. For example, link the themes of the cards to historical events, scientific concepts, or literary works, providing a multidisciplinary approach to learning. Benefits of Dixit in a UDL Framework Engages Diverse Learners: Dixit’s open-ended nature appeals to a wide range of ages and abilities, making it an ideal tool for inclusive classrooms. Fosters Critical and Creative Thinking: The game encourages students to think abstractly and creatively, engaging different cognitive skills. Enhances Social-Emotional Learning: By discussing different perspectives and interpretations, students develop empathy and social awareness. Adaptable to Various Learning Goals: Dixit can be modified to align with specific educational objectives, whether it's language development, art appreciation, or social studies. Dixit, when used within the UDL framework, becomes an invaluable tool in the educator's arsenal. It not only makes learning more engaging and inclusive but also nurtures a range of skills from critical thinking to social-emotional learning, catering to a diverse classroom where every student's learning journey is valued and supported.

  • Enriching Learning with Daily Puzzles and Journals - A Journey Beyond the Classroom

    Blog Post: Enriching Learning with Daily Puzzles and Journals - A Journey Beyond the Classroom By: Zoe Branigan-Pipe As an Enrichment Teacher based in Hamilton, Ontario, my journey in education extends beyond the local community, reaching out to a global audience of educators, students, and lifelong learners. In my quest to contribute positively to the world of education, I've embraced a project that intertwines the joy of puzzles with the reflective practice of journaling. This initiative is not just about learning; it's about enriching lives during these challenging times. The Origin of a Puzzle-Driven Learning Experience This innovative project was born out of a collaboration with one of my students, a passionate puzzle enthusiast who sought a leadership role. Recognizing the power of puzzles to stimulate the mind and the soul, we embarked on a mission to share this love with a broader audience. Why Puzzles? Puzzles, in their myriad forms, offer more than just a mental challenge. They are gateways to critical thinking, problem-solving, and creative exploration. In a world that demands continuous adaptation and learning, puzzles serve as a metaphor for life's complex challenges and the satisfaction of solving them. The Role of Journaling In tandem with puzzles, journaling serves as a powerful tool for reflection and personal growth. It provides a space for learners to record their thoughts, experiences, and learning journeys. In these times, journaling is not just a record of events; it's a canvas for the soul, capturing the essence of our daily lives and learning. How It Works The Daily Puzzles: Each day, a new puzzle, quote, story, article, or resource is shared. These "Dailies" are designed to stimulate the mind, provoke thought, and encourage learning. Journaling Practice: Students and learners are encouraged to use a journal to reflect on their experiences with the "Dailies". This practice fosters engagement, joy, and self-directed learning. For Educators and Learners: This resource is not limited to students. Educators and lifelong learners can incorporate these puzzles and journaling activities into their daily routines to enrich their own lives and those of their students. Building a Habit The aim is to cultivate a habit of engagement and enrichment. Whether it's for a few minutes or several hours, dedicating time to puzzles and reflection can spark a lifelong love for learning and discovery. Sharing the Experience I invite you to join this journey. Share these puzzles and the practice of journaling with your students, use them in your lessons, or incorporate them into your daily routine. Let's embrace every opportunity to learn, grow, and find joy. It's about taking one step, one idea, one thought, and one discussion at a time. Let's inspire ourselves and others to see the beauty in our world and in the act of learning, every single day. About the Author: As an Enrichment Teacher and a global educator, I am dedicated to supporting learners of all ages in Hamilton, Ontario, and beyond. My goal is to contribute to the wellness and enrichment of educators, students, and communities through innovative and engaging educational practices.

  • From Classroom to Cafe Bar - A Makerspace, Reggio-Inspired Learning Space

    In every city or community around the world, the cafe/coffee shop is the place for gathering with friends or colleagues, catching up on daily reading, playing games, engaging in the art and music culture, knitting, writing, planning, creating, organizing, designing and learning - and of course, sharing in food/drink.  Drawing from hundreds of examples of cafe community gathering is hubs across our own city, Hamilton (A coffee shop for every mood) or Toronto (Top 10 Places to work or study in Toronto), or New York City (The Best Coffee Shops for getting work done), we created a classroom space with similar characteristics. The coffee shop as an office - Coffee shops are the unofficial offices of an army of modern workers thanks to free wi-fi, good company and caffeine on tap. But, says David Crookes, cafes have been places of business for centuries (Source: At a Public School? Can you imagine a learning space where nature, music, art and literature are infused in the design of the STE-A-M focused room? A space that celebrates community through nutritious food prepared each day by students who gather at a cafe bar or surround a kitchen table and are prompted by deep discussions of innovation and creativity? A space for people of all ages? A place where tea is served at the start and end of each day in beautiful porcelain cups - where there are no bells or specific transitions and subjects are infused through Big Ideas or Themes? In 2016, The HWDSB Enrichment and Innovation Centre was awarded the Canadian Education Association (CEA) Ken Spencer Award (First Place) for Innovation and Creativity in Teaching and Learning.  This accolade prompted the creation of a second Enrichment Centre that was designed using the Reggio Emilia Approach and would recognize that the learning environment is fundamentally important to the program (referred to as the child's "third teacher") “In order to act as an educator for the child, the environment has to be flexible: it must undergo frequent modification by the children and the teachers in order to remain up-to-date and responsive to their needs to be protagonists in constructing their knowledge.” (Lella Gandini,1998)The importance of the environment lies in the belief that children can best create meaning and make sense of their world through environments which support "complex, varied, sustained, and changing relationships between people, the world of experience, ideas and the many ways of expressing ideas." (Cadwell, 1997). "Bringing Reggio Emilia home:An innovative approach to early childhood education.". The room design is  also inspired by Seymour Papert's  Constructionism learning theory, The HWDSB Gifted Program partnered with a team of Undergraduate Students from McMaster University in a Design Thinking Project with the goal of creating a learning space inspired by both Reggio and Papert. “Design is the action of bringing something new and desired into existence—a proactive stance that resolves or dissolves problematic situations by design. It is a compound of routine, adaptive and design expertise brought to bear on complex dynamic situations.”—Harold Nelson, The Design Way Thank you to Lee Wood Company, James Street North for the donation of the beautiful, custom, hand-crafted bar top. The "Bar" area replaces the teacher's desk. There is enough seating for 15 students to surround the bar. The teacher or student can be in front or behind the bar area to facilitate discussion. There is a large collection of plants, herbs and sprouts in the classroom. Growing plants in the classroom connects students to nature, to outdoors, to the world around them. Plants clean the air, teach students about sustainability and allow students to observe and document natural patterns. Bringing Nature in the Classroom: American Society for Horticultural Science. (2009, September 6). Greening University Classrooms: Adding Plants Increases Student Satisfaction. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 3, 2017 from Reggio teachers provide children different avenues for thinking, revising, constructing, negotiating, developing and symbolically expressing their thoughts and feelings. The goal is for the adults and children to better understand one another "North American Reggio Emilia Alliance". Retrieved 9 April 2013.

  • What does 'enrichment' in education really look like? A UDL EXAMPLE.

    Ever caught yourself wondering, "What does 'enrichment' in education really look like?" by Zoe Branigan-Pipe As a special education teacher, particularly with gifted and twice-exceptional students, I've grappled with this question too. To shed some light, I crafted a video, “Enrichment in Education: A Fractals Lesson”, which is less about the math (though, who doesn't get a little thrill from fractals?) and more about showcasing what true enrichment can be. Enrichment: More Than Just a Buzzword This video is my way of peeling back the layers of 'enrichment.' This term, often tossed around in educational circles, is about deepening the learning experience. It's not just adding more to the plate; it's about making the plate more intriguing and fulfilling (and who doesn't love a good meal, right?). This video is my attempt to show how enrichment can be woven into any lesson, making it richer and more engaging. UDL: The Secret Ingredient In the video, I delve into the world of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and low-floor-high ceiling strategies. Think of UDL as the secret sauce that makes a lesson delicious for every student, no matter their learning style or pace. It's about creating pathways for all learners to access and engage with the content. The Fractals Lesson: A Canvas for Enrichment Now, let's talk about the fractals lesson. This isn't just a math lesson; it's a canvas to illustrate how enrichment works. The lesson starts simply, but then, like a good mystery novel, it adds layers of complexity. I guide you through how this lesson becomes a platform for critical thinking, creativity, and yes, a bit of math fun. Challenging the ALL LEARNERS! Like all learners... Gifted and twice-exceptional students may have their own style of learning...often march to the beat of their own drum, and they need lessons that match their unique rhythm. This video shows how I challenge them to stretch their thinking, to look at fractals (and learning) in new, exciting ways. It's about pushing them to explore beyond the conventional, to find joy in the journey of learning. My Vision- research and expert: Creating this video was more than just a teaching exercise; it was a chance to share my vision of what enriched learning looks like. It's an invitation to my fellow educators to think outside the box and infuse their lessons with creativity and depth. The fractals lesson is just the beginning. Let’s Enrich Learning Together So, there you have it – a peek into how I approach enrichment in education, with a sprinkle of fractals for good measure. Let's challenge, engage, and empower our students, showing them that learning is not just about knowledge; it's about discovery, creativity, and passion. Through this blog post, I wanted to share a snippet of my educational philosophy, blending insights, personal experiences, and a touch of quirkiness. I hope it sparks ideas and conversations in your own educational adventures. Let's keep enriching the minds of our learners, one lesson at a time! 🌈✨

  • The Road Not Taken - Making, Crafting and Constructing Meaning in Minecraft

    Revisiting an Innovative Lesson: Embracing Minecraft in Education, By Zoe Branigan-Pipe A few years ago (like then or so...haha) , I shared a blog post about a unique educational activity that leveraged Minecraft as a teaching tool. "The Road Not Taken". Today, I find myself revisiting this activity with renewed enthusiasm (sort of), particularly because my district, along with many others, is now actively encouraging the use of Minecraft in education. I am also resharing and discussing this post in hopes that more classrooms use these open-creative aspects of Minecraft although, I am wondering: ...has the Minecraft "Buzz" gone quite? Are classrooms using it within their instruction or is this still a "Free Time" or "Clubs" activity? The revisit of Minecraft in our practices as UDL teachers aligns perfectly with my belief in "Low Floor High Ceiling" teaching strategies, which are adeptly supported by Minecraft's versatile platform. Enhanced Lesson Overview: This learning activity revolves around creatively interpreting Robert Frost's "A Road Not Taken" using Minecraft. When I first introduced this activity, it was an innovative approach to combine literary analysis with digital creativity. Now, it resonates even more deeply as Minecraft becomes a mainstream educational tool (although, I am not sure if the pedagogy is any more welcomed or understood by the community/parents/educators) In this activity (below), students collaboratively build their interpretation of the poem in a Minecraft world, facilitating a blend of individual creativity and group collaboration. Key Educational Aspects: Collaborative Learning: Students engage in group discussions about the poem before bringing their collective vision to life in Minecraft. This fosters a sense of teamwork and cooperative learning. Personal Expression: Each student finds a space within the Minecraft world to share a personal poem or story, adding a unique touch to the collective project. Critical Thinking and Creativity: The lesson seamlessly integrates critical thinking about literature with creative expression in a digital environment. Relevance to Current Educational Trends: With so many districts funding Minecraft Education accounts - and presumably, championing the use of Minecraft, this lesson becomes even more relevant. But again, I wonder, how many districts (I'm in Ontario, Canada) are offering PD to staff on how to use the tool - or is this something that is just considered the game kids use "when done" their work? Is this just a tool or game that is now "old school"? - one that we are moving on from? The game's educational version, Minecraft: Education Edition, offers tools and features specifically designed for classroom use, aligning well with various learning objectives: Enhancing engagement and motivation through interactive learning. Facilitating a deeper understanding of complex concepts through visualization and hands-on experience. Encouraging teamwork, communication, and problem-solving skills. Looking Forward: As I revisit this particular lesson, I'm excited to incorporate the newer features of Minecraft: Education Edition and adapt the activity to suit the evolving educational landscape (there was a recent update). This approach not only aligns with current educational trends but also reinforces the idea that learning can be a dynamic, engaging, and deeply creative process. Revisiting this Minecraft-based lesson underscores the potential of digital tools (PLAY-BASED) in education. It's a testament to how creative, collaborative, and engaging learning experiences can be crafted, highlighting the evolving nature of teaching methods in response to technological advancements and educational research. Best of all -Minecraft is a perfect example of UDL in teaching and learning. Low-Floor, High-Ceiling and Widewalls. Teachers’ Experiences of Using Minecraft Education in Primary School: An Irish Perspective Read the article on Primary School Students’ Experiences using Minecraft Education Read the study on Understanding the Impact of Minecraft in the Math Classroom Explore the study on Using Minecraft as an Educational Tool for Supporting Collaboration and Problem-Solving in Math Read the article on Minecraft in Education Benefits Learning and Social Engagement Learn more on Ideas for Using Minecraft in the Classroom (Edutopia) Check out the ideas on How Minecraft Impacts Learning (Minecraft Education) Explore the research library on How Can Minecraft Be Used As an Educational Tool? (Engineering For Kids) Read the article on

  • Understanding and Nurturing the Dual-Exceptional Learner

    By Zoe Branigan-Pipe In my role as a Teacher within a gifted program, I've encountered many students who, despite academic and social struggles, exhibit remarkable skills in Makerspaces. These environments blend the arts with STEM and foster autonomous and passion-driven learning. This phenomenon raises questions about the intersection of giftedness and learning disabilities in students. A poignant quote from a Grade 10 student captures this dichotomy: “My teachers thought I was dumb”. “I thought I was dumb.” Yet, these students, identified as highly gifted and learning disabled, or "dual exceptional," demonstrate exceptional abilities outside conventional classroom settings. The Misunderstood Nature of 2E Students This concept of dual-exceptional students is often misunderstood. As Whitmore and Maker (1985) articulate, "Intellectually gifted individuals with specific learning disabilities are the most misjudged, misunderstood, and neglected segment of the student population" (Journal of Special Education, 19(2), 204). This misunderstanding stems from the common misconception that learning disabilities correlate with lower intelligence. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) as a Solution The Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework offers a way forward. Developed by CAST, UDL is a scientifically based approach to creating versatile educational experiences. Its principles emphasize flexible teaching methods, materials, and assessments to cater to diverse learners, including those who are 2E​​. UDL focuses on: Engagement: Motivating learners. Representation: Diversifying information presentation. Action & Expression: Varying expression methods. By applying UDL, educators can more effectively support 2E students, focusing on their strengths and providing an inclusive learning environment. Case Studies: Highlighting Hidden Potential The stories of students who thrived in creative, hands-on environments, yet were overlooked academically, underscore the need for a reevaluation of how we assess and educate 2E learners. For instance, a student initially labeled as slow in learning revealed his gifted nature only after a psycho-educational assessment. Today, he excels in robotics, a field demanding skills not traditionally emphasized in school. Another case involves a student whose school performance in English didn't reflect her exceptional ability to create award-winning speeches and presentations. This discrepancy illustrates the gap between traditional academic assessments and a student's actual capabilities and interests. The Role of Educators and Parents A flexible and creative approach in teaching and assessment is crucial for these dual exceptional students. This includes recognizing the diverse ways intelligence and creativity manifest. Educators and parents should be open to unconventional methods of evaluating and nurturing these students' abilities. Conclusion: A Call for Rethinking Gifted Education We must rethink our approach to educating gifted students, particularly those who are 2E. Giftedness encompasses more than conventional academic success; it includes a range of talents and aptitudes. By embracing UDL principles and acknowledging the unique strengths of 2E learners, we can foster more inclusive and effective educational environments. References: Whitmore, J. R., & Maker, C. J. (1985). Intellectual giftedness in disabled persons. Journal of Special Education, 19(2), 204. LD@School Article Journal Article on Homogeneous Classes

  • Bring the Home into the Classroom - Literally!

    Bring the Home into the Classroom - By Zoe Branigan-Pipe What is one artifact or symbol that can literally make students feel "at home" in the classroom? An artifact that can ease stress, encourage conversations,  build relationships, have no limitations of age or ability and be completely diverse in nature? A KITCHEN TABLE! In our home, The Kitchen Table is not just where we gather for meals but where we gather to talk about our day. It is the first stop when getting up in the morning, returning from a walk or coming home from work.  Where we throw down our keys, where we pile up our books and add to the week's worth of newspapers. It is where we charge our phones open our computers and play our music. It is our card table, our game table, an art centre and a sewing station.  It is where the mail gets read and sorted and where the bills get paid. The table is a space for food preparation, sorting groceries and for sharing surprise snacks.  Sometimes, the table is our refuge after a long day- a safe place to sit and gather, where we talk and plan and discuss and cry.  Our best arguments happen around the table and our best apologies follow. Sometimes, it is a place to sit together in silence reading or writing. Whatever it is and whatever time of day - it is always a safe place to be ourselves, to take risks, to be honest, to be vulnerable and to love one another. And so, in an effort to create an environment of trust, we brought the Kitchen table (literally)  into the classroom and built a kitchen around it. We created a situation -  a small space, a "feeling" where students could be vulnerable, tell stories, laugh, cry and be themselves. The following 2-minute video gives an excellent description of why we start and end our day at the Kitchen Table. Our Kitchen Philosophy We strive to connect MIND, BODY & SPIRIT by connecting what we study with  HOME. FOOD is a NEED that connects Families and develops COMMUNITIES. The development of a COMMUNITY of learners allows students to take risks, be mentors, have leadership opportunities and push the boundaries of their learning. We address the role of the family and the community in our daily lives. We value our connection to the land by creating and sharing healthy snacks and meals. We offer experiential learning opportunities. We discuss respect for the group process and the significance of balance in all aspects of our lives. When we are HOME we feel free to be ourselves! We all can LEARN & GROW together!

  • A Holistic Approach to Makerspaces and Pedagogy: Linking 20th Century Pedagogy with the 21st Century

    A Holistic Approach to Makerspaces and Pedagogy: Linking 20th Century Pedagogy with the 21st Century Makerspace Classroom: By Zoe Branigan-Pipe This major research paper is a narrative account of Makerspaces and my experiences as a teacher who has embraced this pedagogy. Educational reformers are calling for a dramatic shift in educational practice to meet the needs of the 21st Century learner. A Makerspace is an innovative 21st Century concept and describes a space where people can meet to share ideas, collaborate, invent and use hands-on approaches. It is a do-it-yourself movement that often involves technology, such as a 3-D printer, but also may involve knitting needles and a sewing machine. I examine the content, processes and guiding pedagogies within Makerspaces in education. Alternative forms of education such as Reggio Emilia, Waldorf and Montessori are explored to make connections to the Maker Culture. Chapter 4 offers an e-book that is intended as an educator resource. This resource may help educators and school leaders to implement a Makerspace in their own contexts.

  • Rediscovering My Educational Journey: A Fresh Start on a New Platform

    I'm thrilled to welcome you to my new blog space, where I'll be sharing my experiences, insights, and adventures both in and out of the classroom. But first, a little about me. My New Blogging Journey After about 14 years of blogging on Edublogs, I've decided to move my blog to a new platform that aligns better with my current needs and interests. While my older posts, dating back to 2009, remain a precious archive of my evolving journey as an educator at, it's time for a fresh start. Who Am I? Special Education Teacher: I am a teacher specializing in Universal Designed Learning (UDL), Culturally Responsive Pedagogy, and Special Education, with a focus on Gifted and Gifted 2e learners. Teacher Instructional Leader and Course Developer: I'm also deeply involved in curriculum development and accreditation coordination for Continuing Teacher Education at Brock University. You can explore more about these programs at In addition to my professional role as an Accreditation Coordinator at Brock University, I'm a course writer and instructor. Mother/Wife/Friend: On a personal note, I'm a mother to two wonderful boys, Jackson and Nathan Pipe. My husband, Brad, who's not only my biggest supporter but also my running partner, has been a constant source of strength and companionship over the years. Globetrotter: Travel and learning about the world is a core part of my life. I passionately share my experiences through Vlogs on YouTube, showcasing journeys like my trips here: Greece ( Portugal ( Travelling is more than just moving from one place to another for me; it's a grounding experience. I immerse myself in the local communities, engage in activities like running and hiking, and prefer staying in homestays or hostels. This allows me to deeply connect with different cultures, histories, and arts. It's a journey into the heart of social justice, understanding poverty, and global issues. This exploration doesn't just enrich me personally; it makes me a better person, a more understanding mother, and a more inspired teacher. Runner: Running marathons, following a plant-based diet, and travelling are some of my passions. The People Who Shaped My Journey Throughout my career, I've been fortunate to encounter individuals who've profoundly influenced my path. I'm eternally grateful to mentors like @Dougpete and friends such as Rodd Lucier, known as @thecleversheep on Twitter. Rodd's retirement hasn't diminished the impact he's had on me. I also owe so much to Dr. Camille Rutherford, a beacon of leadership and empowerment in teacher education. Dean Shareski, another remarkable educator, has been a constant advocate for leadership in teaching, and his support has been invaluable. Reflection and Anticipation The recent years, marked by the pandemic, brought about challenges in education. I felt a sense of stagnation, which contrasted sharply with my earlier, more dynamic interactions within the educational community. However, these challenges have only fueled my determination to advocate for continued change and innovation in education with the hope that one day, all classrooms can support all students to succeed in the best way possible... for them. The Road Ahead This new blog will be a blend of my professional experiences as a teacher and leader, as well as my personal passions like travelling and running. It's a space for me to continue sharing, learning, and growing. And I invite you to join me on this exciting journey.

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