Student Vote: Free Resources!


Now this is a worthwhile activity for students. Get them involved in politics while they are young so they grow up to be adults who care and who vote! Check out Student Vote for resources, videos and more!


Elementary and high schools across the province are invited to engage their students in the provincial election through the free and non-partisan Student Vote program.

Student Vote enables teachers to bring democracy alive in the classroom and empowers students to experience the democratic process and cast a ballot on the official candidates running in the provincial election.

Participating schools will receive a variety of educational materials to teach government, democracy and the electoral process, and encourage research into the issues, parties and candidates. Authentic ballots and ballot boxes will also be provided for the coordination of Student Vote Day.

Already, more than 2,300 schools have registered to participate across Ontario and more than 250,000 students are expected to cast a Student Vote ballot.

To register your class or entire school, visit or call toll free, 1.866.488.8775.


Frédérique Dombrowski
Outreach and Stakeholder Manager,
Gestionnaire de la promotion et des relations avec les partenaires



“What I learned from Video Games” By ‘Student X’

As I  mentioned in my previous post about unleashing a student’s inner super hero,  I work with a gifted student in high school who has been failed by the school system. Like many teen boys, he is very into video games. As adults, we often tell students that video games are useless in real life. After many long conversations with Student X, I realized that teachers should not dismiss them so quickly and instead, we should figure out how to use this to our advantage.

I understand where teachers are coming from as well. “Life isn’t all about video games. Not everything in the classroom can be fun and stimulating all the time.” I know how much time goes into planning lessons and it’s just not feasible to turn class into a video game.

So to start, there are a few things we need to recognize first. First, video games aren’t just about escaping reality and responsibility (although the fact that so many students feel they need to do this is a clear sign that education is not meaningful or relevant enough to these students).  These games create communities of like-minded individuals who work together to solve a problem (or defeat a Boss).  Here is how these communities helped Student X.

A bit of background:

  • Student X’s first played a game called “Defense of the Ancients” or “DOTA”.
  • Next was League of Legends
  • Third, was Overwatch
  • Some of these games are Multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA), also known as action real-time strategy (ARTS), in which a player controls a single character in a team who compete versus another team of players. Player characters typically have various abilities and advantages that improve over the course of a game and that contribute to a team’s overall strategy.

This following section was written by Student X

r892440_8977197Before DOTA

  • Little care was put into thinking before acting
  • Insistent on believing that any and all of mine own personal faults were caused entirely by other people and could only be fixed by other people
  • Under the belief that there was no human being capable of comparing to myself.
  • Working with troublesome people often ended in a very petty shouting match that often yielded nothing positive or useful

After DOTA 

  • Some semblance of humility was acquired as a result of the repeated, merciless failure I was previously presented with as the fruit of my actions
  • Arguments became significantly less common with me
  • A passable understanding of other people and what went on in their minds was attained
  • I also simply learned the game’s mechanics which made it much easier to adapt to similar circumstances in real life (to fully explain this I fear I would have to explain the concept of the MOBA genre of games)

After Overwatch/During League

  • maxresdefaultBecame quite clear to me that most all of my faults are the result of my own doing.
  • My partaking in arguments went from being uncommon to rare, as they were very commonly deemed by me to be pointless.
  • Ability to work with a team (while it was considered to me as a last resort) was much greater than ever it had been in the past.
  • This was also the first game I had ever achieved a significantly high rank in as my career high was amongst the top 8% of players. This was a clear indication of both my eye for strategy and my competence coming together.

Now (After League of Legends)

gamebox(Perhaps “Now” was a better header for this section but I figured “After League” would be more thematic)

  • Exceptionally capable of reasoning
  • Experienced in leading and/or orchestrating groups of people to attain a common goal
  • Arguments are avoided at all costs assuming I can see the advantage in doing so
  • Especially capable of effectively masquerading as different personality types in order to get on someone’s good side if necessary (Don’t know how beneficial it is to reveal this but I’m certainly interested in finding out)
  • Able to keep track of multiple people/things at the same time
  • Strategizing has become one of my strong suits which connects back to my ability to thrive in a leadership role (in spite of the fact that I tend to avoid them)
  • Putting together lists of variables and determining how they might interact with each other in a given environment/scenario.

So, to summarize, video games taught this student:

  • provided character role models and mentors (someone to relate to and look up to). These games have highly developed characters with detailed back stories. Check out these League characters for example.
  • intrapersonal skills: perseverance and resilience, how to take personal responsibility for his actions instead of blaming others.
  • interpersonal skills : leadership skills, negotiating skills
  • a sense of achievement (something more meaningful than say, acing a test on a subject you don’t care about)
  • Strategy: how to take into account multiple factors to tackle a problem (in context problem solving, not overly simplistic questions we often ask on tests)

So the point of this article isn’t to get you to make school more like video games. What we need to do is to create more situations where work together to solve a meaningful problems.  For more ideas, see the previous article on unleashing your student’s inner super hero.

For these students, playing games isn’t a distraction — it’s the lesson.

Read more:

Check out Scott Hebert’s Ted Talk here: 

Unleashing their inner superhero. Adding meaning and purpose in education with the help of video games!

I work with a student who is in high school but does not attend any classes.  This student is bright, perceptive and capable, but found little, to no meaning in attending school. The subjects and skills had no relevance to what he was interested in or needed. It is through my conversations with him that the following perspective has evolved.

I find some of us are much better than others at “playing along.” Girls, especially, feel rewarded by doing what is expected of them. Therefore, many kids go through the hoops of education without getting very much in return except for a “well done” from parents and teachers. Nothing intrinsically satisfying though.

The difference between school and video games is that video games are purpose-driven, while school is a collection of random chores. 

Last time I chatted with “Lynx” we were talking about how students need to feel in danger in order to access to their super powers. Which inspired this meme:

Today, we were basically talking about how every person has an alter ego – a super hero. This is the person who plays make-believe or video games. A bad-ass version of ourselves. The person we imagine telling our boss where to go, or the person who saves the day when someone’s in danger. We all suspect that they are in there and are just waiting on the situation in which we are forced to use them: like the moms who pulled cars off their children.  The problem is, life doesn’t work like video games and therefore, our alter egos stay tucked away until we finally stop dreaming of being them.

Ready, Player One? This is what all kids dream about – playing the hero!

What I think education needs to do is to give children a chance to be heroes in every day life. No, don’t dangle a child off the side of the roof hoping one of your little super heroes will save them. I mean find something that the child feels like it’s worth fighting for. Maybe as a class you decide to write your local city Councillor and petition for a new slide at your park. Maybe you have pen pals in retirement home or in another country that you write to.

Instead, what we give students are the equivalent to chores. Add this. Draw this. Summarize that. We take the meaningful context away, so students don’t feel like any of it matters to their own life. The reason for completing these tasks is to avoid getting into trouble, not to accomplish something difficult. What if we phrased math questions as real life problems to solve – meaningful problems, not “How many bananas would be on each tree? type of questions”. Math is entangled with every subject and every atom! Watch this Ted Talk for inspiration and ideas.

The problem, of course, is that these are not tasks that can be completed in a “period.” These types of problems take time to identify and to solve. There will be lots of failure along the way.  There will be no exemplar or instructions to follow, often. These things scare teachers and administrators who want to know how to assign marks to tasks. They don’t fall under a single subject’s curriculum. How can we do this?

Just like we set aside time for genius hour, maybe the class sets aside time each day to work on it together? Community Hour? Start with questions. What do you want to know about? What problems are you not okay with? In high school, it should include things that relate to finding a career or developing skills that will be useful on a resume (or in an interview).

I haven’t got all the answers yet, but I do know making school more personally relevant and meaningful is imperative to kids well being, sense of self, and intrinsic enjoyment!

One last thought from Lynx, who is very involved in video games, was that these characters in video games taught him a lot about morals and values. (Check out these League of Legend characters with full backstories and meaningful quotes.)  In video games, characters can be healers, tanks (take a lot of damage), DPS (do a lot of damage). These help students identify and define their own alter egos. They identify with these heroes and help shape the hero in themselves. It’s up to us to teach them how to embrace this side of their nature.  To give them something important to fight for. Maybe a good activity at the beginning of the year is to find out which character they identify with, create their own personal version of this hero, and use this to inspire their future actions. “What would my hero do in this situation?”  Great for moral development as well. It’s so much easier to roleplay someone other than ourselves! I always tell students before they give a presentation to pretend they are someone else – that this is an acting assignment. This gives them permission to let go of some of their personal angst and insecurity and role play a stronger version of themself!

Maybe together we can brainstorm ideas of relevant tasks we have done with our students.  Imagine if instead of learning about global issues we brainstormed ways to solve them? What of instead of global issues we started with something closer to home? Community issues? School issues? Personal issues? Government issues? Environmental issues?

Please share your thoughts and ideas below!


CBC: The Great Human Odyssey – Lesson Plans by Tammy Gaudun

The Great Human Odyssey

Lesson Plans


The Great Human Odyssey explores the unlikely survival and the miraculous emergence of Homo sapiens as the world’s only global species. Ancient climate research has revealed that we evolved during the most volatile era since the extinction of the dinosaurs. Just like the many other kinds of human who once shared our world, we should have died away. Instead, our species survived to populate every corner of the planet, against all the odds.

The series is an excellent introduction the the Grade 8 Geography curriculum.  It provides a historical context for many issues addressed in the the Ontario Curriculum, such as:

  1. The ways in which the physical environment and climate change have influenced our earliest ancestors and their settlement patterns.
  2. A look at sustainable communities and the relationship between our ancestors and the environment.
  3. The series raises questions about the quality of life of our ancestors, allowing students to compare and contrast to other communities and times in the world.

Because the documentary series is a reflection of the lives of our ancestors, it is important for students to be able to compare and contrast some of these practices to modern  times, and apply this knowledge to help make predictions about the future of the human species.

This Guide for Educators contains several components. For the three episodes, there are content overviews, viewing questions, and critical thinking questions, a computer-based assignment, which involves three community case studies for the first two episodes.

  1. The Viewing Questions are meant to be answered by students while watching each episode, or in discussion after watching the episode.
  2. The Critical Thinking Challenges are meant to be “big picture” questions that can be posed to students at any point during instruction.
  3. Each episode also contains a Web Component, where students use technology to find maps and to examine one of the three Case Studies, using the interactive World of Extremes website. After watching the series, students are able to participate in a virtual reality experiment, walking in the shoes of Kalahari Bushmen, Chukchi reindeer herders or Badjao free-divers, through the interactive web documentary.

Continue reading

Teach kids how to “think” and how to “create”

So I created this post for twitter based on an experience with a student. At the time, all I felt students were learning was how to re-phrase someone else’s thoughts.


Really, since we have all of the information we need on the internet, what should be be doing instead of instilling facts? Or how to copy the teacher’s exemplar? Try starting or ending your day with a class discussion.

  • Report observations or identify problems. . I noticed that…new students sit alone.  Boys tease a lot. Kids don’t flush the toilets at school. Teachers are grumpier at the end of the day. Why two students don’t get along. Trash in the courtyard. Why students are disengaged or don’t like certain subjects. ..etc..You could start with Peter Griffon’s question, “Do you know what really grinds my gears?
  • Ask questions? I wonder why?  Make guesses as to why the problem exists or why it hasn’t been fixed. It helps put students in the position of the person responsible for making the decisions (empathy, role taking).
  • Create new conclusions: I think this might happen because?  Making some educated guesses will bring a certain level of clarity to the problem.
  • Debate! One of my favourite activities to teach critical thinking. Pose a statement and have kids agree or disagree, but try to convince kids on the other side of their room to join them. E.g., all humans should give up meat. Kids should be involved in politics. All-year hockey season is a good thing.  Girls should dress conservatively.

Students are often surprised at how easy some of their problems are to solve. For instance, voice their thoughts or asking for something!

cooks or chefs


Secret Societies: Codes, Ciphers & Philosophy Activity

Create a Secret Society

Secret societies have existed throughout history for many different reasons: some good, some nefarious!  The goal of this lesson is to a) think about what secret societies exist in our world, which ones do good and which ones to harm (or both), and then create your own GOOD society and come up with your own secret code, cipher or other secret communication. 


Some secret societies were good and necessary. For example, the Underground Railroad used songs and secret codes to allow for slaves to escape to the north where they could be free. They were secret to ensure their safety.

Some secret societies have done harm. However, the KKK for example, promotes white supremacy and are are a secret society because their values are against the law!

Small Group Activity

Brainstorm at least 6-10 secret societies in a T-Chart. What is their secret? Do they exist for good or for evil?  (Templar, Anonymous, Fenians, Illuminati). 



Evil ( harmful)

Underground Railroad – freedom for slaves


Superheroes – justice or vigilantism 

Anonymous – justice or vigilantism

KKK – white supremacy



Class discussion:

Discuss the pros and cons of having a secret club? Is it bad to exclude others? Is it ever okay to exclude others? In what situations? (E.g., Alcoholics Anonymous, survivors of abuse, people with AIDS,  people born with birth anomalies, groups smuggling people out of North Korea, political activists in fascist countries, etc…) Who gets more achieved – secret societies or public institutions?


  1. Mission: Have your students come up with a secret society (they could protect a secret, be a super hero squad of crime fighters, or attempting to escape from something. A secret society must have something or someone to protect.
  2. Code name: How will you refer to yourselves?
  3. Symbolism: What metaphorical symbol would best represent your cause? E.g., dove for peace (have students draw one).
  4. Communication: Students must invent their own code or cipher OR they could also invent secret handshakes, door knocks, clothing (poppy pin, red scarf, yellow watch etc.), ways of answering a phone call, texting,…you get the idea.
  5. Initiation. How will you choose who will belong to the group? What is the initiation? Refer to the class discussion on on exclusion/inclusion? When is it okay to exclude others (e.g., safety concerns) and when is not okay?
  6. Philosophy: What is the slogan or mission statement of your group? What are the only true and just reasons for a secret club to exist? Ensure students don’t start their own private, exclusionary club at school. Most of the time, secrets are bad! Not much good ever grows in the shadows.

Communication Examples

  • Morse Code – a form of communication developed by Samuel F. B. Morse. It uses a series of dots and dashes to relay coded messages. It was originally used to send a telegraph, but is still used today by amateur radio enthusiasts and for distress signals.

    Try sending messages with a flashlight!

  • Pig Pen Code: The pigpen cipher is a geometric simple substitution cipher, which exchanges letters for symbols which are fragments of a grid. The example key shows one way the letters can be assigned to the grid.
  • Semaphore:  Semaphore is a cipher system that uses the position of two flags to represent letters. You don’t necessarily need flags; the important piece is the arm position. It’s very similar to positions for the hands of a clock. Semaphore is still an effective method of communication used between boats or for distress signals.
  • Caesar cipher is one of the simplest and most widely known encryption techniques. Decoding depends a lot on frequency analysis with the alphabet.   E!
  • Substitution cipher – instead of a letter, we use a symbol. So, instead of an A, you could write # or %, or any picture. This form of code was used by Mary Queen of Scots when she was plotting against Elizabeth the First. Unfortunately for her, it wasn’t that difficult to decode! Frequency analysis ( math – data! ) ) helps you figure out the most used letters in the alphabet. Sherlock Holmes also used this kind of cipher in his one story The Adventures of The Dancing Men. For a PDF of the full story, click here.
  • Police Letters – 6966786_f520

    The 26 code words are assigned to the 26 letters of the English alphabet in order. Prior to World War I and the development and widespread adoption of two-way radio that supported voice, telephone spelling alphabets were developed to improve communication on low-quality and long-distance telephone circuits.

    This list seems a bit out of date now. How about your students create an up to date version that is gender and culturally neutral?

Resources on Codes & Ciphers

9780763609719_mresA handbook for making and breaking codes and ciphers. This book takes you through everyday codes and pictographs to different ciphers through history. Packed with lots of fun examples, this is a great starting book for a teacher who wants to try out cryptography with his / her students. There are also great ideas for starting a code breaking kit! Suggested for gr. 3 – 8. Priced at $11.60, it’s a deal! Click here to see more.


Lesson by T. Gaudun, resources compiled by M. Reist

Are Universities still needed?

When I was growing up, it was just expected that I would go to University. Today, you can’t even get a job interview without a degree. However, as a teacher, I can honestly say the idea of university has never made less sense to me.

Not personalized/relevant

Thinking back to my own experience, many of the mandatory courses  were just areas of study for my professors, meaning we learned them because our professors had an interest in them. Basically, I paid a lot of money to learn something which had no interest or relevance to my own personal journey.

No vocation training

If the purpose of education is to get a job, and you don’t learn about jobs in elementary school or high school (not part of any curriculum), then at what point should this become a priority? At the very least, Universities should be providing relevant skills and information about possible professions in the area of study.  No?!  At least some fields have co-op, but if you don’t like your experience, where do you go from there? Change majors? To me, this is the primary failing of all universities today. Students should learn in first year studies what types of jobs they can get with this particular major and provide basic vocational skills.

Lacking in practical skills

My friend, who quit university to go to college, said that his favourite course was a communications course where he learned, among other things, basic skills like how to properly compose an email. It sounds silly, but in a world where text is king, many students are not, in fact, very good at communication in a professional manner. There are also many basic programs my friend learned that businesses used, whereas I had none of this in university. I would like to think that all first year programs should include some sort of basic tech and communication training. Bonus if they offered personal finance courses where they learned how to save, budget and pay for, say, university or possibly a house! How credit cards and interest works!


Don’t get me wrong, I don’t blame professors who are undoubtedly doing the best they can within the system, but the system is old and in need of a major makeover. In a world where knowledge is available, at all times, at one’s fingertips, universities need to focus far less on the acquisition of knowledge and more on practical skills and basic vocation training. Otherwise students are wasting vast sums of money, years lost when they could have been working and earning money.How would the world look if everyone started earning money 4-5 years earlier? People would likely have kids at a younger age, own homes at a younger age,…Something to think about at least!

Perhaps companies should recruit out of high school.

As they say, hire character, train skill.