Critical Literacy- It’s hard, but let kids talk about the news.

What is your lens?

Maureen Wilson, from Hamilton, Ontario shares her experiences at the Women’s March of Washington

We had to be ready to change our pre-planned lesson…Students wanted to talk about what was happening in the world. The following posts describes why we altered our plan and shares the alternate lesson!

Critical literacies involve people using language to exercise power, to enhance everyday life in schools and communities, and to question practices of privilege and injustice. (Comber, 2017)

Flag at Dr. Davey school is half mast to pay respect to victims at Mosque shooting

Huge events unfolded across the world over the past two weeks which prompted our teaching team to change a “pre-planned lesson” to focus on current issues of Social Activism – locally and globally.  On January 20th, Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration took place. The next day, January 21st, together, over 60 countries – men, women, and children, joined in solidarity to March for human rights – “The Women’s March on Washington” was declared the largest global protest – ever. Then, on January 28th a Mosque in Quebec, Canada was brutally attacked and many innocent people were killed. January 30th – Thousands join together to show support and to honour the victims of the Mosque shooting.


Knowledge Circle at Enrichment Centre 

It is difficult for the most well-rounded, emotionally and socially strong of people to handle the immense mix of emotions resulting from these events. Regardless of your point of view of Trump (or the platform), or if you are a woman or Muslim – we are all impacted – not just by injustice, hate and fear – but also by the joy, and relief that comes with solidarity and community actions. We are affected by the conflicting and confusing media.


Our young people are especially affected.

People in positions of respect and power have made accusations about journalists not being truthful and Journalists have made accusations of people in power not being truthful to the people. The idea of “fake news” has been spread across the inter-webs like wildfire. Twitter, Instagram and Facebook feeds are overwhelmed with political posts and emotions are high.

After watching the powerful poem by Royce Mann, we started our INQUIRY through a discussion of “Privilege and Power”. 

The following lesson is an overview of how we approached these topics as an Inquiry:

We started with the “Big Idea/Inquiry Question”:

  • How can global events impact local/community action and local/community events impact Global action?
  • What is my lens when approaching these issues?
  • How am I privileged?
  • What does it mean to be “in Solidarity?”

We shared the “Culminating task” what  will students do by end of lesson?:

  • Complete a Blog post that focuses on an idea or concept that uses the Women’s March on Washington as a prompt. Write through an optimistic lens, utilize a variety of media and provide questions for further thinking/discussion
  • Create a short podcast that focuses on one aspect of Social Justice and  Solidarity and the impact of positive activism.
  • Create a video that uses a specific lens/perspective showcasing the positive aspects of humanity, people, and social activism.

We used the Curriculum Standards as a guide:

  • Critical Literacy: Opportunities to relate knowledge and skills in language learning to wider contexts, both across the curriculum and in the world beyond the school, motivate students to learn and to become lifelong learners. (The Ontario Curriculum, Language, p. 12)
  • Students must be able to differentiate between fact and opinion; evaluate the credibility of sources; recognize bias; be attuned to discriminatory portrayals of individuals and groups, including women and minorities; and question depictions of violence and crime. (The Ontario Curriculum, Language, p.13)
  • Reading – Point of View identify the point of view presented in texts, including increasingly complex or difficult texts; give evidence of any biases they may contain; and suggest other possible perspectives (e.g., determine whether an author’s choice of voices to include seems justified and suggest how the meaning would change if different voices were chosen) (The Ontario Curriculum, Language, Grade Seven,  p.128)
  • Point of View – Demonstrate understanding that different media texts reflect different points of view
  • Making Inferences/ Interpreting Messages -Interpret increasingly complex or difficult media texts, using overt and implied messages as evidence for their interpretations

We made connection to UN Sustainable Development Goals:

  • Goal 5 – Reduced Inequalities
  • Goal 10 – Gender Equality
  • Goal 16 – Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

We made connections to ISTE Standards and 21st Century Learning:

  • Knowledge Constructor: Students critically curate a variety of resources using digital tools to construct knowledge, produce creative artifacts and make meaningful learning experiences for themselves and others.
  • Digital Citizen: Students recognize the rights, responsibilities and opportunities of living, learning and working in an interconnected digital world, and they act and model in ways that are safe, legal and ethical.
  • Creative Communicator: Students communicate clearly and express themselves creatively for a variety of purposes using the platforms, tools, styles, formats and digital media appropriate to their goals.  

We invited community members to join our class and share their experiences:

Mary-Louise Pigott shares her experience attending the March on Washington

For the lesson…. Read on!!  

Grade Six Program coming up!! Interconnections and Journalism

We’ve had to change the format of our upcoming Session Three for Grade Six Gifted Students over the next two weeks. Due to logistical challenges, this will be a one-day session rather than a two-day session.

This session will be at the new Enrichment & Innovation Centre at Dr. Davey School and will be scheduled as follows: 6C Monday Feb 6; 6B Tuesday February 07 <–change of date, from Feb 14)6D Wednesday Feb 8 ; 6E Thursday Feb 09; 6F Friday February 10; 6A Monday February 13; .

Please visit the Calendar at: for future dates.

In order to dive into the Big Idea – Is Interconnectedness essential for our survival? –  We will be looking at the Inquiry topic- Is biodiversity, interconnectedness, and environment?

*How does the interconnectedness of anything change its course or direction in life?

*Does using our VOICE or hearing someone else’s VOICE connect us more deeply?

Session Three will advance our Journalism Program where students will use podcasting software. Podcasting is nothing new as journalists have been using this MEDIUM for many years. The radio is a form of podcasting.  Please BRING EARPHONES and/or a MIC if you have one.

Snack/Nutrition: Salad Bar

We always appreciate  (when possible), community involvement in our program. It is what makes it work so well. Thank you for your help.

  • For Lunch, we will be preparing a Salad Bar.  This is an opportunity to engage students in conversations around Indigenous values and the relationship between humans, community, and nature. Through food we will continue to explore how we balance what we take and give to the Earth in our daily living. The salad is meant to supplement lunch, please also your own snack/lunch!

Why daVinci Kids?

It’s a new year and that means a new batch of students have arrived at the Enrichment Centre to start their 4 year enrichment program. Each of these students went through testing by the HWDSB and has been identified using very specific criteria as being a gifted learner.


The intent of the program is to supplement the learning that is already occurring in their home schools, enhance student awareness of themselves and their abilities, to provide opportunities to work with like minded individuals and to collectively push the boundaries on learning, creativity and possibilities.Hence, the use of Leonardo daVinci as the figurehead on which to base our Grade 5 programming.


DaVinci was born April 15th, 1452 and during the course of his lifetime accomplished many things. As we gathered as a large group with our grade 5 students, during only their second session at the Centre, students rambled off an extensive list of the things daVinci was including: mathematician, artist, writer, scientist, botanist, inventor and city planner. It is daVinci’s extensive list of skill sets that allows us to dive into a variety of topics during our daVinci Kids year.  Our goal is to expose the students to a wide variety of topics, ideas and skills and to have them start to ponder where their own skills and talents lie.


During session 2, we started to look at who daVinci was. We discussed as a group the concept of perfectionism and how it can sometimes aid us in creating great work and on other occasions cause us to not complete a task or not see the value in the work that we create. Did you know that daVinci never considered the Mona Lisa painting complete? There is so much mystery and debate surrounding this painting! It is a painting that daVinci never gave to the person who originally commissioned it.


Students were also introduced to the fact that daVinci kept a journal.There are many reasons for keeping a journal. It can stretch your IQ, evoke mindfulness, aid you in reaching your goals or assist in growing your emotional intelligence. In addition to these personal reasons, society can benefit from reading your thoughts. Centuries after daVinci had written in his journal, Mark Rosheim was able to use daVinci’s journal to build a version of daVinci’s Robotic Knight. Technology described in daVinci’s journal was then used by NASA in planetary exploration. WOW! Centuries later we are still learning from daVinci! During this session grade 5 students were encouraged to get and start a journal of their own. Entries can be whatever length they want them to be and about whatever they want them to be about.We may not have the technology now to make your ideas a reality, but in the future – who knows?


In the afternoon, we dove into daVinci as an artist as an opportunity to bring the students together. This was only their second time as a team and team building still needed to be developed. Students were given a section of the Mona Lisa and were asked to use pastels and pencil crayons to colour match to the section they had been given. Each student was asked later in the day to place their piece on the grid as we built our Mona Lisa’s. These paintings will hang in the Centre as a reminder of what we can create when we work together and that we all bring different skill set, abilities and talents to the group.



In addition to looking at daVinci as an Artist, we also looked at daVinci as a Mathematician. Students and teachers discussed, explored and played with the Fibonacci Number Sequence. The Fibonacci Number Sequence exists so many places in nature! The ratio between any two successive numbers in the Fibonacci sequence is very close to the number 1.618, also known as the Golden Ratio. This ratio was said to be used by daVinci in the painting of both the Mona Lisa and The last Supper.


This session only touched on a little of the knowledge and skills that can be explored through the lens of Leonardo daVinci. During the remainder of their first year at the Enrichment Centre, students will have the opportunity to further explore daVinci as a Mathematician, an Artist, a Writer, a City Planner and an Inventor.

All of us here at the Enrichment Centre look forward to continuing to learn and grow with our new group of daVinci kids over the next four years!

“The Third Teacher” – From Classroom to Cafe – a Learning Space for all

Bauhaus book & coffee shop in Seattle, a gathering of solitudes from:

In every city or community around the world, the cafe/coffee shop is 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 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 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 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,

(Papert, S. & Harel, I. (1991). Constructionism.html


The constructionist teacher takes on a mediational role rather than adopting an instructional role. Teaching “at” students is replaced by assisting them to understand—and help one another to understand—problems in a hands-on way. 



The HWDSB Gifted Program partnered with a team of Undergraduate Students from McMaster University in a Design Thinking Project with the goal to create 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.

This area will provide a wonderful opportunity for students, teachers, mentors and leaders to gather, talk, celebration and build innovative and creative ideas.

The “Bar” area replaces the teachers 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

Parents are a vital component to the Reggio Emilia philosophy. Parents are viewed as partners, collaborators and advocates for their children. Teachers respect parents as each child’s first teacher and involve parents in every aspect of the curriculum.

Our doors are open and community (Teachers, Parents, leaders) are welcome to join us, have a tea and use our space.

 Where there was once just a window sill, we added another bar top and stools. The natural light and city scape provides an amazing escape – a place to immerse into ART, listen to music, write poetry or simple sit and “people watch”.

Music is spread across the room. A piano, keyboard, computers for composing and of course guitars for “jamming”. Anyone can play or create ANYTIME.

We got rid of student desks. Natural collaboration spaces were created to emulate a living room. A safe place where family gathers. A place where people can be in a collective but be in their own zone – reading, drawing, knitting, planning, designing or wondering. There are enough PLUGS/OUTLETS for 20 computers in this area.

An area was created to “do”.  Students can use the Interactive Whiteboard to showcase their designs, collaborate on ideas, or mentor one another, whether it be about Coding the Robotics, Programming Arduino sets or building in Minecraft.
There is flexible seating that can be moved or changed depending on the needs of the individual. This area is for small groups to code/program and engage in DESIGN challenges. A great spot to engage in ROBOTICS!

We hope that our experiences in this learning space can serve as examples and models to others wishing to move in this direction. We believe that students can be self-directed when provided with the right learning conditions, including an environment that is natural, organic and is designed in a way that builds relationships and community.

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.


Grade Seven Debate Day Coming up!!

Dear Parents, Students and Teachers,

We’ve had to change the format of our upcoming Session Four for Grade Seven Students over the next two weeks. Due to logistical challenges, this will be a one-day session rather than a two-day session as originally planned. This session will be at the new Enrichment & Innovation Centre at Dr. Davey School and will be scheduled as follows: 7C January 23; 7D January 24; 7E January 25; 7F January 26; 7A January 30; 7B January 31

Please visit the Calendar at: for future dates.

Session Four will advance our Global/Local Activism work with them. Students will research the opposing views on the matter of the LRT for Hamilton and debate the issue using formal conventions. The big ideas for our inquiry are: How do we balance what we take from the earth with what we return to the earth through our daily living? How are cities changing in the 21st Century?  

How can you prepare at home or at school?

We suggest that you spend around 20 minutes browsing the internet and/or newspapers, talk with family and friends about their opinions and rationale. The following are suggested prompts for conversations that may occur at home or at the home school prior to the this session:

  • What are the stated benefits of an LRT in Hamilton?
  • Who are proponents and opponents of the project (where do they live, where do they work, will they ride the LRT)?
  • How are the benefits and drawbacks measured (what units of measure are used)?
  • What alternatives to the LRT have been proposed?

Help us gather sources by contributing links to this document

Community Kitchen – Consider bringing a favourite decaffeinated tea for our Kitchen

For Lunch,  we will be preparing, Three Sisters Chili ( ). We will be using the chili to engage students in conversations around Indigenous values and the relationship between humans, community, and nature. Through food we will continue to explore how we balance what we take and give to the Earth in our daily living. The chili is meant to supplement lunch, please also bring a snack!

    • Please contribute by bringing cut up sweet potatoes, garlic, peppers, onions, or a can of beans, tomatoes, corn, chickpeas or lentils.



Contact Zoe (,  Kristy or Gerry  at the Centre if you have any questions and of course, please feel free to send an email if you would like to discuss this topic, have useful resources, or have any further or have questions.

Grade 8 Robotics Design Challenge Day

The Gifted Enrichment program took our grade 8s to Orchard Park Secondary School for four days of robotics design challenges in early December. Orchard Park’s astoundingly successful competitive First Robotics Team 2056 is lead by Prime Minister’s Award winning teacher Stan Hunter.


Stan assembled a crew of Team 2056 volunteers to demonstrate their most recent robot which they built for the 2016 competition, and which won second place in a world-wide competition. In this design challenge, Team 2056’s robot had to drive over obstacles, pick up balls, shoot them into a target, and then scale a wall. Some of this was accomplished with a human operator, and some of it was automated by the robot itself. Our grade 8s were suitably impressed with the complexity of the 2056 machine.

For their challenge, the grade 8 students were grouped into small teams and given a Vex robot kit and a laptop computer loaded with Modkit. Vex is a modular system for building small robots that can move about on their own and make decisions based on sensor inputs. Modkit is the interface used to create the code or program that the brain of the robot uses check various sensors and activate a range of drive controls.


Our students chose one of three challenges for their design, all of which involved the construction and coding for a robot using at least two sensors inputs. There were Orchard Park students from grades 9 to 12 present to work with each group. On some days, we also had Orchard Park Team 2056 alumni who were now students at University of Waterloo’s Computer Science program. Mentorship between students was a high yield strategy at this maker space.

While not all of the student-built robots were able to complete the challenge, all of the students had a rich experience writing code that had to interact with inputs and outputs from the robot’s brain. Design thinking, critical thinking, collaboration, and creativity were central to the experience of each student. Almost all of our grade 8 students indicated that they had never written code at the beginning of each day. By the end of every robotics day, all students had gained experience and confidence in a 21st Century technology through 21st Century teaching and learning.