Monday, August 31, 2015

Transparency and Trust

This year I am beginning the school year in a different role; I will be away from direct classroom instruction, and working with colleagues around the Board as a Digital Literacy Support Teacher. That means I get to help teachers as they think about ways to incorporate technology into their practice, making positive changes that keep kids engaged and excited to learn.

I'm already feeling the change- no classroom set up; no class lists, duty schedules, etc. I do miss the first few days in late August when many of us roll back into the school and re-connect after the summer. The energy is motivating, and I'm often excited to get back to it with my colleagues. I'm now just thinking about last fall, and the single best thing I did as a teacher to set myself up for support from the parents.

I invited my class parents to all come at a specific time on Meet the Teacher night, for a 15 minute demo of the major technology tools I would be using in class with their kids. The "techno-slam" gave parents a chance to see Twitter, Google Apps, and Weebly in action, and to hear why I was using them.  We even had personal movies ready for our parents (see link to Mark Carbone's blog post) telling them how excited we were to be in Grade Four.

In addition to our Board's standard Media Release form, I also created my own specific form to allow students to be seen and heard on social media. I felt this was critical in order to make monthly news videos, rather than send home a monthly news letter.

At the end of my fifteen minute blurb, every family present had signed the permission form; a clear message to me that they were on board with my program!  Thanks to Mark Carbone, the evening was documented in video, so I could share it with others. Parents commented throughout the year that their students we so excited to be using tech tools; some commented that this was the most motivated their children had been so far as students. The products I received from kids, as well as the sharing we did through social media, made for experiences that would not have been possible without embracing the positive powers of technology as learners. Looking back on how much we created, learned, and shared, I can say The Slam was the smartest move I made to guarantee support and success.

Monday, February 16, 2015

I know what my word is...

In response to a question posed by Mark Carbone, I have figured out what my word for 2015 is. I like the idea of choosing one word to focus on; something that makes me ask why I do what I do in my classroom, and professional practice.

Push. That's my word. This could be interpreted several ways; I don't mean the evil shove of a cold, steel hook as you stumble bound and gagged, heart thundering, terror-struck down a gangplank to circling sharks.

The push I want to consider is the insistent little voice that reminds me to just go ahead and try it. It's the nudge to go ahead and submit proposals to present at conferences; to overhaul units so kids create the content; to attempt a re-working of my current work flow to work smarter.

I want to pay closer attention to when I should push. When I find myself thinking "I've always done it like this" or "It worked fine last year..." that's the precise moment to consider a push in a new direction.

What stops me sometimes? Fear of failing in front of the students; looking incompetent in front of colleagues and peers, although I feel it less and less, the more I feel convinced that my new push is a good idea. Mark's word is 'model'. I can certainly model for students and colleagues that I'm trying something new; it may or may not work, but at least I tried something new.  Sometimes the push is hard, when previous leaps got me nowhere, or weren't widely accepted as successful. It just takes that one real fire-cracker of an idea, with positive impact on everyone involved, that excites me to keep trying. It's like getting that one sincere, heartfelt note from a parent telling expressing great appreciation for what I do- regardless of what happens that day, I'm in a confident, happy place, and can handle just about anything.

One day I won't need the affirmation from outside sources.  I will share my explorations regardless of outcome; I know I learn tremendously from colleagues and peers through their shared experiences; it's only right to share in return. My own gut instinct tells me if my push is a good idea or not. What matters to me is that I just keep gently pushing.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Reflections on AB2 Museum Day project

It has been two months since our Museum Day; this was our day to showcase our learning, with physical models we had built, along with incorporated QR Code guided tours. Tonight I look back and reflect on how this project changed my teaching.

I was excited to give others students the opportunity to take a mentoring role. Andrew's (Mr. Bieronski) Grade Ten students became mentors to my Grade Four students in the planning and execution of each phase of our 6 week project.  I was impressed by their meticulous planning processes, and considerable thought given to each stage of the project, from design to build.  Upon meeting these young adults in person, I realized just how much more they got from this than just offering a set of printed, guided instructions. In our whole group discussion, one student shared how great she felt after having helped someone else. As a teacher, knowing that I helped someone realize the sheer joy and power of doing good is highest degree of success.

Life is not about getting good grades, landing the cushy job, and making scores of cash. The true joy in life lies in intrinsic rewards. If I can allow 16 year old kids to realize the power of philanthropy (whether guided by school or not), I have touched on a powerful nerve. If they can use a simple tech tool to touch base with their 9 year old partners, offering encouragement and constructive criticism that result firstly in a positive step forward, and secondly in the deeply satisfying feeling of having done good, I have done what I set out to do.

Museum Day proved to be the highlight of our year. Even though my students worked for 6 weeks on the constructing, designing, and preparing for their exhibit, they showed no exhaustion or indifference to The Big Day. Without the use of iPads, the internet, or Google tools, this project would have undoubtedly taken twice as long, with far more frustration, both from students and teacher.

I am grateful that I could use Google Hangouts to confer with Mr. Bieronski, and his students immediately, and frequently to make sure we were all on the right track. I am also grateful to Ian Tao, who introduced me to his app Sesame Snap, that allowed the students to collect their own assessment data in a personal digital portfolio, that I could also share and use in my evaluations.

This project introduced me to several new ideas and people who propelled my learning along the way. I explored new Google tools like Hangouts, Drive, and Google Apps for Education to keep myself on the forefront of assessment and feedback, without needing to work harder. Ian Tao's Sesame and Sesame Snap allowed my students and me to immediately collect, reflect upon, and evaluate our data as we built the project.

Watching kids bustle through the door twenty minutes before the bell in order to get a head start on building for the day told me that I had something special going on in my room.  Engaged in their task, my students forgot that they were still learning and growing. Education needs to be more of this, and less of monotonous, irrelevant tasks that do not relate to their lives. As a teacher, one may need to throw out last year's plans and jump off the cliff into something new, exciting, and motivating. You may fail; you may be gloriously successful. The point is, you tried to stay relevant and inspiring.

I feel like I made a major step forward in my teaching. I undertook the planning and new learning that was required to facilitate the Museum Project for my students. It wasn't perfect by any means, but it lit the fire of motivation in me; motivation to be better, to stay current, and to inspire children to love their learning. I will take those tenets with me as I strive to grow and stay relevant to newer generations of kids as they cross my threshold on their journey through education.  This project has given me an inspirational, rewarding start on this trip.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Reflections from Week 2

This week our museum project has made great gains. We managed to resurrect the Roman Coliseum, investigate the Great Pyramids, and reconstruct a Mosque. Students have been resourceful and cooperative when it comes to sharing their materials. I was very pleased to see students share hot glue sticks, paint, nails, and even Play-Doh to help eachother progress with their respective exhibits.

On the technology front, we learned how to add photos and video directly into our Google Drives on the iPads. We struggled at first trying to execute moves we can do on desktop computers, and found that we had to become more creative with our creations on the iPad version.

We made folders that we shared, and dropped our photos and videos into these folders. Thanks to a quick conversation on Twitter with Mr. Bieronski, we were able to share with as many of our coaches as the program would allow. (We're still working out obstacles with differences between the desktop and mobile versions.

I can tell we're on the right track, because when I explain what our class is doing to other teachers, or even non-educators, the reaction is usually one of surprise and riveted curiosity.  So far no one has expressed doubt or scepticism with our plan.

I hope that next week the students will have a chance to "meet" with their coaches on line to share their progress. We also need to start writing and recording the interactive portion of our exhibit. If we keep going on the same trajectory, I feel we'll be in a good place very soon.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Harnessing the Power of Collaboration (AB Squared, part 1)

This past week began the meticulous, definite planning of a cross-divisional project. My partner in collaboration, Mr. Andrew Bieronski and I have laid the foundational stones for a physical, virtual, digital playground. He and I coincidentally engaged in a lunchtime conversation during the RCAC Conference in London, ON. this past December.

I wanted to create another great digital project; the last one, Canada Connection, was a tremendous success. Five different classrooms and grades combined the study of Canada into a bi-monthly online meeting, where we shared our learning about a region of Canada, focussing on the curriculum expectations of our respective grades. The result was several interactive presentations, dances, stop-motion films, slideshows, Prezis, all rooted in our discovery and learning about Canada's history, geography, and culture.

 This one is different. Grade Ten students will mentor Grade Four, as they endeavour to create museum exhibits, related to the study of Ancient Times. The idea simmered, bubbled, and became convincingly possible during that fateful lunch hour discussion; thanks goes to David Dowhaniuk, who pushed and provoked with thoughtful questions.

 So, after much discussion, theorizing, fantasizing, and planning, the project is a go. I often see the finished product in my head; students proudly standing beside their exhibits, engaged in discussions about how it all came about, and how these civilizations impacted our modern world. Much must be accomplished before that vision becomes a reality.

I must trust our plan, my vision, and my belief that this is the right group of students to undertake this task. I promised myself that I would blog about the process as a model, because the students will be required to blog about their experience as well. I am eager, excited, and confident that this will be a learning experience that is rich and lasting. I hope this to be "the one they remember", (for all the right reasons). Let us hope that my instinct is right.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Thoughts from #ecoo13

Reflections on ECOO 2013 And now to decompress.... My brain is chock full of teaching ideas, tips, tools, resources, could-dos, should-dos, all of which I want to spend more time thinking about. Thank goodness for note-taking apps (or even the humble pen) that have allowed me to try and remember every shred of infoI collected in 48 hours. I will go home, pull out my trusty tablet, and stare T these notes thinking, "yeah, I should totally do that...I should start Monday". Who's kidding who though, it's much more involved than that; here are the points in common that I'm taking away with me: . Learn it yourself first. Playplayplayplay. You can't break anything! Become more comfortable with a tool before foisting upon your children win aspirations of learning greatness. Armies need a general, not the Walmart Greeter. . Give myself permission to fumble and drop the ball. Kids will think no less of me if I totally mess up a presentation, or accidentally erase files or links. They'll laugh along with me if I start laughing first. It's all good- I'm new at this stuff too! (More like, "here, _____, find out what this app does, and come tell Mme all about it!") . Fuel the passion. My professional goal for this year is to assess without paper. I've tinkered with Evernote, skitch, Edmodo! Google docs, livescribe, all with the end goal of finding a new workflow that works for me. Note: this should make you uneasy at times. This is the shift hitting the fan. Worm around, scratch your head, and say "what next?" Instead of "what now?" If you're slipping back to an old way of doing things, perhaps this wasn't the passion you were really trying to foster and grow. No problem, just keep trying to evolve and improve in ways that make you excited, and that make you look objectively at your practice and say "yes! This is awesome!" I'm likely going into my classroom this weekend to see what went down in my absence, and to try jumping back into the fray. I will find myself thinking about total pedagogical upheaval, about ditching everything I currently do, this is the nature of ECOO and like conferences for me; I wouldn't change that. I need to love myself with the skills I bring to the table today. I need to allow myself time and learning curves like water slides to get better at the role I play in this journey called Education. It doesn't matter if I'm not a guru tomorrow; what matters is my students leave me feeling empowered, excited, and good about continuing down their learning paths more equipped than in September. Thanks to conferences like ECOO, I'm going to feel that way too.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Reflections on starting a PLP

Yesterday I joined the world of PLP, or Powerful Learning Practice. I will be working with a group of 5 other WRDSB educators, as well as colleagues and mentors from around North America and the world. After having had a day to let it all percolate, I'm thinking about how I'm going to incorporate this year-long learning experience into my already quite busy life. Sheryl Nussbaum-Beech and Will Richardson both gave us advice to take this slowly and carefully, so as not become completely overwhelmed and discouraged by its enormity. Like tour guides at the trailhead, they warned us to take the flat, scenic path first, rather than madly sprinting off by ourselves to the jagged cliff edge. From what percolated, I think PLP is about constantly keeping an eye on your own practice in education, just to make sure that you're up to date, lessons are relevant to learners, and that you're preparing young people to be fully functional, capable, happy members of society. In our specific context, it means embracing and blending in the wonders of technology that are everywhere, so that kids a) know how to use technology for good not evil; b) are taking evolutionary steps along with society, building growth, change, and adaptation into their lifestyles. I like how Sheryl described the PLP journey. She described the internet as a river. Constantly flowing, approachable and inviting. Sometimes we want to dip our feet to relax and cool off; other times we dive in head first and swim for a while. Still, there are other days (particularly in Canada) when we're not really into swimming or getting wet; the river is still there- quietly going about its business, and there to welcome us back when we're ready to go there. Before she made that analogy, I had a visual in my head of how I felt about this journey. I picture a great scene from "Finding Nemo" where Crush the sea turtle is grooving along in the EAC (East Australian Current) along with hundreds of other fish, and has Dory and Marlin in his care. When the current blasts ahead, he screams "Righteous! Righteous!" loving every minute of it. (incidentally his turtle kids happily go with the flow, just trusting that everything is going where it should). When Dory and Marlin jump from the stream at Sydney, they look around, a bit unsure of what to do next, but not panicking that they may have made some kind of mistake. I think that's the key- wherever PLP may take you, it's not a right or wrong destination. The trip there changes who you are, and now you need to absorb that little piece of the journey into your being, and carry on to the next stop, trusting that this is all going to be a good move in the end. I have yet to attend the first webinar- I'm still learning to navigate the ning. So right now I'm on the banks of the River PLP content to watch it flow by me, doing its thing. I know that soon my feet will be in it and I'll be talking to the little fish that go by. Don't tell me if the river sneaks around a bend and opens into some furious rapids; I want to find that out for myself when the time comes.