Monday, December 31, 2012

My Year in Review - My Professional Top Three

After reading a top three blog post written by the inspiring Superintendent Chris Kennedy (West Vancouver) and the innovative and super supportive Director of Instruction Elisa Carlson (Surrey) , I figured as a grade one teacher in Surrey I should give it a try too. Obviously as a teacher my top threes will be different than theirs.

In no particular order ...

*Top Five Twitter Peeps I Met Face to Face in 2012

  1. The Saskatchewan Crew - Kathy Cassidy, Alec and George Couros, Dean Shareski, and Shelley Wright
  2. The #Kinderchat Crew - Michelle, Stacey, Marya, Amy, Heidi, Mardelle, Jon, and Matt in Las Vegas, and Joy in NYC
  3. The UnPlug'd12 Crew - 40 incredible people doing fantastic things for education in Canada, the USA, and Australia and my virtual twin Angie Harrison who attended the tweet up before we left to the Northern Edge.
  4. The Out of Town Visitors - BC Sarah Soltau-Heller, Manitoba Julie Evans  and Aussies - Jackie Nelson and Amanda Marrinan
  5. The Children's Poverty Advocate/Book Loving Extrodinare Carrie Gelson (and her lovely family) 
*Yah, I never said I had to follow their rules :-)

Top Four True Professional Honours in 2012

  1. Being asked to write for the International Reading Association four times including  here and here.
  2. Being asked to present for Classroom 2.0 Live  
  3. Being interviewed by EdReach and Kidblog
  4. Being featured on the Innovative Learning Designs blog.

Top Three Professional Wows of 2012
  1. Being asked to write a book.
  2. Watching one particular blog post spin out of control (or at least in my little world)
  3. Being chosen for my school district's  Making Thinking Visible inquiry project. 

Top Four Professional Development Opportunities of 2012 (outside of Twitter)  
  1. EdCamp Delta (January 2012)
  2. Learning with Alec Couros (April 2012)
  3. KinderEdCamp (July 2012)
  4. UnPlug'd 12 (Aug 2012)
Top Three Professional Changes I've Made in My Classroom
  1. Giving up control and allowing my students choice with their reading, writing, word work, and math. There is still far more to come in this area in 2013.
  2. Letting my students practice, show, and share their learning in ways that work best for them.
  3. Taking full advantage of my school's new open wireless internet, particularly by inviting the world into my classroom through Skype, Google Hangout, and Face Time.

Top Three Professional Disappointments of 2012
  1. Not being able to attend ISTE 2012 (but LOVE that I still got some goodies from the conference)
  2. Not meeting Aviva Dunsiger while I was in her home province. She had a date with the flu instead.
  3. Feeling undervalued and disrespected by my provincial government during teacher contract negotiations.  
Top Three Books Read in 2012 that Influenced My Thinking
  1. Drive by Daniel H. Pink
  2. Mind Set by Carol Dweck
  3. Start with Why by Simon Sinek
Top Three Books Read in 2012 that Influenced my Teaching
  1. Number Sense Routines by Jessica Shumway
  2. One to One by Lucy Calkins
  3. Opening Minds by Peter Johnston
Top Three Twitter Hashtags I Checked Faithfully in 2012
  1. #sd36learn
  2. #1stchat
  3. #kinderchat

Top Three Groups of People I Hope to Meet Face to Face in 2013
  1. The Entire #1stchat Gang - I am totally blown away by the knowledge that is shared with me from this wonderful group of educators. Chicago anyone? (And yes Kristin I want in to your class and school while I'm there).
  2. Mrs. Cassidy's Class - yes, last year I went to Vietnam and Korea and this year I am hoping to get to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan
  3. Mrs. Wideen's Class - I've already met their principal I might as well meet them and their rockstar teacher too.
Random Top Threes of 2012
  1. Singing Bonaccord Elementary's version of Carly Rae Jepson's song Call Me Maybe in front of our entire student body populations (Don't worry I wasn't alone, there were about 10 of us).
  2. Presenting for a variety of schools and teachers, sharing my love of meaningful integration of technology.
  3. Working with my student teacher Chelsey Will - there are a lot of  students in Surrey that will be lucky enough to have Chelsey teach them.
I could go on and on but I'm pretty sure no one wants to read any more. Plus I lost my original far more witty version of this post in a blogger mishap.  What I do want to say is a big thank you for all the people that have been so supportive of me this past year.  I was definitely not lacking in love and support from my virtual friends (or my non virtual friends for that matter). I am also really glad to have gotten to know so many of the incredible educators in my school district.  If I started to list them all I'm worried I'd forget someone and I certainly don't want to do that. I'm hoping you know who you are.

Looking forward to more adventures in 2013.  As I found out very clearly in 2012 you just never know what's around the corner.

Wishing everyone a happy and healthy 2013.  Happy New Year!


Saturday, December 29, 2012

Has My Class Over Connected?

This is a follow up to my previous post The Power of Using Skype, FaceTime, or Google Hangout in an Early Primary Classroom.  If you haven't read that post yet, I'd suggest you read it first before continuing with this post.

Prior to writing that post I was asked if it was possible to have too many connections.

When I wrote the original blog post I talked about the different ways that we are connecting.  I talked about how we connect over a specific topic, or as a culminating activity after working on a collaborative project or over a specific period of time meeting regularly to discuss a specific topic.  I wrote about how sometimes my class connects with a specific class, over a variety of topics, regularly.   I went on to say that each type of connection has a purpose, and they are all meaningful in their own ways.

 If you asked me which connections are most authentic in terms of building relationships between my students and those students on the other side of our computer screen there is only one type of connecting that achieves that goal.  The connections we have with the same class, over a multiple number of times and a variety of topics is where we have true connections.  Those are the class blogs my students want to check out.  Those are the  student blogs my students want to read.  My class talks about them in other discussions. They ask about their teachers, and some times they even blog about and to their teachers.  Those are the students we feel we know. I believe you can only have a limited number of those types of connections.

It's a lot like my relationships on twitter.  I follow a lot of people.  I follow most people (not necessarily organizations) that follow me. As a side I apologize if you're following me and I'm not following you yet. I have fallen behind there.  But while I follow, or connect with a lot of different people my level of connectedness is different with each person. There are most definitely people I tweet with far more frequently. People I feel I know a lot better. But it is not to say that I have not learned from others.  All connections are of value to me for a variety of different reasons.

So back to having my class connected or over connected.  Like with Twitter,  I'm not willing to give up on the less "intense" connecting we are doing via Skype, Google Hang Out, or Face Time either. When my students blog (and it is something they chose to do, NOT something I tell them to do) they are writing for an authentic audience that goes beyond the eyes in our classroom. Like with blogging, I feel that when we connect through Skype, Google Hang Out, or Face Time they are also connecting with an authentic audience. They are improving their listening and speaking skills with an authentic audience that goes beyond our immediate classroom.  There is a lot of power in that.

Now please understand that I am NOT in any contest to have my class connecting with as many classes as we can this school year.  That is not, has not, and will NEVER be my goal.  My goal is to bring authentic learning opportunities to my students.  I can't stress enough about how much I have changed as a teacher because of the authentic learning experiences I've had with the people I interact with on Twitter.  And so when I chat with a teacher who either wants to learn from us (my class taught two classes about Hanukkah) or wants to learn with us (here's an example) and I can make it work with my learning objectives for my students, I find a way to make it work.

I'm hoping to take all this connecting even further through the #kinderchat Play Project.  If I can make this work, I am hoping that soon my students will be using Skype, Face Time or Google Hang Out individually or in small groups with out the entire class being part of the conversation.  They will be connecting with other students in other classes and they will share with them, with out me orchestrating the connection.  Of course there is some adult organizing being done, but once the structure is in place the kids will be in control.  I'm excited about this too, and hope we can make it work successfully in my room. The more authenticity in what we do the better.

So if you're someone that feels that if connections aren't deep and meaningful they aren't worth having, I challenge you to think about it in another way.  Shouldn't we be providing our students with as many authentic learning opportunities we can? Isn't using Skype or Google Hang Out or FaceTime another way we can do this?  I'm curious about your views.

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Power of Using Skype, FaceTime, or Google Hangout in an Early Primary Classroom

Between late September and December my class and I have been connecting quite frequently through FaceTime, Google Hang Out, and Skype.  Each connection has been unique.  Sometimes we connect over a specific topic such as we did here, here, and here.  Other times we've connected as a culminating activity after working on a project together such as here.  Sometimes it's been over a time frame meeting weekly like we did here and here.  Yet sometimes it's with the same class, over a variety of topics, but regularly enough that the students in my class know a lot more about these students.  Each type of connection has a purpose, and they are all meaningful in their own ways.

This frequent connecting is a very conscious change I've made in my teaching practice.  It's new to me, my students, and their parents. Sometimes I wonder if I'm setting us up to connect too frequently, but at the end of every interaction we are all rejuvenated and excited about learning.  Yes, occasionally our calls go on longer than they should (we can get real squirrelly when that happens), and sometimes they take longer to get started because of technology issues.  But each and every time we connect outside of our classroom we learn something from those on the other side of our computer screen. We learn something that we couldn't learn with out them.

My students love it when we find that other classes are doing similar things as us.  Our very first call of the year was with Mrs. Cassidy's class. My class was surprised to learn that they were learning about patterns in math just like we were. Our call with our Global Read Aloud friends in New York surprised us too.  Their lives in many ways were so different than ours - they come to school by taxi or subway, their playground is on the roof of their school, and they have eleven floors in their school.  Yet they were just like us in so many ways too.  When we Skyped with Northern BC we were shocked to find out that they had snow, and they had a different time than us.  There is a story for each and every call that we've made.

Time is certainly something that comes up over and over again. My class is  always curious to know what time it is where the children on the other side of the computer are. One student actually asked me why we are always behind everyone else.  While our friends are preparing to go home for the day, my class is just in from recess, or getting ready for lunch. When the call is first thing in the morning the class we are chatting with is usually getting ready for lunch.  It's confusing for my students, but it's a teaching opportunity too. So far the only classes we've connected with that are in our time zone are those in our own school district - Mrs. Leech and Mrs. Sarchet's classes. My class loves that they live where we do. We also know them a lot better  because we took the time to go to their school and meet them in person.

The thing I like best about inviting all these people into our classroom is that it really creates a sense of wonder in my students. No matter what the specific purpose of our call is we always end them with our "wonder" questions specific to that class.  The more we've connected the better we are getting at coming up with wonder questions. I really like that.

From what I can tell the two biggest reasons for not connecting is lack of time or lack of technology.  Lack of time can be an issue when your sole focus is on covering specific prescribed learning outcomes in only one way.  I have read my curriculum over and over again, and we cover a lot of prescribed learning outcomes with our calls.  In terms of  the Speaking and Listening Language Arts requirements alone  we cover every single one. Here are just a few of those we are covering.

- interacts with others for the purposes of exchanging ideas on a topic
- asks questions for clarification and understanding to demonstrate comprehension
- takes turns as speak and listener when interacting with others
- organizes thinking by following a simple framework when presenting ideas and information

There are many more on the list and we cover all of those too.  In addition when our calls are on a specific content area subject  we cover those too. So when people tell me they don't have the time to connect outside of their classroom I am puzzled.  We have so many things to cover in our day that it surprises me that more people aren't connecting.  It's such a powerful, and motivating way to learn.  I can assure you that my students are learning things that I am required to teach them during these calls. And they are learning a lot more than that too.

Technology, or lack of it can be a real issue for some.  I know it was an issue for me before my school became an open wireless school in May.  It isn't so much that we are open wireless but more that Skype was actually blocked on our old network.  At the time I didn't have a smart phone either so using my personal phone wouldn't have worked . But if you have internet access that allows you to connect with Skype, Google Hang Out, or Face Time then you really don't have much of an excuse.

To make this all happen we have a computer, camera,  a projection device (or Apple TV), and a big screen.  If all we had was a computer (our computer happens to have the camera built it) and an internet connection that allowed connection with one of those communication tools we could and would still connect outside of our classroom.  So again, unless you're missing one of those key components connecting can be possible for you too.

Now I alluded to it earlier, things don't always go as planned. Lately we've been having issues with sound. Sometimes they don't hear us but we hear them perfectly fine, and other times it's the complete opposite.  My students have learned just as much when things don't go as planned as when thing go exactly as planned  They have learned how to be flexible and how to adjust when things don't go well.  That's a really important skill to take with you throughout your  life.   I also know they watch to see how I'm reacting to the problems.  As a teacher I am always on stage when I'm in front of my students so it's even more important that I keep my cool during these mishaps.   I can assure you I am doing my best to model good practice.  Hopefully they are learning perseverance, and/or adaptability from me.

Learning with others through Skype, FaceTime, or Google Hang Out is a very powerful way to learn.  Are you learning this way with your class? I'd love to hear your story too.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Dealing with Tragedy

The events of yesterdays shootings in Newtown, Connecticut are still buried deep inside my heart.  While I am not a parent, I am a teacher, and the students in my grade one class mean everything to me. They are my  family and the thought of having such terror roar through their lives leaves me with utter sadness.  I'm not even sure this blog post will help, but it is a way for me to try to deal with what I'm feeling.

First off, I admire and honour the adults who did everything in their power to protect the innocent children.  I often wonder if the general public really understands what we do as teachers.  I get so tired of reading the negative press about my profession, when I know I work extremely hard to love, care, honour, and foster curiousity within my students.   In such a tragedy as this one I truly believe that I would have done anything to protect the lives of my special students too.  I've thought about where I'd hide them, how I would keep them safe, and what I would sacrifice for them. Those teachers that lost their lives while protecting their students are heros in every sense of the word.  The world can never have too many heroes.

Secondly my heart hurts for the families, and the community as a whole.  I know how I feel when one of my students gets hurt - it hurts me too.  I feel their pain and I am only their teacher.  So knowing that there is just so much pain in Newtown right now my heart aches and I can only hope that the out pouring of love and support is bringing some kind of comfort to such a tragic event.  Their lives have been changed for ever, and the reality is mine has too.  While I'm all for change, I'm having a real hard time dealing with this type of change. I just seem so unjust. I know there is a lesson in all this for me to learn, I just wish it didn't have to hurt so much to learn it.

Thirdly the shooting makes me look a little more closly at the relationships that I have had in my classroom with my students over my 21 years of teaching. Over those years there  have been very few that I have not been able to connect with.  Each child has been unique and special, and they have all come into my world for a specific purpose.  Whether it was to teach me to be more patient, or to push me little harder, or to just stop and listen more, they have all had a purpose in my life.

I think one of the things that bothers me most about this situation is that the shooter could have been one of my students in the past.  Did I fail him? Do I fail some of my own students? I most certainly hope not, but my reality is, I most likely have at some point in my career. That reality scares me. It has me thinking about what more I could do for my students, particularly those that are harder to connect with.

Right now I do bring up every student I am concerned about to my school based team. I realize that the reality is there is often little support available for them but I am not going to sit back and let their issues go unnoticed.  I am not afraid to speak to parents, and I am not afraid to share my concerns. But should I try a little harder, make them see my concerns a little more? Can I fight every battle and if I don't can I live with myself for letting a little person down.  Perhaps this is the guilt stage of my grieving process kicking in.  And perhaps this is why I struggle with good never being good enough, and why I have such a thirst for knowledge because if I ever stop learning, I will be letting down the little people in my world, and myself in the process.

I think I  do a good job of letting my students know how glad I am to have them in my class, how important they are to me, and how special they are as people. I do my best to let them know that I care about them, and that I love them very much.  And that even when they do something inappropriate, it is the behaviour that I am upset with and NOT the person. They are my school family.  So on Monday morning when I see my students for the first time after this tragic even,  I am going to do my very best to make sure every student in my class knows that they are important, valued and loved.

In the meantime I will continue to think, process, and deal with this horrific tragedy. I will keep those suffering near and dear to my heart.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Power of Choice

This is not the first time I'm writing about giving my students choice,  nor will it be the last.  In the past I have written about it here,  here, and here.  But this time I'm writing because I gave my students choice in math.

Freedom of choice by Krzysztof Poltorak
I have always run an open ended centres approach to teaching math.  I just could never wrap my head around everyone doing the same thing at the same time.  The thought of giving my students pages and pages of math worksheets where they all answer the same addition and subtraction questions over and over again just seemed wrong, right from the very beginning of my teaching career.  Over the years my centres have changed and improved (I hope) as I learned more.  But, and this is a big but, I have always told my students what station to work at each day.   So far this year my students have been through number sets, patterning, ways to make ten, and addition stations. We were just starting our subtraction stations.  Then things changed.

A couple of weeks back one of my students asked me if he could decide which station to work at instead of me telling him which station to work at.  Initially I didn't give him a yes or a no answer, I just said, "hmm let me think about it".  And I did.

I thought about why I wanted to say no to him yet ever time I thought of a good reason why I should say no, deep down the little voice inside of me said, "but is that really a good enough reason".

The following Monday when math time arrived I called all my students to the carpet area.  I talked with them about the stations we have been working at and what they were suppose to be teaching them.  And then I changed what I've always done in the past.  Instead of rotating them through, telling them which station to work at, I let them choose.  But before they went off to work we talked about what that would look like and what I expected from them.  I was very clear with my expectations, and what "meeting expectations" at this time of the year with subtraction looks like. I was also available for any or all that wanted my extra support as subtraction seems to be a more difficult concept for many of my students to master.  And then I let them go.

Immediately everyone got down to work.  I was interested by the choices that the children made. Some were drawn to the hands on manipulative activities while others liked using the educreations iPad app to show their knowledge.  Math placemat use was very popular too as it's a combination between digital and non digital.

I also had a small group working with me at the rainbow table. Some were there just because they like being near me while they work, and others were there because they knew the concept was difficult for them and needed extra support.  I love that they knew what they needed and sought after the support they wanted.

When the time was up we talked about what everyone did and how they felt about having the choice.  Many of my students up loaded their work to their individual blogs which I use to help guide my future teaching.

Here are some samples of their learning.  You'll notice that they don't all grasp the concepts being studied but this documentation helps guide my future teaching.

Recardo - using Math placemat and the iPad app Draw and Tell to show his knowledge of subtraction

Eldon - using Math placemat and the iPad app Draw and Tell to show his knowledge of subtraction

Nicky - using Math placemat and the iPad app Draw and Tell to show her knowledge of subtraction and addition

Kaleb - using Educreations to show his knowledge of subtraction

Jaydan - using Educreations to show his knowledge of subtraction

Maryam - using Educreations to show her knowledge of subtraction

For most of my students it was a total success and I was excited to see what they could do independently.  For a few however it was a bit too much for them to handle and the reality is they didn't get much done.  Was I surprised, probably not, but it helped me know where to better focus my teaching or instruction so that they can be more successful the next time.

So now they have me thinking about ways to continue this with our math time.  Have you ever tried something like this? I'd be curious to hear how you tackle choice in math.

Also, I would like to add more authentic "real life" math into my program.  I know that math is all around us and I need to get better at showing my students this. I'll take any suggestions you can offer me.

Here is the blog post  written about choice in math on my class blog.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Classroom 2.0 Live

I was totally honoured and thrilled to be a Featured Teacher presenter for Classroom 2.0 Live this past Saturday (Dec 8, 2012).  It was an interesting experience for me to be in my pj's with coffee by my side, talking to a computer screen and sharing my story.  If you're curious to hear what I had to say, please take the time to watch this video.  In addition all the resources I shared can be find here in this live binder as well as here on their website.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Honoured and Humbled

Today has been quite a day for me.  Elisa Carlson, my school district's Director of Instruction, has written a blog post that features me.  My initial reading left me speech less and if you know me at all that doesn't happen very often.

I don't know what to say except, thank you.   Thank you Elisa for always believing in me even when I didn't always believe in myself.  Thank you for supporting me and encouraging me, and most importantly for pushing me when I wasn't sure I wanted to be pushed.  You make me think, you make me question, you help me continue to improve my practice. As I've said to you over, and over, and over again your support means more to me than you will ever know.  Thank you.

If you're curious about  Elisa's post you can find it here.

Thank you.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

EdCamp Delta Leadership

Last weekend I attended my third edcamp in Delta, British Columbia.   This time around it was a lot different than last January when I attended not having a clue what I was getting myself into.  Instead of walking in terrified, not knowing anyone and wondering if I really had anything to contribute, I walked in confidently excited to spend face to face time with many of my friends from twitter.  I was excited to be at an edcamp again,  in spite of the fact that I was suppose to be working on my report cards.

When I arrived it was a lot like a mini reunion.  It was so great to reconnect with good people, and to welcome other friends to their first edcamp experience.  It was nice to already know so many people and to see my district so well represented from early primary teachers (ie ME!), to intermediate teachers, high school teachers, principals, and even one of our directors of instruction.  It made me proud to be a part of my school district with so many keen educators from Surrey.

In usual edcamp style we each were given four post it notes to choose which topics most interested us.  As probably one of only a very few primary teachers at the end camp it was important for me that there was at least primary elementary topic to choose from so of course I suggested one in advance.   I added my post it notes to it and three other topics that interested me and then I waited for the schedule to be set.

As the schedule was being set I went out of my way to meet some key people I've heard a lot about and was very interested in meeting face to face. I wanted to take full advantage of the opportunity that I had in front of me.  It isn't often that you are in a building with so many incredible educators.  I'm so glad I was brave enough to introduce myself to these people.  I have come a long way.

Anyhow with the schedule finally set I noticed that my primary topic was at the same time as another topic I was interested in hearing more about.  Feeling so strongly that primary teachers need a voice in the edcamp experience, and the fact that I suggested the topic, I went to the room where the primary teachers met.

Now I knew there wouldn't be a lot of people in the room (there were only four  post it notes on the topic suggestion sheet and one of them was mine) so I had no idea if there would be anyone in the room. The others may have decided to attend another session as well.  But thankfully I was not alone when I walked into the room.  In the end there were five of us.

The thing about having a small number of people in a session is that we really had the opportunity to talk. Each and every one of us contributed to our discussion which was great.  We actually went over time as people for the next sessions started to come in.  It was a good session with many ideas being shared.  I also love that I got reacquainted with Tammy and Glennis, two inspiring teachers that I had  met last January at edcamp Delta.

My next two session were good, but not as inspiring as they were the last time I attended. Perhaps it was the sessions I had chosen but more than likely as a primary teacher there was a lot less being offered that applied to me and what I'm doing with my students.  Not a bad thing, just an observation.  Or perhaps because I am  so entrenched in a connected educators world that I've read and spoken with a lot of different educators about so many of the topics being presented. Or perhaps, as a grade one teacher in an environment that allows me very little ability to make changes outside of my own classroom, it is often hard to listen to these incredible leaders doing incredible things.  What ever the reason was, as good as these sessions were they weren't as good as I remember them being  from the last time.

My final session was great. In an informal and "fun" way we had discussions on important topics in education.  We were all involved at what ever level we wanted to be. The topics made us think, and the fact that we had to convince the undecided to choose our side made for some good conversations.  It was a great way to end the day.

So as usual I need to end my blog post with a personal reflection.

First off there has to be a way to get more early primary teachers involved.  I KNOW that there are MANY amazing primary teachers out there with fantastic things to share. And yes many have families which they are raising and ultimately that is the most important job in the world and so I highly respect their decision to be with their families on the weekends instead of attending an edcamp.  But there are teachers and administrators at the higher grade level with families too, yet those levels are well represented.  Why is it that I am often one of a very very small handful of primary teachers attending these ed camps? And yes, I'll be the first to admit that I'm a learning geek, but I'm sure I'm not the only primary teacher that loves to learn and connect.  I need to find a way to change this.  We need more of us speaking and sharing on behalf of our little people. They may be little but they are doing incredible and inspiring things.  Perhaps I need to get involved at the planning level, or I need to be promoting more to my primary teacher friends. I'm not really sure though but this is something that does have to change. Suggestions anyone?

Edcamp is a good reminder that we all have voices and we all have important things to say. I love that we had several high school students involved in the day. I love that there were parents, and people from the community there too. EVERY SINGLE PERSON has an important message and we all need to find a way to share our messages.

But most of all, how do I harness the inspiration I get from attending these type of conferences, and from the discussions I have with such incredible people and actually do something with it.  I have an amazing personal learning network on twitter (which I am thankful for every single day) but how do I take it back to the people I work with on a day to day basis.  Have I gone so over board with my desire to learn that I'm un-motivating (de-motivating?) those I work with on a day to day basis? And why is it that I'm told I inspire others around my district yet I have so much trouble inspiring those I work closest with?  Is this a normal phenomenon that we can inspire those we don't see on a day to day basis, but we have little effect on those we work closest with? Maybe my approach is all wrong? Maybe my school is no longer a good fit for me.  All I know is that it's really hard to be so inspired whether through an edcamp, or a great conference, or a fabulous discussion on line, and then return to my day to day reality.  Something needs to change.

But before I end this blog post I think it is most important to thank edcamp planning crew for organzing a superior day.  I feel blessed that I am able to attend these events and even more blessed that you put them on for us.  If there is another one and I'm able to attend I will. Thank  for providing me with a mind spinning Saturday, and a great distraction from report card writing. As they do every single year, they did get written and handed in before their due date.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Digital Dinner Series - Learning with Shelley Wright

A little over a week ago I attended the second of six Digital Dinner Series - Going Deeper evenings hosted by my school district.  The keynote speaker was Shelley Wright, a high school teacher and PhD student from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.

For the first part of the evening two local schools shared how they have been transforming learning in their schools.  Teachers from Fraser Heights Secondary shared how they are combining different departments and teaching students together.  They shared an example of how humanities and science were being taught together.  I liked what I heard because these teachers are trying to change the way things have always been done. They have a supportive principal to allow them to do this too. I love seeing teachers transform their teaching to better meet the needs of their students. I LOVE it!

Between the two school presentations we had specific questions to discuss with our table group.

George Vanier Elementary was the second school to share.  Hugh and Gallit, talked about genius hour and the positive effect it has had on their students.  To no surprise they inspired many in the room.

After their presentation we had more questions to discuss before dinner was served.  Thankfully this time I did not have to leave early like I did last time.

After dinner  we all settled in to listen to Shelley speak.  To say that Shelley was anything but inspiring would be a lie.  She took us through her journey of transforming from a traditional teacher to one who completely gave over the learning to her students.  One day she thought to herself, "is this really all there is" and then she slowly gave over the reigns.  She shared how it wasn't easy, but the outcome was worth all the messiness along the way.

Shelley shared stories of her students fundraising for a cause, and how they created an incredible holocaust museum. They learned more by doing then by being lectured too. They learned lessons they most likely won't ever forget.

She talked about how everyone can learn and that being good at school is just that, being good at school. There is no correlation to being good at your marriage, or your career, or you life. All it means is that you're good at school.  She stressed that children should come out of school knowing what they are good at and what they are passionate about.  School should be about learning, and learning is emotional.

Shelley talked about how we need to teach our students to be curious, and to wonder.  This natural instinct to be curious has been taken out of so many of our students and we must reteach our students how to be curious.

She went on to say that now she asks her students three big questions:

1. What are you going to learn?
2. How are you going to learn it?
3. How are you going to show me that you learned it?

Learning in her classroom is  authentic and real.

Obviously Shelley's presentation sent my brain into a high speed spin. In fact I had several conversations with fellow teachers and administrator after her talk and it took me over an hour to get to my car in the parking lot.  But how does what she said transform my teaching?

First off Shelley spoke about a bus that I'm already on.  I get that my students need to be at the centre of their learning. I have changed so many ways about they way I teach to try and get them there.  I constantly think about why I'm doing what I'm doing and how it impacts my students.  My head spins with ideas all the time and I'm pretty confident that I'll never find the "best" way to teach my students but I'm having a lot of fun trying.  As I've said before the more I learn, the less I know.  I'm not where I want to be with my students but I believe my bus is heading in the right direction.

I am trying hard to encourage my students to be more curious. I'm asking questions, I'm encouraging their brains to spin.  I am trying to give them choices in how to work, and how to show me their learning.  I am getting us involved in many collaborative projects with many different classes.  I am trying to do what is best.  But of course I can always improve.

I love how the very next day Lora Sarchet and Niki Leech  two amazing primary teachers in my district asked their students what they want to learn and they are finding a way to make that happen in their classrooms.  I need to do that for my students too.

I need to listen more to my students.  Just the day before Shelley presented to us one of my students asked if he could choose which math station to work at.  He got me thinking, "why not?".  Now that they understand how the stations work they can chose which station to show their learning. Heck, if they have a better way to show me a specific concept we are learning I'm more than willing to let them show me in their way.  Earlier this week, in a very short time period, my students had to show me in any way they wanted, what they knew about living healthy.  They did a fabulous job and just seeing their faces as they focussed on their job was inspiring.  I very specifically asked them if they enjoyed showing me their learning in their own way and to no surprise they said, "YES".  This has to become more of a norm in my classroom. You can see some of their responses here.

I want us to be involved in projects that are truly meaningful for them.  I know they are enjoying the connections we are having with other classes and I want that to continue.

 I think as a grade one teacher I need to remember that my students are capable of making good choices for themselves.  I still need to teach them how to read, write, and problem solve.  We need to continue to set goals together. I need to continue to have high expectations.  But most importantly I need to continue to accept my students as exactly who they are.

Teaching is a challenging time consuming profession but I truly believe all the energy I put in to be the best I can be, pays back ten fold when I see my students thrive.

Thank you Shelley, for an inspiring evening.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Getting to Know Discovery Education

About ten days ago  I was given the opportunity to attend a morning learning session with Discovery Education.  I first heard about Discovery Education through conversations with Kathy Cassidy, a grade one teacher in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.  Last summer she attended a conference hosted by Discovery Education and I was curious to know more.  I asked around a bit and knew my school district had dealings with Discovery Ed but I didn't really know how to access it.  In addition, Kathy had told me about a free on line conference put on by Discovery Ed and I was fortunate enough to attend. You can read about my conference experience here.  Needless to say I liked what I was seeing and learning.

Last week I learned a little be more about the Discovery Education website. It is filled with tons of amazing resources for all grade levels.  Initially I thought it justhad videos which you can save and share, but it goes way beyond that.  There are lessons shared by educators, images, media files etc.. There is homework help for students and so much  more.

Since I've attended I've told my students a little bit more about Discovery Ed.  Right now in science we are learning about bats.  With Discovery Education my students are able to search for their own bat resources and learn on their own.  A few of them have found bat images and have added them and written about them on their individual blogs.  Because my school district has a membership with Discovery Education we are able to use and create with these images legally.  I love that!

I look forward to getting to know Discovery Ed a lot better.  I know there is huge for potential for me as an educator/learner, and for my students.  If you're using Discovery Ed with your students I'd love to know how.

Friday, November 23, 2012

My First Experience with the Global Read Aloud

This past October my class and I took part in  the Global Read Aloud organized by Mrs. Pernille Ripp.   Not really knowing what I was getting myself into, but having a huge sense of curiousity and desire to get my grade one class "connected", I jumped in with both feet.  As I look back I am pleased to report that we connected with six classes over five different projects. Here's a little bit about what we did.

Our first connection was with Mrs. Wideen's grade 1/2 class in Windsor, Ontario.  Before we even started reading the book our two classes skyped together. We made predictions about what we thought the story was going to be about.  You can read more about this skype call here.

For our second connection we shared the reading of the book with three other classes at the same time.  Once a week Mrs. Leech, Mrs. Sarchet, Mrs. Wideen and I would meet with our classes in a google hang out.  Each week one of us would read a chapter for the rest of the classes. We'd share predictions and ask each other questions.  You can read more about our first google hang out sessions here

When we finished reading the chapters together each class created a mural depicting their favourite parts of the story.  Our intention was to share these murals with one another through a google hang out, but due to a string of technical difficulties this never happened for us.   However Mrs. Wideen did create a Wall Wisher which we all contributed too.  You can see and read about our Wall Wisher  here.  

Our third connection was with Mrs. Madonna's grade one class in Manhattan.  After much discussion between the teachers we decided that we would create Flat Wilbur. We took photos with our Flat Wilbur and shared them with our friends in Manhattan.  You can read more about this here. We went as far as to add voice QR codes to our photos too so our Manhattan friends could hear us talk about our adventures with Wilbur.  You can read more about this here. They did a similar thing with their flat wilburs, using written words instead of voice.  You can see the photos they sent us here.

We skyped with this class too.  It was very interesting to learn that they have elevators in their school and that their playground is on the ROOF of their school.  We also learned that they come to school by taxi, or subway while we walk or come in a car.  It certainly showed my students a different way of looking at school.

One of the off shoots of this connection is that hurricane Sandy, and the storm that came with it, meant something REAL to my class.  Our Manhattan friends were caught right in the middle of the storm. We lost communication with them for about ten days.  We worried a lot about them.  Thankfully they are all fine, and their school is being cleaned up after all the water that was in it. Needless to say this was a very meaningful connection. You can read more about this connection on our class blog here.

For our fourth connection we have been working with Mrs. Fisher's class in Northern Manitoba on a voice thread.  Each of her students created a digital image showing their favourite character in Charlotte's Web and each of my students did too.  We then put the images together and added voice comments.  We have yet to meet them through Skype but that will happen shortly.  You can see the voice thread we created here.

Next we connected with Mrs. Tomessatti's class in Toledo, Ohio where we shared our favourites parts of Charlotte's Wed with each other via a skype call. You can read more about this here.

And finally we received a few voice messages because of our connection with the Global Read Aloud which you can hear here and here.  As we always do we left comments for those that left us messages.

The global read aloud was a fantastic way to get my students interested in knowing about children outside of our own school.  It opened up their eyes to the endless possibility of learning that is available  in this digital age.  My students now have some  geography because of who we connected with and where they live.  Overall they are more curious, and perhaps a little bit less self centred too because of they experiences they've had with this project.

Here are some of my take aways from the Global Read Aloud.

I love that it gave me an opportunity to connect with other teachers and classes around the word in an easy yet meaningful way.

I love that it provided hours of classroom discussion both in relation to the book itself, and the people we met because of it.

I love that there was a wiki and an edmodo group where I could make connections with other primary teachers taking part in this project.  It is here that I met Mrs. Fisher, Mrs. Tomessetti, and Mrs. Madonna.

I love that it strengthened my connections with other educators, some who I may not have met via twitter.

I love that I was in control of what my class and I took part in.  In many of the global projects I've been a part of I often find that I am doing something to fulfil a specific goal of the project co-ordinator, and that that is not always what  my students need at the time.  I LOVE that with the Global Read Aloud I was given a framework, but what I chose to do within the frame work was completely my choice.  For me this was a huge perk of the Global Read Aloud.  My students' needs dictated what projects we chose to take part in and the Global Read Aloud gave us that complete flexibility.

I love that as much as we were on a time frame because we were reading chapters with other classes, we could also work at our own pace.  Mrs. Fisher and I have been working on our voice thread for a while, but we never felt pressured to have it complete by the end of October, when we finished reading the book.   As I type this our students are still adding comments to the thread, and we have yet to skype.

If I ran this project I'd probably choose a different time of the year. While we took part fully in the Global Read Aloud and enjoyed it every step of the way, it was probably too early in the school year for my grade one students.

Thank you Pernille for providing my class and I with such a wonderful learning opportunity.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Word Work - The Choice is Theirs

I've spent several weeks of the school year start up getting my grade one students trained to work independently so that I am free to work with them in small groups, or one on one. This training has given my students more confidence to be better able to make choices about their learning.  It's a strong philosophy behind the Daily 5 which I modify to make work for me.

Last year I rotated my students through word work activities all of the first term as a way to show them the different ways to practice their word work.  When January arrived I hesitantly let them go at it on their own. They pleasantly surprised me and we continued the rest of the year like that.  As they became more comfortable with words, the choices of activities they made to practice their words continued to better meet their individual academic needs.  I loved that because they were deciding where they needed to be.  Talk about getting my students to be independent learners. It was a win win for everyone.

This year after the required training period I decided to let my students go two months early than last year and to no surprise they haven't disappointed me.  To help them make decisions with their word work practice  I have a list clearly posted in my classroom of ways that they can practice their word work.  The list isn't complete but meant to be a starting point, particularly at this time of the year when reading and writing is still challenging for many.

Here are some photos of my students making choices about their word work practice.

Doodle Buddy

Plasticine Words

Word Wizard

Letter Beads

Draw Stars

Magnetic ABC

Word Wizard

Letter Beads

Stamp Pad

Letter Stickers

Plasticine Letters

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

An Interview with KidBlog

A few weeks back Matt Hardy from tweeted me asking if I would be interested in writing for or being interviewed by him on behalf of  I was totally flattered to even be considered - especially since I think Kidblog is such a great blogging platform for my students - and of course I said yes.  Having never done a video interview (heck this was my second interview ever) I thought I'd take the risk and give the video option a try - immediately thinking to myself what am I doing.  I also wrote a bit for him and included some pictures of my students from last year blogging.  Thankfully Matt was super easy to talk to and hopefully in the process I didn't embarrass myself. If you're curious to see this blog post and interview you can check it out here.

Karen Lirenman & Her Grade 1 Class Featured: In the Classroom with Kidblog! 

I can't thank Matt enough for asking me to share my story, and for making it so easy to do.  I do apologize for talking so much, and so fast, but if you know me at all it isn't anything new.  

Now I wonder what's next in terms of cool opportunities coming my way. Hopefully I'll be equally as brave to give them a try.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Unexpected Benefits of Being a Connected Class

My class and I have had a lot of fun learning and sharing with students from around North America.  Since the end of September we have skyped or google hung out at least once a week with another class  in another part of  North America.  For my class it's getting to the point that they are recognizing provinces and states by the classes they've met there.  In Canada for example they know that Mrs. Sarchet, and Mrs. Leech's classes live in BC (and Surrey) just like they do.  They know they don't know anyone (yet) in Alberta, but they know Mrs. Cassidy's class is in Saskatchewan, Mrs. Fisher's Class is in Manitoba, and Mrs. Wideen's class is in Ontario.  Having people they know in other Canadian provinces makes their biweekly run across Canada more exciting because they feel as if they are really running to the provinces of their friends. I can assure you when we cross the Alberta/Saskatchewan boarder they will be very excited because "that's where Mrs. Cassidy's class is".

The connections we've made have also made my class more aware of what is going on in the world.  Through the Global Read Aloud they have been working closely with a grade one class at Lehman Manhattan Preparatory. My students are aware of the terrible storm that Hurricane Sandy brought to that part of the world and how it has affected their school.  Lehman Manhattan has been closed since the storm hit and they have not been able to send us any e-mails because their e-mail system is down.  Every day my class and I  worry about them and we all look forward to when they are able to communicate with us again.

Both of these instances are things I never really thought about when I made the conscious effort to get my class connected.  I wanted them to learn and share with others and see how similar and how different they are from other children in the world.  But these are two benefits that I never really thought about.  I am sure there will be many more benefits to having a connected class.  Now I'm curious,what unexpected benefits have you had from having a connected class?

Sunday, October 28, 2012

My Love with the iPad App Draw and Tell

People often ask me what my favourite app in my grade one classroom is and I'm often hesitant to answer that question.  For me my choice of app is more about what type of learning I'm looking for from my students (or they are looking to show me) than a specific app.  We look at what we are trying to do, then match the app that best fits that need.

Having said that one of my goals for this school year is to make my students' thinking behind their learning more visible.  As often as we are able, I encourage my students to talk about what they have done as a way to document their learning.  There are many apps that will allow my students to do this and they include Explain Everything, Screen Chomp, Show Me,  Educreations, and Draw and Tell.  However as a teacher of grade one students Draw and Tell is by far the number one  app we go to share our learning.

Crayon Option
There are a few reasons why. First off it's grade one friendly because the tools make sense at their level.  If they want a paint brush type tool they choose the paint brush option.  If they want a coloured pencil, or  crayon they choose those options.  The eraser looks like what they see on their pencils, and the stickers are there too. Even when they record the microphone button makes sense.  When things make sense in grade one then they can do things on their own. As their teacher that's something I LOVE!

It is so simple to access the camera roll on the iPad.
It's easy for my students to import a picture from the photo album on an iPad independently too so if they have made something in another app and that app saves to photos then the photo of their work is there to be imported. If an app doesn't save to the iPad photo album then they just take a screen shot of their work so that there is a picture of it in the iPad photo album that they can bring into Draw and Tell. In addition for their non digital work they can easily take of photo of it, and then retrieve that photo from the album on the iPad.  So it's possible to add their thinking to anything they have created digitally or otherwise, and all independently.

The app also has colouring pages which can serve as backdrops to oral stories if my students don't want to draw their own backgrounds. The stickers provided in the app can be moved during recording too so stories or other concepts can be animated.

In addition the app saves what you create in an area called Your Drawings.  From there you can easily select your pictures or movies to save to your iPad's photo album.  At the moment I am sending their movie creations to our YouTube channel when I find the time.  However once the KidBlog app is available my students will EASILY be able to add this documentation of their learning to their individual blogs, INDEPENDENTLY - no need to upload to You Tube.  That's huge for me as a grade one teacher.  The more they can do on their own, the less I have to do for them. The less I have to do for them the more time I have to do other things with them.

One of the draw backs I see with Draw and Tell vs some of other apps mentioned above is that with Draw and Tell you can't record as you go.  This hasn't been a problem for us though because the app has a built in pointer light and if you touch the screen while you are recording it follows your finger.  My students  are encouraged to touch the specific spot on the screen that they are talking about so that the blue pointer light appears and is added to the recording.

Another draw back is that you can only add one photo so it's really just a one snapshot look at their learning.  Some of the apps mentioned above allow more than one snapshot to be uploaded.  In addition you can't add video to this app.  You can create video, but you can't import video.  Again this hasn't been an issue for us. For a sequencing activity this many not be the best choice of app.

So how have we used it in my grade one class?  With Draw and Tell we have:

- demonstrated our patterning knowledge by using the sticker tools provided to create patterns
- demonstrated our patterning knowledge by using the drawing tools provided to create patterns
- demonstrated our letter sound knowledge by using the sticker tools provided to sort picture based on initial constant sound
- demonstrated our letter sound knowledge by using the drawing tools provided to draw pictures and/or write words base on initial constant sound
- imported math done in another app to talk about the learning. Here too.
- used the interline paper available in the paper choices to write about our favourite part/character in a story
- add details to our non digital work (unfortunately still on a student iPad so no link yet)
- used it to create an opening scene in an iMovie
- imported an item created in another app to add  details to it

We've been able to add voice to many of our activities and there is still so much more we could use Draw and Tell for.

We could..

- use the lined paper to write our wonders, predictions, or facts we have learned about a specific topic and then record our voice to go with it
- use the colour pages for background, and the stickers to create animated oral stories-
- add voice explanations to ANYTHING we create - digital or non digital

And my head keeps spinning with ideas.

Have you used this app before, and if so how are you using it to help document learning?