Monday, April 23, 2012

The Journey from Digital Literacy to Digital Fluency

I recently wrote my third article for the International Reading Association (IRA) entitled The Journey from Digital Literacy to Digital Fluency.  You can find the article here.  As usual comments  are always welcomed.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

What a Crazy Week!

The past couple of weeks have been quite crazy for me as I try to do a whole bunch of different things at the same time as teaching and working closely with my UBC teacher candidate. I have been involved with planning two workshops for our district convention in early May (my first time putting presentations together for people I don't know or work with), attending a primary conference, visiting schools - learning and sharing with them around technology, writing my third blog post for the International Reading Association, preparing to share apps with the exciting new project I'm involved with my school district titled "Making Thinking Visible: A Collaborative Inquiry into Technology and Early Literacy", co-ordinating for our Flat Classroom global project,  pulling together a very last minute technology grant application for my school, and now report card writing has been added to the mix.  It's been a bit of a crazy couple of weeks and when I think about it most of this would not have been available to me last year because I wasn't such a tech nerd then.   I've spent far too much time away from my students.  But I'm not complaining because these have all been incredible opportunities for me and I feel extremely lucky to have them come my way. Okay maybe having report cards added to the pile wasn't all that lucky but it is what it is.

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to visit two schools in my school district.  I spent the morning at Pacific Heights Elementary in South Surrey. They were chosen in the first round of Innovative Learning Design projects from our school district.  I visited several classrooms and saw technology being used in many different ways.  It was exciting to see another grade one class so comfortable using the tools they had available to them.  I loved how their teacher used QR Codes to direct her students to photos she had taken.  The QR codes meant the young students didn't have to type in long addresses to find the photos.  Once the code was scanned the photos were easily downloaded to their iPads to be used with the app Book Creator. Her students were comfortable blogging (and went as far as to leave comments on my students blogs), using Book Creator, and Comic Life.  It was great to talk to them about what they were doing, what they were learning, and how they liked working with the iPads.  I also loved seeing their teacher record them read using an iPad.

 In another class I saw a teacher using Edmodo with his students.  The music teacher had her students create using Garage Band on the iPads. I saw one class teach another class how to use a new app on the iPads.  Students in another classroom shared their incredible Bear project with me.  It was good for me to see how the iPad cart was shared across the school and to hear about some of the issues associated with them.  It was a good visit at Pacific Heights and I learned a lot.  Hopefully they learned something new from me too.

In the afternoon I drove across town to Green Timbers.  I spent the afternoon in Robyn Theissen's room.  She, like me, is pretty new to most of this technology this year and she's been doing some incredible things with her grade three class.  While visiting I was able to meet Mikayla the author of this incredible blog post. I also got to see several of Mrs. T's students' Prezis.  Since I've never used Prezi myself (it tends to make me feel motion sick when I watch them) I loved being taught how to use it by a couple of her students.  In addition some of her students shared with me their favourite iPod apps. Since I had my personal iPod with me (which my students use all the time in my room) I quickly added MiniPiano and Drums Light to the Fine Arts folder on the touch.  What I loved about Mrs. T's room is that there was technology every where.  Even though her school was not part of the innovation grant last year she has been very good at booking out the resources available from our school district.  While I was visiting her students had access to laptops, iPods, and digital cameras.  As you can imagine they were fully engaged with their technology.

Overall it was a great day (except of course the news about report card writing).  I have one more day away from my students next week but then I think things will go back to normal for me.  There is so much I want to get done for our Flat Classroom project.  There are classes I want to meet and skype with, and there are more global connections for my students to make.  It's going to be an exciting next couple of weeks.

Friday, April 13, 2012

What a Day! Part 2: Meeting Alec Couros

I left Vanier buzzing with optimism and headed towards the District Education Centre (DEC) where I was invited to attend a talk given by Mr. Alec Couros.  I first "met" Alec last summer while I was a participant at the RSCON3 on line conference.  He and his brother George presented a talk titled "School is Like a Restaurant". I loved their down to earth, yet knowledgeable, and funny style.  Immediately I started to follow them on Twitter.

Unfortunately Alec's brother George was in Surrey during our teacher job action so I was not able to hear him speak, nor meet him in person.  I was not going to let that happen with Alec.

With a full release day, and a special invitation to the event, I was stoked to be at DEC mid day on a school day.  As soon as I walked into the building I ran into my twitter friend Robyn, my librarian and friend Jeena, and my friend Paul.  While I was chatting away in walked Alec.  At first I didn't recognize him even though he was saying hello to me.  I think it was because there were so many unfamiliar faces yet some new twitter friends too.  But I quickly realized that it was Alec.  Wow! That's pretty much what went through my head.  I immediately walked over to him and said hello.  He totally recognized me from my twitter picture.  It was great to finally meet him.  We chatted for a little bit before I was whisked away to do a job for one of the helping teachers.  As you can imagine I was still buzzing.

Once things were ready to go Alec began his presentation.  Just like I remember he was lively, interesting, motivating, and filled with tons of great stories, and clips.  I was a bit freaked out by the program he used that tweeted his slides at the same time as we saw them but  I think it was great that those that were not able to attend could still follow the feed.  It was great to hear him live.

Some of the things that stuck out for me in his presentation included how important it is for us to teach our students to be responsible on line and that we need to think about our actions all the time because the reality is we are always on candid camera some where.  I love how he talked about getting cameras into young children's hands so that we can see the world as they do.  This one really struck a chord with me as I am trying so hard to get my students to become the photographers for our class blog.  It's still a work in progress but Alec did remind of how important it is that they do this.

He shared this video, which I just love.  It reminds me of how things are changing.

Alec talked about being networked and connected with others.  Since signing up for twitter last July I can say that I am a very connected educator these days.  My Personal Learning Network has really grown and I am constantly learning and sharing with some amazing educators.

Digital literacy vs digital fluency was also key to me as I am trying  to move from being digitally literate, to digitally fluent.  While I  feel like I've learned a lot this year around utilizing technology to learn, share, and create most of what I do I've learned from others.  While that certainly isn't a bad thing, I strive to get to a place in my learning and teaching where I am being the innovative one.

Alec talked about blogging and shared Kathy Cassidy's class blog.  That slide was pretty cool for me because I interact with Kathy on twitter and I love learning with/from her.  But what was cool about that slide for me was that there is a link to my class blog on her blog.  And yes, I was quick to let Alec know.  He also talked about having students blog on their own blogs and I was able to share my student's blogs with the room.  Needless to say it was a great afternoon for me.

But, that's NOT where things ended for me.  As the questions started for Alec I snuck up to Dr. Elisa Carlson's office.  If you don't know her she is a Director of Instruction in my school district and I think she is just amazing for so many different reasons.  She has been a huge supporter of what I've been doing in my classroom.  But why was I in her office - which by the way is beautiful and has an incredible view?

A few weeks back I created a video to help show how technology is being used in my grade one classroom.

I made this video as a way to thank Elisa for all the incredible things she's done for me, and my district this year.  Elisa has been instrumental in leading our district into the 21st century.  The video was used in a presentation shown to our  Superintendent and  his team.  I was in Elisa's office to see the presentation, and to see how my video was a part of it.

I have to admit it was a pretty awesome feeling knowing that something I created was viewed by the Superintendent of my school district. In my mind I'm just a grade one teacher, one of over hundreds in my school district so this was a big deal for me.

Elisa presented me with a wonderful stack of professional books and a kind thank you card from her and Dan Turner, Director, Information Management Services.  It was quite over whelming.

In the mean time Alec was finished his presentation downstairs and had joined Elisa and I in her office. Elisa had a few things she had to do so Alec and I were left chatting one on one.  While we've interacted a bit on twitter it just isn't quite the same as being in the same room with him.  Alec and I talked about a variety of things.  It was pretty cool to chat with him one on one.  While he's someone I've admired through twitter he is a regular down to earth guy.

But things didn't even end there.   If you can believe it (I'm still not sure I can believe it and I was there) I was extended an invitation to join her;  Dan Turner; Sheila Morissette, Principal Fraser Heights Secondary, and  Dee Reiter, Principal Sunrise Elementary; for dinner with Alec Couros.  I was speechless - which isn't something that happens often in my world. ;-)  Of course I said, "YES!"

Dinner was a fabulous opportunity to me. It was the first time I've met Dan Turner, and the first thing I said to him after I told him my name was, "I'm sorry".  I've kind of caused his department of bit of trouble this year with all my technology wants and needs and felt it was best that I apologize right away. He laughed.

The view was beautiful (even if it was overcast and rainy), the food was fantastic, the company great, and the evening a success.  To be perfectly  honest it was a bit surreal for me but it was an incredible opportunity and I am so thankful to have had it.

As the night was coming to an end Alec wondered if I'd see him the next day at one of his engagements.  Unfortunately the answer was no. Alec gave me a friendly hug and I managed to get a photo of us.  

It truly was an incredible day.

So if you've stuck it out this long and have read both parts to my day you can see why this was one of the best days I have ever had while working for the Surrey School District. Really.

I can't thank the people involved with my day enough.

What a day!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

What a Day! Part 1: Visiting Georges Vanier

Today was, probably one of the best days I've had professionally in my twenty years of teaching.  Maybe it's because I was given opportunities that I would have never have thought would come my way. Or maybe it's because of the wonderful people I met and spent time learning from and with today.  Or maybe it was just what I needed to clear a mind that is so confused and heart that is so lost.  Maybe it's all of the above.  What ever the reason it was a fantastic day and my heart is still smiling with happiness as I type this blog.

So what happened?

A few weeks back I was offered a release day to visit schools that are using technology.  My goal was to learn from them, and hopefully share some of my learning with them in the process.  With all the things going on in my district around job action this was a very unique opportunity being presented to me and I jumped at it.  I quickly turned to twitter to see which schools in my district were most active and it was an obvious choice that I was heading to Georges Vanier.  They have an iPad pilot project at the Kindergarten level and also have a very forward thinking principal Antonio Vendramin.

From the moment I got out of my car Antonio recognized me right away from my twitter photo. Although we've never met in the past we both felt like we knew each other from our many tweets back and forth.  He and I along with vice principal Sundeep Chohan spent some time talking about what was going on with me and what was happening at their school. For me it was so nice to be speaking with such forward thinking administration.  During this chat I was given my schedule of the day arranged by Jodi Pulvers a kindergarten teacher at the school. I had visits with five classroom teachers and the librarian on the agenda.

I spent my first visit in Laura's k/1 classroom.  It was such a wonderful learning environment.  Laura greeted each child with such warmth and it was obvious that her students love being in her class. It was also the first time I've seen a document camera in use.

 I've always been a bit of a "not for me person" when it comes to using a document camera.   But within 15 seconds of seeing it in use while her students were sharing their writing, I knew that she had changed my mind about it.  What an incredibly powerful tool. Tomorrow when I return to my school I'm going to seek out a document camera.  I know we have some, I just need to find out who has them.

From Laura's I headed to Jodi' k class.  Her students were in learning centres and I spent my time talking with her k's as they worked with the ipads. They were practicing their rhyming words using engaging iPad apps.  I asked the how they liked learning with the iPads and as expected they love them.

Recess arrived and I spent time chatting with their librarian, Anna Crosland.  She's doing some amazing things in her library and just talking to her I could see how enthusiastic she is about her job, and using technology with her students.

From the library I headed to Gallit Zvi's 5/6 class.  I chatted with her students about their genius hour projects. They were excited to talk about them and I was excited to hear about them.  I also watched the beginning of a language arts lesson.  At one point a student asked what "slang" meant.  Her students tried to provide a definition to him, but a couple minutes into the discussion one of her students pulled out his iPod and looked up the definition in the dictionary. Wow!  BYOD in action.  I LOVE it!

I then headed to Hugh McDonald's grade 7 class.  They were working on laptops using the performance standards to look at one anothers poetry. They were giving written descriptive feedback comments on each others blogs.  I was impressed with what I saw there as well.

From there I headed to Erika's k/1 classroom .  She too had the document camera in action and it just reconfirmed for me that I WANT one of those in my room too.  I spent time talking with her students as they finished math and a couple of art projects.  I loved seeing her special needs student working and learning with one of the class iPads.

At this point it was lunch time and I needed to leave.  I found Sundeep in the office and thanked her for letting me spend time in her school.  The visit really helped clear some of confusion in my head, and it really helped my heart.  At the end of this visit it was very clear that I have some big decisions ahead of me.  The visit helped make those decisions a little easier to make.

[This is only the first part of my day.  There is more to write about the rest of my day but I'm fading fast and need to get to sleep. More to come tomorrow.]

Monday, April 9, 2012

Thank You Ms. Dosanjh

My grade one students have had individual blogs since the fall.  They write on them fairly regularly (although there are a very large number of unfinished posts sitting in the draft folder), and people other than myself and my student teacher do read them from time to time. They even get comments.  But like any other blossoming writers, they would love to have more comments.

As I was packing my bag for my  Spring Break adventure I received a notification e-mail telling me that a blog comment was waiting to be approved and posted.  To my surprise it was from Ms. Dosanjh, a grade three teacher from a school in my district.  Ms. Dosanjh and I have never met (and from what I can tell she isn't on Twitter either) but some how she found out about me, my class blog, and my students' blogs.  Her comment was letting me know that she had asked her students to comment on my students' blogs as a way to give them practice at commenting.   I didn't think much of it at first until the comments started coming.

Every morning while on my adventure I checked for e-mails and sure enough there were comments from at least one of her students.  Jessica, her star commenter, commented on every one of my students posts.  Or if she didn't hit everyone she was really close. The thing with Jessica is that she really tried to connect with my students' writing.  Her comments often began with, "I connect to this post because...". It was really quite incredible to read them all.

While the increased number of comments for my students has been fantastic, I think what's coolest about all of this is the connections that are being formed.  Not just with  Ms. Dosanjh and I but across our school district.   People are getting to know one another better. We are sharing our ideas and collaborating.  While I'm a lot more out there than I've ever been before, the power of these connections has been really quite incredible.

Being out there, having this blog, and tweeting on twitter has really changed a lot of things for me this year and I am very thankful for that.   Despite the awful political climate in British Columbia, something really exciting is  happening in my school district and it's wonderful to be a part of it.  As I read in one of  Dr. Carlson's tweets today, "It's contagious and rippling across the district".  I'm excited to be a part of this movement, and I'll happily drag everyone with me.  Thank you Ms. Dosanjh for joining the train.

What About Chapter Books?

This weekend I was looking through my twitter list of grade one teachers and I stumbled across a conversation between @Komos72 and @CathyMere around chapter books in grade one.  While I was trying to read their conversation (it took place before I was on line), it wasn't that easy because others were in the conversation too but not on my list.  This meant I couldn't read what they were writing.

I tweeted to them to let them know of my intrigue and they sent me to their blog posts.  Laura's post was written first, and it inspired Cathy to write hers.  Well to no surprise I need to add to the conversation too (yes, another side effect of twitter for me - I like to put my two cents in every where these days).  So here goes...

What About Chapter Books?

Laura writes about her dilemma with chapter books in her grade one classroom.  Some of her students are ready for them but others are not but are choosing them anyhow. Kathy adds to the conversation by talking about how that jump to chapter books may be too soon even for those that are ready for them because it means the departure from quality picture books being read.  She also talks about what the "developing readers" are really doing with the chapter books that they have chosen and are obviously too challenging for them.  She continues by talking about balancing reading.

Then there's a third person that has been playing with my thinking on this topic,  Carrie Gelson.   Carrie works in an inner city school in Vancouver and  is very passionate about literature, picture books in particular. She is so passionate in fact, that her husband proposed to her via picture book.  She's helping me look at books another way too.

So where do I stand on the topic of chapter books entering just right book boxes even if my students aren't ready to read them?

My students all have their own just right book boxes.  I fill them with their guided reading books, and they fill them with books that intrigue and interest them.  We have worked on how to chose a just right books.  Unlike Laura we don't go shopping every week for new books, but I think maybe I should add that into my program some how.  They are free to add and change as they see fit. For some that happens regularly, for others not regularly enough.  Mind you I'd freak if I was asked to return weekly the books that I want to read and just haven't gotten to yet.

What I do stress about their boxes is that most of the books have to be at their just right level.  But I also stress that it's okay to hold onto a book that is obviously too easy for them because it's an old favourite.  In addition they know that it's okay to have a book in their boxes that is too hard for them too because it's a book they are curious about.  I can't imagine telling my students that they can't have a book in their boxes that they would love to be able to read but just aren't there yet.  If they are internally motivated to want to learn to read a book that is too difficult for them, I say go for it!

That's where I sit on the chapter book in our just right book box dilemma.  Since I'm okay with my students having a book in their book box that is obviously too difficult for them, I should be okay with that book being a chapter book.  The key is that most of their book box is filled with books at their just right level.

The more I think about it the more I actually like the fact that they have one challenging book in their book boxes.  Twice a week I invite all their  parents (and younger siblings) into my classroom to read with them.  What a perfect time to share that "too difficult for the student but the student really wants to read it" book.  In addition we have free reading time where children can choose to read with one another.  How powerful it is to see a further developed reader share a challenging book with a less developed reader.

So how does Carrie and what she writes on her blog fit into all of this?  As I said above Carrie is passionate about books, and to be perfectly honest Laura and Cathy are too.  The focus of Carrie's blog is about sharing great (picture) books she discovers.  I've only been following her blog for a short time but already I feel like I'm doing  a disservice to my students by not sharing this incredible literature with them.  Reading Laura, Cathy, and Carrie's blogs I realize that as passionate as I am about teaching, and teaching reading in particular, I'm not as passionate as I could be.  When my students are choosing books for their just right book boxes I want them to be as passionate about books as Carrie, Laura, and Cathy are.  I want them to be able to choose a more challenging book because it motivates them to want to become a better reader so that they can truly enjoy what that story has to offer them.  I want them to continually strive to become better readers, and to read better quality literature. If enticing them with really good literature that may be too difficult for them to read on their own then so be it.  It's the passion we are all after in the end isn't it?  Passion is what keeps us motivated and happy.

How do you deal with just right book boxes in your classroom?

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Twitter in Person

Twitter is pretty incredible.  Really.  I know sometimes I sound like a freak when I sing my praises of Twitter but I can't help it.  I have interacted with so many incredible educators since I joined in July 2011. I have read blog post after blog post and my thinking is continually challenged.  It has changed me as a teacher, and I know it will continue to do that.

But the best thing about Twitter is the relationships you build with people.  And yes, I know that I may never meet many of the people I consider my twitter "friends" but I do feel that many of the people I interact with on a regular basis are people I would consider my friends.

Yesterday I had the chance to actually meet one of those people.  I first learned about Carrie Gelson when she wrote a letter expressing the needs of the students in her class.  Carrie works at an inner city school in Vancouver.  The letter went viral and she was thrown into the media spot light.  While I followed her story closely I never really thought we would ever have any type of interaction.

Well then there's Twitter.  Carrie and I connected during an #edchat several weeks back.  We connected on many different issues and our conversations flowed.  But back channel messages of 140 characters or less were getting frustrating when we actually live quite near one another.

So yesterday we finally met, live, in person.  We ended up talking for almost four hours, and if the coffee shop wasn't closing, and she didn't have important things like a husband and children to return to, we would have kept talking.  The live conversation was just as inspiring as the conversations we've had in the back channels.  It was a really positive experience and I feel confident that we will meet up again.

So my question is... who am I going to meet next?

Sunday, April 1, 2012


A week or so ago Hugh McDonald tweeted about a website called Tagxedo.  It sort of acts like Wordle in the sense that it makes pictures with the words that you input but it does more than that.  On Tagxedo you can chose the shape for your words.

Here's a quick one I made this evening using my most recent twitter tweets. I can see this being really motivating for my grade one students to use, perhaps imputing their individual blog addresses so that they can see what their writing looks like in an interesting shape.  Hmm, the head is spinning.