Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Power of Face to Face Connections

After a year of making connections with people via the internet, I am keen and curious to meet as many of them as I can face to face.  As it turned out my summer travel plans took me to different parts of the USA and Canada.  In addition some of my on-line friends arrived in Vancouver, my home town.   Me being me, I took full advantage of these opportunities and what a summer I've had.  Face to face connections were plentiful.

Now before I go on I don't want to say, in any way, that the connections I have made with people through my digital world are pretend and require face to face meetings to make them real.  That is so far from the truth.  I truly believe I have real connections with many of these digital friends.    I have been there for them like I am for my non virtual friends. I have listened to their struggles and celebrated their successes just like I do for my off line friends.  To me the people I've been interacting with on twitter for the past year are my friends.  They are real people even if we haven't ever met face to face.

So what was it like meeting these people face to face? As I had previously suspected meeting these  people face to face was fabulous. While I never doubted the connections we had, meeting face to face confirmed everything I was feeling.  There are a lot of really cool people in the world and they get even cooler when you meet them in person.

Now unfortunately I didn't get the chance to meet everyone I was hoping to meet.  Christine Yarzabek the former #1stchat moderator and I were suppose to meet up in Manhattan, and Aviva Dunsiger and I were suppose to meet up in Toronto. Due to a new job commitment and illness these face to face connections never happened.  Obviously I was disappointed (as I think they were too) but to be perfectly honest I wish I had the chance to meet so many more of my twitter friends face to face.  And not to worry I haven't given up trying.

The on-line connections I've made this past year have been very powerful for so many reasons.  These people get me in many ways that my face to face friends don't,  particularly when it comes to me as an educator. I like that, and I need that. I need them because life is so much better for me with them in it. I don't feel nearly as alone professionally with them in my life.

What is really cool about having so many face to face connections this summer is that the tweets I'm reading and sharing with these people have a different meaning now.  I can hear their voices when I read their tweets. I can see their mannerism and like wise they can hear and see mine. It's a very cool feeling.

But how does this affect me as an educator?  How will it affect the way I teach this year?

Last year I taught and learned along side of my globally connected grade one class.  We did projects with schools as far away as New Zealand and Hong Kong and as close as schools down the street.  We were a connected class and I loved every minute of it.

This year we will again be a connected class. We will be involved in global projects where we will collaboratively work and learn wtih other students around the world. We will utlize the digital tools available to us such as our class blog, our class twitter account, skype, facetime or google hang out to  connect with people. None of that is going to change. But what I didn't do last year that I really want to do this year is to have more face to face connections with some of these people.

I've already been talking with some of the grade one classes in my school district about doing a collaborative project together.   I've talked about setting  up a reading conference /skype  time where a couple of my students read and share their reading with a couple of students in another class.  I want the connections to range from the class next door, to the class down the road, to the class across the county, and beyond.  But I want to make sure that there are classes (like those in my school district) that we will eventually be able to meet face to face.  Imagine meeting up at a local park, bringing a favourite book to share and getting to know one another as "real" people.   I really believe having the face to face connections will strengthen our virtual connections too.

So have you ever stepped out of your comfort zone to meet your PLN face to face?  What were your experiences like and did it change the way you looked at your teaching? I'm curious to hear.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Unplugd12 - Trying to Process

I’m not really sure what happened this past weekend as I took part in Unplugd12.  Here I was across the country at the edge of Algonquin Park, separated from internet access, in an environment that had me sharing with people I either knew via the internet only, or not at all.  Prior to my arrival the longest face to face connection I had was with David Truss as we had met just a few weeks earlier for about 15 minutes.  Second to him I had conversed with Kathy Cassidy through my iPad screen in face time interactions.  The rest, well some I follow (and I’m inspired by) on twitter, but most I didn’t know at all.  So what was I thinking?

To be honest it took me a long time to actually commit. I first heard about the event back in late Feb/early March when I saw a tweet from Kathy Cassidy inviting people to apply.  I was curious but the dead line to apply was approaching far too quickly as I was about to venture off to Vietnam. I had to let it pass.

Back in town, and after a few months had passed, I was still thinking about the event and noticed that applications were still being accepted.  After some discussions with my brother in New York about possible visiting dates I realized that I could do both. I fired an e-mail to Rodd Lucier and the conversations began.  I was in, committed and attending. An airplane ticket across the country was purchased.

I’d be lying if I didn’t say that signing up brought me a lot of stress. Who was I, someone only in the connected world for not quite a year, playing with such incredible people. Would I fit in? Was I stepping just a little too far out of my comfort zone?  While it's true that I am on a mission to meet face to face as many Twitter people as possible, was attending  Unplugd just a little too presumptuous? I guess it didn't matter, because  I took the leap and would deal with the consequences.

Since I signed up so late I missed the first organizational on-line meeting so I listened to it after the fact.   It was then that I learned about my homework. I needed to write a letter about something important in education, and have an oral story to go with it. Yikes! What was I going to write about?

(Before I let you know what I wrote about I think it's important for you to know why I had to write in the first place.  One of the goals of Unplug'd is to end the weekend with a collaborative piece of writing.)

I had so many issues running through my head but in the end the story I wanted to share most was about how important it is to become a connected educator and that even though you may feel alone in your school ( a black sheep perhaps?), being connected allows you to realize that you are not alone at all.   My letter was addressed to a black sheep, someone just like me.  My oral story was inspired by one of my students. Because I became a connected educator this past year I learned about blogging with students, which in turn allowed one of my students to finally have a place that was comfortable and safe enough for her to share her voice. Without going into details blogging was transformational for this particular student. I would never have known about blogging with grade one students if I hadn't connected on line with like minded teachers. 

My Amazing Nieces
Jump forward to last Thursday. I arrived in Toronto after almost a week and a half with my amazing nieces in and around the NYC area.  I was excited and nervous as I checked into the hotel and waited for my roommate to arrive. Meeting Erin Little was great.  The connection was easy.  She and I headed to the lobby to look for others.

While in the lobby Kathy Cassidy noticed me. What a surreal moment. Here was a lady I highly respected and learned from that I really wanted to meet face to face.   I must say I was very nervous at this point although in hindsight it makes me giggle that I was so nervous.  We chatted for a bit and then met up with some others.  It was great to talk and get to know these complete strangers.  I can only assume that most were feeling the same way that I was excited to be there but a bit afraid of the unknown. 

In the evening I officially registered, received a wicked swag bag (complete with LiveScribePen and paper, flashlight, and water bottle), and had a group meal.  Following dinner we all moved to another room for a  presentation by Joix Taylor and his very special Six String Nation guitar Voyageur.  This presentation was not just for Unplug'd participants it was also billed as a tweet up for people in the Greater Toronto Area.
Kathy Cassidy, Karen Lirenman, Angie Harrison

Lucky for me Angie Harrison along with several other people I follow on Twitter attended this tweet up. Unfortunately Aviva Dunsiger , an educator I highly admire and chat with regularly, was very ill  and  not able to attend.  I did get the chance to meet Royan Lee which was pretty cool too however there were a lot of people I did not know. At this point I was feeling very overwhelmed being in the same room with people I highly admire, yet knowing very few others.  I was most definitely out of my comfort zone.

Joix's presentation was fantastic. He shared  stories of the many different pieces that made up the special guitar. These pieces came from all across Canada. When he was finished Bryan Jackson, an Unplugd participant was given the honour of playing the special guitar. It was a very moving moment.

Conversations continued for a bit after the presentation before I finally retired for the night. The next morning after a wonderful breakfast we headed over to Union Station to catch our train to South River, Ontario.

The train ride was about four hours long and during that time we were encouraged to change up our seats and talk with as many people as possible.  One of the first people I met was Iain , a new teacher graduate.  He was awesome as he spent some time showing me how to use my LiveScribe pen.  I loved his enthusiasm for teaching and I feel confident that he will be an awesome educator.

As we travelled through Ontario countryside I had many conversations.  I must admit I was surprised by how easy I felt moving from seat to seat learning a little bit about the other participants one conversation at a time. I took in some quiet time too to just soak in the experience.

At last we arrived in South River and boarded a school bus to take us to Northern Edge Algonquin, our home for the next two days.  On the school bus there was a competition to see who could get out the last tweet before we lost internet coverage completely.  If I'm not mistaken Jenny Ashby won that contest.  And did I mention Jenny along with Jess McCulloch travelled from AUSTRALIA to be at Unplugd.

The Edge
The Edge by aforgrave  
Upon arrival I was impressed by how tranquil the environment was. We were given a quick tour and then settled into our accommodations. I was rooming with Giulia and Michelle two awesome roommates.  Shortly there after we met for our first recreation time.  You see throughout the weekend we had small group. large group, meal, and recreation times.  Some of the recreation activities we were offered included but were not limited to bike riding, canoeing, paddle boarding, kayaking, hiking, and yoga. I chose to bike ride during the first activity time although over the course of the weekend I did canoe, paddle board, swim, and hike.

Sharing our Rocks
Our first group meeting followed our recreation time.  It is here that we shared the rocks that we brought from our homes by making connections to the stories that people were sharing. It was very cool as each person introduced themselves and shared a little piece of themselves with the rest of us.  I was nervous listening but eventually felt confident enough to share my story, and add my rock to the map of connections.

The Connections Map

After the group meeting I was introduced to my small group (Kelly, Alan, Erin, and Rod) as we shared our first meal together.  Speaking of food, Greg, the cook (among many other things at the Northern Edge), prepared us the most incredible fresh, local meals.  Just by looking at him, and seeing his smile that so obviously was connected directly to his heart, you could tell that he loved what he was doing and that his food reflected it.

Greg the nourisher
Greg the Nourisher by Guilia.Forsyth 
With a full belly my group found our private place to meet. It is here that we began sharing our narratives that inspired our letters.  It is here where our connections really started to flourish. Everyone in my group stepped out of their comfort zone to share their personal stories.  We were all vulnerable yet safe which made the process a lot more meaningful.  I had worried so much about this moment and in hindsight I had nothing to worry about.  Everyone was feeling some what similarly to how I was feeling yet the collective support made it easy to share. I left the meeting feeling in a really good space, with real connections to wonderful people.

The Discover others to discover yourself team
My Group - Rod, Kelly, Me, Erin, and Alan by mrmuzzdog  
Although it was raining I headed to the bonfire and spent the evening singing and chatting with my new friends.

The next morning I was up early for a morning paddle board followed by a swim with Aerin. It was great to be out on and in the water. After an another incredible breakfast we met as a whole group again before splitting off into our small groups.  It is here that we shared our letters.

DSC02980 - 2012-08-11 at 11-20-33
Peer Editing by lisaneale cc
I volunteered to go first because as much as my letter was important to me it did not hit as emotionally deep as some of the other stories shared in my group.  I read my letter out loud  a couple of times while they followed along with their own copies.  And then we started to discuss.  Why did I write that sentence the way? How could I better relay my message? The dialogue went back and forth and in the end I was left with a piece of writing that was edited with love by my colleagues.  It was a very powerful, supportive process and I really appreciated the feedback my group provided me.  

After that we peer edited the others.    We had a break mid morning and while Kelly our fearless facilitator had a facilitator's meeting Alan, Erin, Rod and I went off on a hike. After having such an intense morning peer editing it was so nice to be in nature with these incredible people.  The lake at the end of the trail didn't hurt either.  
Karen's Black Sheep Shirt
My black sheep shirt at the lake by cogdogblog  
Upon our return we continued peer editing until lunch time. For our group it was a slow process, but the time spent was meaningful and powerful.  I wouldn't have wanted to rush the process and I'm really glad we didn't.

With lunch in our bellies and our final story edited we set down to make the official changes to our letters.  This was harder for me than I imagined it would be because with the edits came changes I hadn't thought about making.  But I struggled through, and with the support of my peers got it done. Thank goodness.
Karen intensely edits
Final Editing by Kelly-Ann's Pic!  
During the afternoon break I met up with Giulia. She attended Unplug'd last year and one of the things she wanted to do was swim out to an island that had a very special tree on it - a tree that was inspiration for one of Tom Thompson's paintings.  We had talked about possibly making the swim trek the day before and in the late afternoon the timing was perfect.  Just our luck Alan was paddle boarding and came along for our swim.  How incredible it was to arrive at an island about 1 km away.  I am so glad I was able to help Giulia fulfill her dream.  It also allowed me to get to know her a bit better too.

From the swim it was dinner (more awesome food prepared by Greg), followed by another whole group meeting.  This time we shared a small synapses of our letters.  Alan represented our group and did a fantastic job relaying our messages.  We then found out about a secret activity.  All we were told was that we would be canoeing and we were highly encouraged to bring our bathing suits.  If any one has been counting this would be the THIRD time I was putting that silly suit on.

Anyhow the secret paddle (at dusk) ended up being to a large sauna and a wonderful bonfire.  For some of the night the sky was clear and we could see a sky filled with stars. Here I listened in on conversations, and spent a fair bit of time chatting with Heidi.  In the end Heidi and I were the last boat to paddle back to the Edge in the pitch black.  It's too bad the clouds had come back again.

When we returned to the Edge, after a delicious dessert, there was talk that the clouds had blown off again and that the sky was clear.  A small bunch of us headed to the dock to watch the meteor shower.  Giggles were shared along with a lot of excitement over what we were seeing in the sky.  It was a fantastic way to end an incredible day.

On the final day we had morning activity time followed by breakfast and the final closing meeting. The final closing meeting was a sad one.  Here we all shared a little something about the weekend and we were encouraged to write a post card to ourselves which would be sent by the organizers once we headed home. Many tears were shed and the poor tissue box was passed around the room.  Even though I had know many of these people for a little over three days the connections we made were strong and real.

The last thing we did before we headed home was Minga Time.  The philosophy behind Minga is giving back to the community.  We all took part in doing one thing for the community.  I was involved with a group that was building a trail, and once the dirt was in place we planted seeds.  If I am able to return for Unplug'd next year there will be a part of the property that I helped cultivate. If I can't there will be a spot for others to enjoy.

As you can imagine the bus ride back to the airport was exciting but sad.  Many were involved with a live broadcast on public radio network (which I later found out is where many of them connected) .  If you're curious you can find this radio network at . Google ds106 Radio if you're curious to find out more about it.  I'm still trying to figure it out myself but I loved hearing Andrew, GNA, Guilia, and Jesse on it last night.

So if you've read this far you're probably wondering what I took away from the weekend. In no particular order I learned:

  • There are incredible people doing incredible things for completely passionate reasons
  • Being vulnerable in an environment that is supportive and caring is a powerful way to make changes within yourself
  • Listen. Really listen. We all have something important to share.
  • Your stories matter and not just the happy ones  the tough difficult stories too.
  • The on-line connections I have made are real and true, and have only gotten stronger because of these face to face connections
  • And most of all we are not alone in our struggles and our successes. Being a connected educator is a powerful support network.
Over the weekend I had the opportunity to chat and get to know several incredible people that I can't thank enough for making my experience way better than I could have imagined.  They shared their heart with me, their fears, their worries. They shared their message. So thank you Aerin, Alan, Andrew, Ben, Betsy, Brenda, Bryan, Danika, David, Donna, Erin, Gail, Gilles, Giulia, GNA, Guilaume, Heidi, Iain, Jackie, James, Jenny, Jess, Jessica,  Jowi, Kathy, Kelly, Kim, Lisa, Lorna, Marci, Matt, Michelle, Rob, Rod, Rodd, Todd, Wesley, and Zoe. It was an incredible weekend and I can't thank you enough for your caring,  kindness, and conversations. I will be forever grateful to have been touched by such incredible people.

The Incredible Unplug'd 2012 Crew

#unplugd12 Whole Group Shot
Photo by benhazzard

*Reflections from the Large Group Meetings illustrated by Giulia Forsythe
UnPlug'd 2012 Visual Notes
by giulia.forsythe

*If you look closely you can see Giulia and I with our hands in the air on the island with the special tree.

Once our final publication and products are ready for the world I will share the link here.

Monday, August 13, 2012

UnPlug'd Allowed Me To...

It's going to take some time to truly process my experience at UnPlug'd 12 and yes there will be a blog post(s) at that time. In the mean time here is a quick snip it of some of the things that transformed me this weekend.

In no particular order UnPlug'd allowed me to

  • be vulnerable
  • be alone
  • be supported
  • be inspired
  • be challenged
  • be reflective
  • be connected
  • be fit
  • be healthy
  • be in the moment
  • be joyful
  • be thankful 
  • be in nature
  • be happy
  • be free
From the  unplug'd environment set at the edge of Algonquin Park; to the amazing staff who are truly passionate about what they do; and the incredible people I shared, talked, wrote, edited, bike rode, swam, paddle boarded, canoed, hiked, laughed, cried, ate, sang, star gazed, and grew with I can't be more thankful for the experience I've just had. 


Saturday, August 4, 2012

Using an iPad in a Grade One Classroom- Part 2

While I think I was quite thorough in my original post Using an iPad in a Grade One Classroom I completely forget to talk about the four apps I have on my student's iPad shelf - you know the little "shelf" at the bottom of the iPad.

The first "app" I have there is a direct link to our class blog.  You see most  of our on-line activities are via our classroom blog so instead of having my students  find a book mark or type in our long class blog address, I created an app looking link that takes them directly to our class blog. I have to thank Kathy Cassidy for teaching me about that one.

Curious how I did it? First open the web page you want to save on your iPad desk top.  Open this web page in Safari. Then, while still in Safari touch the "share" button (you know the rectangle with the arrow pointing out from it).  Next select "Add to Home Screen". It will prompt you for a name - I type "Class Blog" and then it saves it to your iPad desktop. It is a life saver and SO easy to do.  I actually think when I want my students to start doing research I will add direct links to the websites that are best for them.  If you are using shared iPads each teacher could easily have their own folder with their own personal direct links to websites that are best for their students.The "Add to Home Screen" is a wonderful feature.

The other apps I have on the shelf are Safari, Camera, and Photos. I'd assume they are pretty self explanatory but necessary to have easy access too since they are used so often.

#Kinderblog2012: Question numero six!

If we're honest, we all have days when, for any number of reasons (lack of sleep, family issues, minor illness, idiopathic crankiness...) we are just not at our best. There are days when, in any other line of work, we would probably call in sick, but we don't because we know the impact of our absence is so great. What are your survival tips and tricks to get yourself and your students through those days in one piece? Special supplies to keep on hand? Treats that get you through? Lifesaving lessons or activities? 

This month, thousands of brand new teachers will enter their first classrooms and face their very first class of students (some of them within just a few days.)  Share the tricks you wish someone had told you (or maybe the tricks you are grateful someone shared!). 

I'm pretty fortunate that my tired, grumpy, sad, unhappy days come so infrequently that I had to take some time to think about this post. But of course I would be lying if I said that these days didn't come my way so here are my top 5 tips...

1. Let Your Students Know

My class, and the students in it, are my classroom family for the school year  and we care about one another.  What that means is that we rely on one another to help us get through our "grumpy" days.  I am always amazed by how truly caring my students are when I let them know that I'm going through a tough patch.  Since I don't say it too often, and I foster a climate that encourages us to be supportive of one another, it is quite natural for them to be supportive of me too.

2. Get to Know Your Classroom Neighbours

Nothing helps you get through a rough day better than having someone to share the load with. Although I don't have my own kids I'd assume it's a lot like when parents have play dates - one day at my house, the next day at yours.  While that isn't exactly possibly sometimes just having two classes working together on a group project can help take some of the pressure of you when you're not at your best.  It can be something as simple as buddy reading with one another . The kids love it, it's educationally sound, and it's great to see how your students interact with other students.  Another possible job is a buddy letter writing campaign to help fight/support a cause.  If you do rely on your classroom neighbours be sure to be willing to reciprocate with they need your support too. 

3. Find a Quiet Place for Your Break

When I'm not at my best I find it really hard to be social with those much more chipper than I so I tend to find a quiet place (outside of my classroom) to eat my lunch.  Sometimes that means a walk in the neighbourhood (fresh air is ALWAYS good for you) during my break, and other times it just means finding a quiet room that isn't used over the lunch break.

4. Read Alexander and the Horrible No Good Very Bad Day (or any other book about being grumpy)

Sometimes just making light of the day you are having is enough to turn your mood around.  Alexander and the Horrible No Good Very Bad Day is perfect for that. It also allows me to talk to my students about Australia a country I lived in in 2009 and that I have very fond memories of.

 5.Hot Chocolate

If nothing else works I keep a small tin of instant hot chocolate in the staffroom for days when I really need sugar or chocolate or both.  If I need caffeine I add coffee for a quick Cafe Mocha.  Not sure what it is about hot chocolate (particularly the no name brand with the little marshmallows in it) but it usually does the trick. 

What do you do to fight off the grumps?