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?