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.