Monday, February 25, 2013

An Evening with Chris Lehmann

This past Tuesday I had the fortunate pleasure of attending the fourth of my school districts digital dinner series. In usual style we first had presentations from  teachers from our local schools. I really like this part of the evening because I get to learn what is happening where I work.  Sharing the good practice that is happening in schools near by motivates others like me to give it a try too.  There is a lot of great teaching and learning happening in my school district.

 Anne-Marie Middleton and Ryan Hong  from Hillcrest Elementary shared their journey with assessment for learning and how it has transformed the learning and teaching in their classroom.  JB Mahli and Michael Moloney shared their story of using eTexts in Social Studies at the high school level and the positive impact it has had on student learning.  All four presenters are people I highly respect so it was great to hear them speak to such a larger crowd.

After dinner we all settled in to listen to Chris Lehmann.  He started this presentation by talking about his family and the experiences his own children were having at school.  It made me sad to know that his young son does not like going to school. As a grade one teacher that is just so wrong on so many levels.  It made me feel very lucky to work in the country, province, school district, and school that I work in.

He talked about the vision that schools should have.

Schools need to be caring institutions .

We don't teach subjects or grades we teach kids and that must be at the forefront of everything we do in our classes. He said when you put your subject first that is what is most important.  I work very hard to put my students first. I genuinely care about my students and I am constantly letting them know that.  I think as a grade one teacher it's pretty easy to do though. It should be easy to do at any level though and I know there are a ton of amazing teachers in my school district doing exactly that. But it was important for all of us to remember to put our students first, and our content/subject/grade level second.

Our role as teachers has changed because most "content" can be googled.  He talked about the fact that we no longer have to deliver content, but we need need to mentor our students by listening more and lecturing less.  I am working hard to do this in my classroom, and I will continue to work on it with my adult relationships too.  Sometimes I know that I have so much running around in my head that I miss what is being said to me.  I definitely need to listen more.

He went on to talk about collaboration and  how it works.  That's an easy sell for me. Since joining twitter in July 2011 and becoming a connected educator I am a way better teacher because of the networking and collaboration  with my wonderful #1stchat crew.  Those amazing educators continue to inspire me on a daily basis and both my students and I are luckier because of this.

Chris talked about how schools should be places of passion and reflect real life.

One thing I've been thinking about lately is the concept of the integrated day, or a day that makes sense.  So often I wish my kidlets and I could decide when we want to take a break and be far less dictated by a bell schedule.  It seems so artificial for us to have to stop our learning because a bell tells us such.  It reminds me of a time earlier in the year when we took part in a Discovery Education live on-line session about amphibians.  The session took us right through recess yet my students didn't really even notice the bell.   I think some days there are just way too many distractions around my classroom and I need to find ways to limit them as best as I can.  Why can't we work over recess if we're on a good role? Or better yet why does recess have to be scheduled and structured?  And my students learner support, how can we better structure it so that it works with the rest of our classroom program? Things are changing, and will continue to change. That is the only constant.

I also like Chris's recent posts on technology which he also talked about.  Technology  should be like oxygen - ubiquitous, necessary, and invisible.  I have been very fortunate this school year to have access to a lot of technology in my room. For my students it is a huge part of their day, yet they are never required to use it. My young learners surprise me constantly with the ways they are using technology to learn, show, and share their knowledge. Check out their individual blogs. Most things put on them are created and uploaded independently by them. They are deciding how to show the world what they know, and what they want the world to know about them and their learning. That's powerful stuff when you're six or seven.

Chris ended his presentation by reminding us that we really have four main goals  to teach our students. We want them to be thoughtful (as in full of thought), wise, passionate, and kind.

While I've tried to write about my evening with Chris Lehmann I really have barely scratched the surface of what he spoke about.   I am extremely thankful to have had the opportunity to listen to him speak and I hope some time in the future I will be able to learn from him again.  In the mean time I'll keep checking out his blog and I recommend that you do too.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Crazy Ways We Used Technology in 30 min or Less

On Monday  I had a video conference call with my friend Beth.  Beth is a video game programmer and she offered to speak with my class during our unit about "Jobs in My Community". Her tool of choice for video conferencing is FaceTime.

Sunday night during the weekly #1stchat twitter chat  - which takes place every Sunday at 5 pm PST -  I mentioned that I had a video game programmer speaking to my class.  Amy Rudd, another grade one teacher that I've met through #1stchat,  asked if she could have her son join our  conversation with Beth.  He was really curious about this job.  Now I teach in Surrey, BC, Canada, and they live in Ohio, a country and three time zones over. At first I was thinking to myself I can't make this work because with FaceTime you can only have one person on at a time. But then I realized that I could get them into our FaceTime conversation another way - through Skype.  And we did.  With my iPad, hooked up to the projection device with Beth video conferencing in through  FaceTime, Amy and her son were on my laptop top on Skype listening in.   A bit crazy eh?

Beth spoke wonderfully to my students about her job. You can read more about that on our class blog. When she was finished it was time for questions.  My students asked their questions with little difficulty as they just went up to the iPad and asked. But Amy's son had a question too. But instead of me relaying his question to Beth I put the computer in front of the iPad and let him ask it himself. Does anyone else besides me see the complete craziness in that?  A boy, sitting in his home in Ohio was skyping into my classroom in Surrey, Canada to directly ask a question to my friend Beth who was in her own home using FaceTime to get into my classroom?  Yes I really do think that's a crazy (in a great way) use of technology.

But crazy uses of technology continued in this 30 min span.  Just before we said goodbye to Beth many of my students took photos of her on the big screen so that they could put her picture on their blogs.  As soon as she was gone one student let me know that he didn't get a photo. He was sad about this too because he was just waiting for the many children to move from the screen. I felt awful that I hadn't noticed but said that I could share one of my photos with him.

Those words came out easy enough from my mouth but was it really that easy?  Because my iPad was being used for the FaceTime call I resorted to my phone to take the photos.  The thing is the iPads my students use do not have any e-mail on them so I couldn't just e-mail a picture to him. I needed another way.

Here's where it gets a bit crazy, again.  I e-mailed a photo from my phone and opened up that e-mail on my laptop.  Then I saved the photo to my dropbox. I went to my student's iPad, opened up my dropbox account on his iPad and saved the photo in his photo roll on his iPad.  And presto he uploaded the photo from his camera roll and wrote about Beth. Does anyone else see the nuttiness behind this photo transfer?

Both of these crazy adventures happened within a 30 min period of time, after an inside lunch recess.

Do you have some stories of ways  you've used technology in totally crazy ways with your students? If so please share.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A Crazy Event

I was honoured to be asked by Dean Shareski to present technology in a primary classroom for his on line education course with the University of Regina. Kathy Cassidy, Angie Harrison and I were presenting together (another huge honour for me). Anyhow I diligently put a presentation together and sent my slides off to Dean to have them uploaded into BlackBoard Collaborate.  Tonight it was show time.

About 30 mins before we were set to go live I figured I'd log into the site. Not a big deal I thought, I've been in BlackBoard Collaborate many many times before.  But boy was I ever wrong this evening.  After trying pretty much everything I could I just couldn't get into the room.  Thankfully I was the third to present so I had a bit of time.  The brain was spinning, the frustrations mounting.  The funny thing is I was presenting on video conferencing in a primary classroom, you know using tools like Skype, FaceTime, or Google Hangout.  So what did I do? I turned on all those tools.  Quickly Angie skyped me and I was able to hear what Kathy was saying.  We figured if I could hear the presentation through Skype and Angie's computer, then I could speak my part that way too. And you know what... I did!

My set up, skyping into Angie's home looking at the session through her computer.

Technology doesn't always work as it should, but it certainly lends itself to great problem solving.  A huge thanks to Dean, Kathy, Angie and all those in the room tonight. It may not have been pretty but we made it work. :-)

Sunday, February 10, 2013

I'm Not in Control of My Class

Who is in control?
Photo Credit:
 Tambako the Jaguar via Compfight cc 
I don't want to be in control of my class. I don't want to be the type of teacher that sets the rules for the class, tells her students what and how to do things, and is the sole leader in the room.  I don't want that for my students. I don't want that for me.  I  want my students to be in control of their learning.  But what am I doing to achieve this goal of mine?

I've blogged about it a few times already how I give my students choice when it comes to their word work, their writing, their reading and many concepts taught in math. Yes I have literacy and numeracy stations for my students to work with, but I don't tell them which stations/activities they should go to.  I rarely expect everyone to do the same thing in the same way.  I am open to hear their suggestions, and I'm more likely to say "sure" if they have a clear understanding of why they want to do something differently than I had thought about.

I let my students work where they want to work. For some it's at a desk, for others it's with friends at the carpet, or around the class round table.  For others it's outside the classroom door on the carpet in the hallway. I no longer care where they learn, as long as they are learning.

In most cases I let my students choose if they want to work on their own or with a friend or two.  I've listened in on the negotiating that goes on when students work together to achieve a shared goal.  I know that  I learn more when I learn with others so I want that option for my students too. But I'm just as okay with them working on their own, if that's what they want to do.

Photo Credit: Lori Greig via Compfight cc
I use a LOT of turn and talk during group discussions. A LOT! I feel as though it gives each of my students a voice during discussions.  We use it to share our reflections, our connections, our predictions, our ideas. We use this strategy a lot.

I do very little whole class activities. Yes we meet for many mini lessons on specific topics or skills but my walls aren't covered with similar looking art work, or similar writing pieces.  At first this bothered me because my room doesn't look like other classrooms I've been in but neither does my teaching.

I don't spend hours on Pinterest looking for cute activities to do with my class. I'm not about cute I'm about good teaching and learning practices.  But don't get me wrong I do see the value of many of the resources shared there, but I also see a lot of cute.

I explicitly teach social emotional skills.  In fact there is time blocked out in my weekly timetable called community square where we discuss social emotional concepts.  Explicitly.  We've talked about using I Messages to solve problems,  how to solve problems, how to use our voice, how to change negative thoughts into positive thoughts, how to be brave, how our brain works, strategies to keep calm, and strategies to regain calmness.  The list goes on and on but the important thing is that I do EXPLICITLY teach these skills.  But I also I reinforce them over, and over again through out the day. Each, and every day.

I don't spell for my students as a first go around. I encourage my students to try to write on their own. We celebrate those attempts. Mistakes are celebrated in my classroom because that is where the learning takes place.

I encourage my students to self assess their work. Sometimes it's with a four point scale - 1 - I didn't work well at all, 2. I worked but not my best, 3. I did my best, 4. I surprised myself and did even better than I thought I could. Sometimes it's with a thumbs up or thumbs down.  Sometimes still it's through a private conference where they let me know what they've done well, and what they would like to improve. There is a lot of goal setting happening in my classroom, and ultimately my students are doing the goal setting.

Photo Credit: Ano Lobb. @healthyrx via Compfight cc
But when I talk about what I'm doing in my class I tend to get two main "yah buts". Yah but what about the students that can't handle this freedom? Yah but if everyone is doing something different at the same time how do you assess what they are doing?

I have students who sometimes have trouble with this extra freedom to learn in ways that work best for them.  This is where my role as the teacher comes in to play.  While my students have choice, I still monitor and support those choices as needed.  Those that need more guidance get more guidance from me.  Some take longer to take over their learning in various situations but eventually they all seem to thrive in this environment.  And my students are very typical. They have wiggles and giggles like six and seven year olds should have. They come from different home backgrounds with a unique variety of challenges and strengths.  I strongly believe that putting my students at the centre of their learning embraces all their similarities and differences.  Providing my students with choice hasn't made my job easier, it's made it more difficult but that hard work is worth it. I LOVE having motivated, self directed engaged students.

Now assessment for me doesn't seem to be as difficult as a concept as others seem to want to make it.  My prescribed learning outcomes are clearly stated in my government documents. If I focus my assessment on those clearly stated requirements how my students chose to demonstrate those expectations is some what irrelevant for me.  But again, I'd be lying if I didn't say that this is more work for me too.  My students don't fit into a cookie cutter data gathering standard assessment tool.  Each student is assessed individually, and the knowledge I gain from that assessment guides the way I push/encourage/support them to reach their next level.

So in my room I try hard not to be in control of my class. I want each of my students to be in control of their own learning. Who is in control of your class?

Friday, February 1, 2013

Blogging in Grade One

Recently I was asked to be a part of a wonderful Virtual PD organized by Theresa Allen.  I originally met Theresa last year during our Flat Classroom Project.  We have been in contact since then, but it wasn't until I was invited into the Hello Little Skypers group that I was back in more constant contact with her.

Anyhow, today she held a virtual PD for her staff, and the WORLD.  While I couldn't present live for her I created a little video on blogging in an early primary classroom.  Enjoy.