Friday, March 29, 2013

Face to Face Meetings - Twitter in Person

A while back a friend of mine asked me why I spend so much time chatting with my on-line friends when I could be out with my local friends.  An interesting point of which I was quick to respond by saying I'd do anything to spend  face to face time with my on-line friends like I do with my "in person"  friends. And to be clear, while I do spend a fair bit of time chatting with my on-line friends, I am not short of face to face interactions.  I have a great group of friends, and a wonderful family. I am very well loved by many.

However, my on-line friends, in many cases are also my REAL friends.  I think of someone like Kristen Wideen,who up until last week I had never met face to face yet we have had hours of phone conversations discussing the great and not so great things going on in our lives.  She understands some of the struggles I'm dealing with that my face to face friends don't quite get.  She is a REAL friend. And she's not the only one.  There are many that I talk with regularly and who are there for me in the good and not so good times and I hope they know that I am  there for them too.  They push my thinking and I am very thankful for that.  There are a ton of these people that I would LOVE to meet face to face.  It's actually a bit of a mission of mine, to meet these "virtual" people in "real" life.

This past week, while on Spring Break, I made the effort to meet some of these people.  During one of my weekly #1stchat talks I realized that both Laura Komos, and Kristin Ziemke were going to be in Chicago at the same time.  Chicago has always been an American city that I was curious to visit, but to be honest I figured it would be to run its marathon.  My running has taken a downward spiral the past few years though so the thought of running another marathon is a bit too daunting at this time.

Fin at the "Green" Chicago River
From the moment I stepped off the plane and into O'Hare and met a bright green haired lady in the airport (Chicago goes nuts for St. Patrick's Day), I knew it was going to be a great adventure and that it was.  I met Laura and Kristin, and to my surprise (a wonderful surprise) Joy Kirr from #geniushour too.  She saw a picture I tweeted of Fin (the Vancouver Canucks Mascot) at the green Chicago River and immediately asked if I was in her town.  I also met Theresa Allen, one of the teachers I met in the Flat Classroom Project I was involved with last spring.  I even crashed the  ASCD Conference tweet up.

Theresa and I
Dinner with Kristin, Laura, and I
Dinner with Laura, Kristin, Joy, and I
The face to face time with these incredible ladies was more than I could have asked for. Their generosity was over whelming and I felt very loved.  We had great conversations and at the end of each visit it was with sadness that we separated.  They happily let me into their lives.   In fact Kristin let me into her home and her classroom* too.  And just think less then 20 months earlier I had no idea who these ladies were.

From Chicago I flew to Detroit to meet, for the first time face to face, Kristen Wideen. But before I left Chicago I noticed a tweet from Val Ruckes the co moderator of #1stchat with Laura Komos. She was in Detroit for a conference! DMs went flying and as soon as I landed in Detroit with Kristen waiting to pick me up at the airport with the wonderful @MrWideen we headed for dinner with Val.

Kristen, Me, and Val
I spent a wonderful weekend with Kristen and her family. I stayed in her home and I spent a day in her classroom*.  We had many, many conversations about so many different things.  It was as if I had known her for years, even though the first time I met her in person was at the airport in Detroit. Crazy right? But that's the thing with Twitter. If you put yourself out there you will make meaningful connections.  I can assure you I have meaningful connections with the people I spent my week with and the fact that they live no where near me and up until this week we had never met face to face is irrelevant.

Unfortunately while I was away things weren't as wonderful back at home.  There were two family tragedies  with the death of my aunt (Mom's sister) and my uncle (Dad's brother). And as supportive as my friends were, it was really good to be back with my family when I returned.

So now what? The lucky thing for me is that Kristin and Kristen have also been selected into the Apple Distinguished Educator Class of 2013 which means we will get to spend a week together this summer at the Apple Institute in Austin.  And of course it has me wanting to meet more of my twitter peeps face to face.  I have no idea who I will meet next but I do know there will be more face to face meetings in my future.

*Yes I will blog about my visits to Kristin Z and Kristen W's classrooms and schools.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Facing Fears and Learning From Them

A week ago Monday I was invited into  a Google Hang Out organized by Dean Shareski in support of Discovery Ed. I have been on both sides of these hang outs and I love everything about them.  Dean invites educators to share what they are doing in their practice via the Hang Out, with other educators who are at a Discovery function with him.  He also encourages those that are with him to share what they are doing with their colleagues too. It's a powerful way to learn.

One thing I seem to wonder about each time I'm asked to help out is what should I share.  I am  not afraid to share in writing. In fact I love to share what I'm up to. For me it's a way to solidify my thinking. That's why I enjoy writing on my blog. It helps create clarity for me.  But when I'm asked to share something in person (or in a google hang out) I often freeze.  What do I do that others would want to know about?

I'm sure many of you reading this (particularly those in my #1stchat family) are thinking what, Karen is not sure what to share? Because you're right I do love to share, and I do contribute a lot to #1stchat, particularly to topics that are near and dear to me.  But to me that's different. #1stchat are my people, they teach grade one just like me so they understand where I'm coming from.  I have no problem adding my thoughts to chat topics.

I also love it when I am contacted with a question whether via a tweet, an e-mail, or in person.  I love to help people out on their journey of learning.  Helping others helps me out too by making me really think about what and why I do what I do. More often than not I learn just as much, if not more from the person asking the question.  I like trying to answer their questions.

Which brings me back to Dean's Google Hang Out for Discovery Ed.  When I speak in that environment I am not answering anyones question.  I am sharing what I am doing with hopes that others find benefit in what I'm doing.  This type of sharing pushes me out of my comfort zone.  And the thing is I am totally honoured to be able to take part in these sessions.  I want to share the right thing from my bag of tricks, something I'm passionate about and the audience will find interesting too.    And to me it's way different than writing on my blog.  People can choose to to read (or not read) my blog  but when they are live with Dean, and the Google Hang Out is the focus of the session, they have little choice but to listen to what I have to say.  This makes me feel uncomfortable. It's out of my comfort zone.

Being out of my comfort zone is good though because it pushes me in ways I need to be pushed.  It also helps me better relate to my students.   This point is very important.

This year I have some extremely quiet students. They are far less comfortable sharing in front of the class.  And yes, our classroom is a very supportive and caring environment.  I've dealt with this by increasing the amount of turn and talk  we do during  discussions so that they are sharing with those that they are most comfortable with.

While my fears are different from theirs we are both dealing with fears.  This connection is important for me as a teacher and reminds me that I need to be mindful of my students and their needs.  We are all unique individuals, with unique needs that should be respected and honoured.  Our fears are real.  As their teacher I must respect their fears and find ways to support them to over come them.

Fear is a part of learning, and so to is pushing past those fears. Hopefully as a teacher I can help my students get there.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Who Is Really Doing the Learning?

I have a lot running around in my brain these days.  One thing that seems to come up over and over again when I think about what I'm doing with my students  is who is REALLY doing the learning?

Now a days there are lot of great ideas flowing through the twitter universe. My colleagues are doing great things and I am reading about other fantastic ideas.  There are global projects, collaborative projects, and many different ways for my students to learn.  There are iPad apps and websites that allow us to do amazing things, things that we could not possibly do with out them.  Education is changing, and for the most part I really love what I'm seeing.

But something isn't sitting right with me.  Perhaps it's because using technology really has become fully engrained into what we do in my classroom.  It is used as a tool, or a choice to show and share learning.  These days I am far less likely to plan a lesson around a specific app, and far more likely to show my students different apps so that they can choose the best way for them to show me what they know.  While this isn't a new way of thinking for me, it is becoming a much stronger way of thinking for me.

When I first started changing my teaching practices after joining twitter in July 2011, I was really excited to try new things.  I am a risk taker and so when I learned about new ways to teach and  I could see the value in the new way, I was not afraid to give it a try.  My class and I tried a lot of new things.  But with all that exploration I have to say that I didn't really think too much about who was REALLY doing the learning.  I can assure you I very quickly learned a ton!  But what about my students, because really they are why I do what I do.  When I look back I wonder which projects were driven by me, because they were of value to me, and which ones were driven by my students.

These days I am far more critical when I choose the projects my students and I will get involved with.  My students are part of the discussion before we decide if we are going to take part in a project or not.  As their teacher I have these grand ideas of doing complicated collaborative projects with classes from around the world.  I can easily see how we can make these projects work, and how we can involved others too. This stuff comes naturally to me. But so many of the projects I dream up in my head, or I see others planning, are being guided and directed by the teacher, and not the students.  I ask myself, who is doing the learning?

Recently we completed a project with some students at a local high school.  My students illustrated and created these fabulous books written by grade eight students.  They did this, for the most part, independently on their iPads.  Unfortunately, the problem with creating books on iOs devices is that they can only be shared on iOs devices.  I wanted the world to be able to enjoy our stories too so I figured out a way to do this.  By taking screen shots, and adding voice to those shots in a voice recording app, we were able to create iMovies of the stories. Our iMovies were sent to youtube and now they can be accessed by anyone, any where in the world.  I'd say that's pretty cool, and  my students thinks so too.

But why did I just share that story? In my brilliant idea of sharing the books through iMovie, I thought it would be great if we created the books in iMovie on my laptop.  That way we could have actual "page turning" transitions so it would really look more like a book than just a movie.  In my mind it was a great idea. But that's where things stopped sitting well with me and here's why.  If my students did all the work on their iPads, then I transferred their work to MY LAPTOP, then I put the clips in order in MY IMOVIE, then I  created the final movie who is doing all the learning there? Me or my students?  ME!  This is exactly what I am trying to avoid.  So I shared the above story to let you know that the movies were not made on my laptop, and they do not contain page turning transitions for that very reason.  But they were made by my students INDEPENDENTLY!  Who ended up doing the learning? THEM!

So now when ever I'm invited into a special project, I  think it through to see who will be doing the most learning.  If I'm at the centre of the learning, then there is strong likely hood that I will have to let the project pass me by until such time as I can figure out a way to get my students back at the centre.

The problem with all of this though, is that I still want to expose my students to things  over their heads so that they can see what is possible. And often it isn't until we (mainly me demonstrating in front of my students) give something a try that I realized they could do a lot of these things independently.  I am no longer surprised by how amazing they are.  So if it is a project that is of interest to them, and  they want to give it a try shouldn't we?  I'm not really sure where I should be drawing the line and it's something I think about a lot.   I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Never Under Estimate the Ability of a Six or Seven Year Old

I've always said that I want to be the voice of the little people.

My students are amazing, really, really amazing. They continue to inspire me on a daily basis yet they are very typical six and seven year olds.  They work hard to read more challenging books more fluently.  When they write they are trying to write "juicier" sentences while remembering proper punctuation and capitalization.   They struggle to understand addition and subtraction yet when the lightbulb goes off they smile from ear to ear. They are typical six and seven year olds.

Far  too often people look at my young learners and all they see is cute. And yes, they are cute, very very cute in fact, but they are so much more than cute.  This week they continued to remind me of how incredible they are.

This week my students continued to work on self assessment.  They reviewed the class generated chart on what good writing looks like and after each writing session they took the time to look at their writing and rate how they did.  Many comfortably shared their learning with a classmate. They set personal goals and are working hard to improve.  They are seeking help from their peers (and me) and they are taking control of their learning.

This week my students were supportive of one another.  They are working on a collaborative project with a local high school. They are reading stories written by high school students (and in many cases way above their reading level) and they are creating illustrations to go with these stories. As a final step they are importing screen shots of their books into Draw and Tell and reading the words in the books to make an iMovie of these books.   They are working together on the recordings and are helping one another read the words.   They are supporting each other so every member of the team can be successful with their reading. Not once did I suggest this to them either, in fact I actually figured the strongest reader in the group would do all the out loud reading for their mini movies. But I was so wrong.  My students are helping each another read and record the stories.

This week my students were extremely patient.  We had a google hang out scheduled with Duck Duck Moose but we had nothing but sound issues, worse than we've had this year.  Yet they were able to hold it together and when directed to blog about the experience while I continued to problem solve they went without hesitation and got right down to work.

This week my students were extremely curious.  They asked questions and shared wonders.  They filled in a wonder wall specifically with wonders for Duck Duck Moose and they were brave enough to  ask them their wonders. They listened closely to the answers being offered and were able to reflect on what they shared with them. Those wonderings continued even after the call ended.  One of my students blog his wonder, and Duck Duck Moose took the time to read and answer it.

This week my students were proud. They shared their work with the world on their blogs and they were confident enough to show Duck Duck Moose what they were creating on their iPads. They smiled when Duck Duck Moose was interested in what they were up to. They were proud when they were tweeted to.

This week my students were helpful.  They said YES when  I told them that a grade two class in our school was wondering if they could help show them how to use KidBlog. They are excited to be the big buddies, helping the older students learn.  They were also helpful when they gave Duck Duck Moose some suggestions of ways they could make their apps better for them.  They took at responsibility seriously and they tried to be helpful.

This week my students were looking out for one another.  When one students was mad and yelling at another student, a third student was not afraid to step in and remind the angry student that it wasn't okay to yell at the other student, even if they were mad at them.  They helped solve a problem, and helped diffuse a situation that could have gotten out of hand.  They did it respectfully, and genuinely as they cared about both individuals involved.

This week my students went after what they wanted.  Twice we have skyped with Mr. S, a math teacher in South Africa, and both times my students were highly engaged and entertained by him.  They have been asking about him again and are wondering when they can skype with him again.  Instead of me doing all the arranging I thought it was important for them to do the requesting.  Taking that seriously this week my students blogged, and wrote to Ms. S telling him why they liked skyping with him and asking if he would skype with them again.

These are just a few of things my "cute" students have done this week.  So yes, while my students are cute, they are far more than just cute.

Never under estimate the ability of six and seven year olds. NEVER!

Monday, March 4, 2013

It's Not Always As It Seems

Photo Credit: Deborah Leigh (Migraine Chick) via Compfight cc

Most of the posts I write on this blog are to share with the world what I am doing in my classroom or what I'm learning from my opportunities. If you've followed along since I began this blog in the summer of 2011 you'll know that I have learned a lot of new things and I've been fortunate to have been involved with many incredible projects. I've changed the way I teach. I've also changed  my thinking around what I believe is best for my students.  But my focus has always been on the little people that greet me at my classroom door each and every day.  It is for them that I work so hard.

But things aren't always as they seem .  There are many days that I am in way over my head and I'm filled with self doubt.  Am I doing what's best for my students? Am I changing too quickly?  Am I expecting too much of myself or my students? I am a high achiever, and good never seems to be good enough.

Twitter has introduced me to some of the most amazing educators ever.  They are educators I can't speak highly enough about. They are true experts in their fields whether it be 1:1 iPad integration, connecting students globally, numeracy instruction, literacy love, or social emotional health.  They push my thinking to places I've never been before.  I have these amazing conversations with them and they literally make my brain hurt.  Literally, headache type hurt, and not typical stress, migraine, or tension type headaches. Brain spinning headaches.

I know that I have people in my district (and beyond) that truly believe in me, and what I am doing in my classroom with my students.  Many take the time to tell me such, and they have no idea how much that means to me.  But far too often I feel that I am doing my thing in isolation.

There are people in my district (and beyond) who cause me to self doubt myself too.  I feel like they are just waiting for me to fail so they can say , "I told you so".    I feel like I am constantly proving myself to them.  It's a weird feeling, and on nights like tonight, it makes me feel sad.

At one time someone innocently said to me that I was getting the opportunities that I was getting because I was a favourite. That hurt, and  it still does.  And I know that it was said with complete innocence. But it makes me wonder, who else is thinking that?  Inside of me I truly believe the opportunities are coming my way because I am working so darn hard.  I am up near the front of the pack, exploring ways that have not been tried by many in my district.  And I am sharing what I'm doing with the world and putting myself in a completely vulnerable position.  I am doing everything I can to help those that are wanting to learn, while at the same time trying to learn as much as I can for myself.  It's a tricky balance point at times.  Most days I think I have the balance figured out, but at times, like this evening, I have my doubts.

Thankfully the only constant in life is change, and this feeling of insecurity shall pass.