Wednesday, May 22, 2013

It's the Little Things

My school year is rapidly coming to an end. Yes, I still have five more weeks left and so many exciting things I want to do with my students, but the reality is our time together is passing by far too quickly.

My class is nothing short of the most amazing six and seven year olds. They are very typical children with  various needs but as a collective group they are a wonderful, caring, curious, hard working bunch of students. They have taught me so many things this year.

Today they noticed a little thing, but it was a little thing that will have a huge impact on others. Today when we walked into the computer lab my students noticed a kidblog address that ended with their big buddies teacher's name. "Hey, Ms. Lirenman our big buddies have blogs. Can we leave them comments?" How incredible was that.

My grade one students knew that in the past their big buddies didn't have their own blogs.  My class figured out that these must be new blogs for their big buddies and they wanted to do something for them.   As soon as they were logged in they headed straight over to the grade five blog to find their big buddies so that they could leave them comments. It was the simplest yet most precious thing they did today. They know how much they love to receive comments, and so they felt it was important to leave their grade five big buddies comments too.

I can't wait for the grade fives to see their special comments from their special six and seven year old friends.

It really is all about the little things.  Happy May 22nd everyone. From where I stand it certainly was a day that was filled with smiles.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Using Twitter to Learn Math

Right now my class is in the middle of creating their own story math problems in a variety of ways.  One way that seems to be popular is  using twitter, and more specifically the hashtag #mathstory to write and share math story problems.  They have had several other classes read and respond to their math problems and some have added their own too. My students are trying to reply to everyone's tweets and to respond to those math problems that they are writing.  My students are engaged and excited to see their math problems solved by other children outside of our school.

One thing that's cool is that they have had their questions replied to in many different formats. Some teachers have had their students draw their thinking in pictures, and then have tweeted those pictures. Others have had their students rewrite the number sentence with the answers. Others still have written both the addition and subtraction way to find the answers.  It's great for my students to see these different ways to solve number stories.

Have you ever used twitter, and more specifically a twitter hashtag to help teach/learn/reinforce a concept? I'd love to hear how.  In the mean time here's a Storify of some of the tweets that have gone back and forth. For clarity sake I have tried to make the conversations flow. Also for some reason I was not able to find the tweets of my students responding to the answers to their questions despite the fact that in many cases they have.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Independent Animal Research In Grade One

For the past few weeks my students have been working on independent animal research projects.  Now I must confess I have never done independent animal research projects with my grade one students before.  Typically we study as a class, frogs or butterflies, and we learn together. I guide the lessons and my students learn what I teach them.  Yes what we learned varied from year to year, and how we learned the information did too, but I was  the teacher.  But with the increase access to technology, and my change in teaching practices that way of teaching is no longer good enough for me.

Now as I've mentioned my students have had access to technology for most of the year.  They have used it to show and share their learning in ways that work best for them.  Choice has been key in my class and my students have embraced and ran with it.  So I knew my approach to learning about animal basic needs had to change.

After seeing Kristen Wideen's grade one and two students create animal research projects I felt it was something I needed to give my students a chance to try too.  I modelled the process first with Koala research. I taught them how to find information through Discovery Ed, the Pocket Zoo app, and books.  I encourage them to sort the information they were finding into a graphic organizer created by Mrs. Wideen, but modified for my class.  My students were given the task to search for information about their chosen animal under the categories can, are, and have. They were also encouraged to find  interesting facts, and ways their basic needs were met.  They used Discovery Education to find age appropriate videos (you've got to love the filtering system on Discovery Ed). The Pocket Zoo app also provided more videos for my students, along with web cams to look at.  And we had library books too of course.  Needless to say my students were excited to do research on animals they were curious to learn more about.

My students were told that they could research ANY animal that they were interested in and they could do this on their own or with a friend. It was their choice.  Through out this year I have witnessed how powerful it has been to give my students choice in how they learn. I have seen the negotiations and the peer teaching when they work with a partner, and I have seen the independence some enjoy when working on their own. So right from the beginning I never told them that they had to work on their own or with a friend, it was always their choice.  Most of them chose a friend.

Before I go any further I think it's important to know that I have a typical grade one classroom  with a variety of learning styles and unique needs.  I have no additional adult support in my room so these projects were created by my students.  It was impressive for me  to see my students  so engaged and on task throughout the work periods.  There were tons of questions asked - both related to the animals they were studying, and the steps that needed to be taken.  While I answered many of them, they relied on each other for help too.  My room was very active with learning during this project.

After a few days of fact gathering my students started to put their books together in the iPad app BookCreator.  The cool thing about Book Creator is that it has a special feature called "combined books". Knowing this was an option in advance each student created their own pages on their own iPads which would later be shared with their partner to create  combined book. This allowed me to see what each student was doing on their own before the final book was combined with their parner's.

My students surpassed any expectations that I had for them. I was really impressed with the way they showed their learning. Many used Discovery Ed to find their images while others used Draw and Tell to draw their own.  They were all required to have at least one image labeled using the app Skitch, and one graphic organizer created using the app Popplet.

Once the children were finished creating their individual pages the two iPads were brought to me. I saved one part of the two person story into Dropbox and opened it in Book Creator on the other iPad. From there I used the awesome "combine books" feature in Book Creator and combined the two student parts together into one book.  My students then moved the pages around, edited for repeat information, and completed their books to their satisfaction.

At this point, once they were satisfied with what they had created, they saved their books to iBook. I encourage them to do this because the screen shots are much better when taken from the "published" version of the book. Most groups remembered to do this.

When it came time to  get the books out of Book Creator to share with the world on their blogs my students chose different ways to do this.  One group used Explain Everything to add the screen shots of their books and record their voice.  Most created their "movies" in iMovie.  Some recorded their images in Draw and Tell first, while others recorded directly in iMovie. Some didn't record at all and added music instead.  I never told them how they had to present it to the world but I did expect them to come up with a way to be able to show the world their creations.

I think what impressed me most about this project was that my students did so much of this independently.  I was away from my class a fair bit over the past few weeks and while I have fantastic teachers on call that work with my students while I am away, my students really didn't need them either. They were in control of their learning.

So in review for this project my students...
  1. Chose an animal to study
  2. Decided to work independently or with a friend
  3. Used Discovery Education, the Pocket Zoo app, and books to find facts about their animals
  4. Recorded these facts on a graphic organizer
  5.  Used the information from the graphic organizer to create sentences and pages in the Book Creator app (each student started their own book, on the iPad they had access to)
  6. Searched for images in Discovery Ed to add to their books.
  7. Created images in Draw and Tell to add to their books.
  8. Some recorded their writing directly in the Book Creator App 
  9. Had me (the teacher) combined their individual books via Dropbox to create one shared book on the same animal
  10. Edited and moved pages around to complete the combined book
  11. Sent the finished book to iBooks and took screen shots of each page.
  12. Imported the screen shots into Explain Everything and added voice OR
  13. Imported the screen shots into Draw and Tell and added voice (and is some cases tracked the words as they were read and recorded) and put those voice recordings into iMovie
  14. Saved their final movies into the iPad Camera Roll and shared those movies on their individual blogs.
What would I change for next time?
  1. Encourage and expect all my students to record their stories orally 
  2. Discourage the use of music in their book videos.
  3. Ensure that all students send their books to iBooks before they take their screen shots for the voice recordings.
  4. If using iMovie do the voice recordings in Draw and Tell to eliminate the Ken Burns affect. It really bothers me when their hard work isn't seen because of the Ken Burns affect.
  5. Expect them to add a credit to Discovery Ed, Pocket Zoo App, and the books that they used for their research.
  6. Encourage each student to reflect more on the experience. Many did anyhow.
Curious what their final books look like?  Here they are.  (There are a couple more still to be finished but will be added here once they are.)

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Learning About 2D and 3D Shapes - More Examples of the Power of Choice

For the past couple of weeks the math focus in my classroom has been on getting to know, and learning about 2D and 3D shapes.  As a grade one teacher in Surrey, British Columbia I am responsible for ensuring that my students can do the following:
  • Sort 3-D objects and 2-D Shapes  and explains the sorting rule
  • Copy given composite 2-D shapes and 3-d objects
  • Compare 2-D shapes to parts of 3-D objects in the environment
While I have specific learning outcomes that I must teach I really like the ability to give my students choice in how they learn/master these outcomes. My students are told what they are required to learn. They are told which activities can help them practice and show this knowledge although many of the choices allow my students different ways to show this learning.  I also explicitly teach mini lessons around these concepts but I provide them with a variety of choices to learn/master these outcomes. So what were these choices?

Before I introduced the choices as a class we played with the iPad app Explain Everything. Each child created their own 2D shape book from items from around the classroom.  Here's a sample created by one of my students.

After a couple of days of playing with 2D shapes I felt confident in letting my students choose the way they wanted to explore 2D and 3D shapes further.

The first option was to learn via Skype.  In this choice one of my students gave clues to one of Ms. DeGroot's class via Skype.  Ms. DeGroot's class in in Iowa! The clues described the property of a specific 2D shape or 3D solid. The clues may have included, "it looks like a can, it has two circle faces" etc. Several of my students choose to do this activity each day throughout the unit.  This is what this choice looked like.

The second option was to use the iPad/iPod camera to take pictures of geometric shapes found in our classroom and then to use those pictures to create a "shape" poster using the free Pic Collage app. Again several students choose this option too.


The third option was to tweet out clues about 2D/3D shapes to the hashtag #2d3dshapes.  A small number of children chose this option.  Here's a sample tweet by one of my students. What I love is the responses that he received from two different classes.  I can assure you it made him smile too.

A fourth choice was to build a castle using 3D shapes, and then either count and record the number of each shapes used, or label the shapes used.  Many of my students enjoyed this option as they love to created and build.  Originally I wanted them to created castles, but then realized it didn't really matter what they wanted to created. Here are a couple of  pictures of a some of my students creating.

And here are some ways they shared their learning through their creations.


Another choice was to create an iMovie documenting geometric shapes. Some students chose to take photos and label our official "math" shapes, while others took photos of objects around the classroom.  The guidelines were kept loose as I love to see what my students will do.  I was particularly impressed by this student because she used four different tools to create this iMove.  First she used the camera  to take pictures of geometric shapes around the classroom.  Then she imported her images into skitch, and one by one labelled them with the correct geometric shape.  Next she imported those labeled images into the Draw and Tell app and added voice to those images, and finally she put those images into iMovie.  I love how she discovered the sounds effects part of iMovie too and added the applause at the end of her video.  But the coolest thing of all is that all of this was done independently while I was at a reading conference in Moose Jaw! It is a fine example of how amazing my grade one students really are when I give them the choice to show me what they know in ways that work best for them.

Another choice (one that everyone had to do over the course of the unit to show me that could demonstrate their knowledge of the first ministry prescribed learning out come) was to sort objects by a specific attribute and then explain their rule either to me directly, or through a voice recording app.  Here's an example of that learning.

And finally students used different ways to label 2D shapes found on their 3D objects. 


Needless to say my students continued to inspire me as they took control of their learning. No one did the same thing. Many worked together teaching one another yet all could demonstrate their knowledge when I worked with them on their own.  Choice is a very powerful way to learn and I am very thankful that I continue to find more ways to give my students these choices.

Are you using choice in your classroom to help better put your students closer to the centre of their learning? I'd love to hear how you're doing this.