Saturday, November 16, 2013

Pushing Personal Boundaries - An Ignite Session

While I was at ISTE in June I was fortunate to attend a few ignite sessions.  An ignite session is a presentation with some guidelines.  In the case of the ones I attended in June each speaker was allowed  20 slides which changed every 15 seconds.  Each presentation was only   5 minutes in total.  However those 5 minutes are  a bit of a pressure cooker with limited room for error.

An ignite is very different from doing a regular presentation though because  in a regular presentation you control the slides you are sharing. Your slides switch when you want them to switch.   You have control so if you want to spend more time on one slide, and less time on another, you can do that.  But in an ignite session the rules are laid our for you. One passion, 20 slides, 15 seconds per slide, and GO!

My district puts on these really great digital dinner sessions where they bring in a keynote speaker and close to 300 of us learn with them.  But before the keynote speaker goes on they like to highlight what is happening in our own district.  This year this is happening through ignite sessions. My district would like us to share our passion. We have all been encouraged to share through this ignite format.

This past Wednesday I took the challenge and created an ignite session on the Power of the Little People - something I'm very passionate about.  I tried to show what incredible things my 5, 6, and 7 year olds are capable of doing and while they are cute, they are so much more than cute. It was one of the most frightening things I've done in a while and it most certainly required that I push my personal boundaries.  I had to be brave.

I think in the end it turned out alright but as I listen back there are several things I would change if I did it again.  And the thing is, now that I've done it once, I'd love to do it again.

If you're interested in how it turned my ignite session can be found here. It's part of the Dinner Series Ignite - Part 2 and is at the 60 minute mark.  I was the fourth of four ignite sessions that evening.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Ross Greene

Photo Credit: lumaxart via Compfight cc

This past Wednesday I had the fortunate opportunity to spend the evening with Ross Greene, author of The Explosive Child and Lost at School. His key philosophy is that kids do well if they can, not kids do well if they wanna.  He went on to explain that most inappropriate behaviours occur because a child is lacking a skill.  According to Dr. Green some of those potential missing skills include hindsight, forethought, the ability to problem solve, the ability to generate solutions, language processing and communication skills, separation of affect, too much anxiety or frustration, and the skill of grey.  As educators (or parents) we need to figure out what skill our "explosive" child is lacking and find ways to teach them those skills.

My biggest take away from his session is how we can approach kids when things go wrong.  We need to focus on the problem and not the behaviour or adult theory in the definition of the problem.  For me, the very next day I discovered that three of my students were happily breaking our class supply of pencil crayons.  Pre Ross Greene my instinct would have been to banned these children from using our class pencil crayons.  I'd be angry, and while I would find a solution to solve the problem I'd never actually solve the problem of "why" they were breaking the pencil crayons in the first place.

With my Ross Greene tools in my pocket I approached the situation differently.  One at a time I spoke with each child.  I started each discussion with, "I have noticed you are breaking our class pencil crayons. What's up?" and then I sat back and listened. I asked clarifying questions to gain more information. I was surprised by the responses I received from each child. I learned a little more about my students, their homes, and what was making them do what they were doing.  And we problem solved the big issue which led to the breaking of the pencil crayons (the small issue).  I built more trust with my students. I gave them a voice, encourage them to use it, and moved forward with what they shared.  It was a wonderful way to solve this problem and in turn will hopefully prevent other problems in the future.

If you're interested in finding out more about Ross Greene and some of the resources he shares, check out this website Lives in the Balance.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Professional Goal #1: Increasing the Opportunity for Inquiry

Yes, I know it's November already and my school year did start over two months ago but some where in there I never actually wrote my school year goals on my blog.  So here I am, putting it out there for the world to see. This blog post will focus on my first goal:

Photo Credit: Claudio Gennari ..."Cogli l'attimo ferma il tempo" via Compfight cc

Increased Opportunity for Inquiry, Wonder and  Curiousity Learning

I love how excited children are when they make discoveries in their own environment.  The excitement of looking at a colourful maple leaf that has fallen to the ground or the size of the puddle that miraculously formed in the playground.  There is authentic learning happening  all around us and I want to take better advantage of that as a way to promote/encourage/support life long learning.

Now I certainly wouldn't say that  my classroom has been void of inquiry in the past. I've focused on getting outside more, providing my students with more choice and control over their learning, increasing meaningful opportunities for authentic connections, and integrating technology as a tool to help with  thoughtful, meaningful ways of learning.  Choice is huge in my classroom which allows my students to explore in ways that work best for them.  We also wonder a lot, and do our best to follow through with those wonders. I loved watching our various Wonder Walls explode with curiosity questions last year and the things we did to find some answers to our wonders.   But there is so much more I'd like to be doing with my students.

I'll be the first to admit that I struggle with this, which is why I've made it one of my goals this school year. I find I get bogged down in a timetable that seems to dictate where I need to be and what I need to be doing.  It  leaves me with small chunks of time to start some inquiry just to be rushed off to somewhere else.  I also get bogged down in the fact that it is my responsibility to give my students the skills to read and write.  The number one thing families want for their children in my class is that I  teach them how to read and write.  It's a high expectation but as a grade one teacher it is what I am required to do.  I take it very seriously too.

I also know that inquiry is authentic learning and provides an incredible opportunity for authentic reading, writing, listening, and speaking. I don't need to be sold there. But I also know that my students need explicit lessons on how to read and write too.  So what am I doing to get there?

First off I am doing my best to add and continue the "wonder" nature in my classroom.   I am encouraging my students to ask and wonder about the world that we live in.  In addition, I applied for tools of inquiry through the "My Classroom Needs" program and was successful with my application.  Soon our classroom will be filled with early childhood magnifying glasses, bug boxes, ECE microscopes and so many other cool tools for inquiry.

My class and I are part of a year long inquiry called "Looking Closely" with other classes around North American (and the world?) . I have increased the number of nonfiction books in my classroom and we are slowly working through the Looking Closely series by Frank Serfini. Our discussions have been rich and it has motivated us to look more closely at the things around us.

I am also looking at revamping my timetable yet again.  I am going to change the structure of my Wednesday completely. Yes the day will still begin with Physical Education, and end with time with our Grade 6/7 buddies but the time in between is going to change.  Inquiry will be the focus of the rest of the day. If we start a project in the morning we will have the opportunity to continue it after recess, and again after lunch.  The reading, writing, and math will be embedded into our learning, and not as a subject scheduled through out the day.  I wish learning could be like that every day but I'm not ready to go there yet.  We'll see though. I am very curious to see how this new Wednesday will work out.

To help me get started I've been reading a lot.  Books that I've read or are reading include A Place for Wonder: Reading and Writing Nonfiction in the Primary Grades by Georgia Heard and Jennifer McDonough and  Passion-Driven Classroom: The Framework for Teaching and Learning by Angela Maiers and Amy Sandvoid.  I am in a professional book club with my school district where we are reading  and discussing Comprehension and Collaboration - Inquiry Circles in Action by Stephanie Harvey and Harvey Daniels.  I'm reading many blogs written by classroom teachers who are doing what I'd like to be doing in my classroom.  One such teacher is Angie Harrison and I am constantly learning a ton from her classroom blog.  I'm intrigued but what is happening in  Reggio Inspired classrooms too.

I am also trying my best to get the families of my students involved as well.  I have designed an "Expert Project" to help my students learn more about their passions. It's a home project, with no pressure at all, but it's designed to help foster a love for life long learning with my students.  I'll write more about it as it develops but right now I'm excited to know that I have students working on their passions in their own homes, and getting ready to become experts for our class.

So this is a little bit about where I've started and where I hope to be heading.  I'd love to hear how you're dealing with inquiry in your learning environment.  Feel free to send any blog post links, book recommendations or "people I should follow".  Or share your stories about how you're tackling the demands of a timetable with the desire to inquire more. I'm curious to learn how to do it all!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Making Thinking Visible

Photo Credit: Eileen Delhi via Compfight c 

One of the greatest benefits I've seen with increased access to technology is how well it allows my students to make their thinking visible.  Now I don't want to imply that student thinking can't be made visible with out technology because that simply isn't true. But technology has made it easier for my students to document their learning, and for me to access this documentation. Let me explain how.

My class is made up of diverse learners with unique and individual needs.  I don't think my class is any different then any other class in terms of diversity of learner needs. As much us we are all alike, we are all very different too. I do my best to meet their individual  needs by providing them with choice as often as I can.  I have written about how I do that  here, here, here, and here. But providing so much choice means that I am not collecting the same assignments from each child in my class, nor am I expecting everyone one to show their learning in the same way.  But I still need to see that they are learning, and I still need to be able to share this learning with their parents.  This is where technology really helps to make thinking visible.

Technology is allowing my students to add voice to their work.  My students often take pictures of their pen and paper writing, and then add voice to their work through a variety of different iPad apps.  Here's a sample of one student reading his non digital writing.  This work was shared on this student's blog for both me, his family, and the world to see.

This was made by using the iPad Camera and adding voice with the Draw and Tell App

Other students have gone a step further by sharing their writing, talking about what they are proud of and setting a goal to work on for next time.  This is all done independently but it's so helpful for me to be able to access.

This was made using the iPad camera, and the Tellagami app

In math my students often record themselves talking about what they know.  They then add those recordings to their individual blogs.  Sometimes there are errors in their thinking because they do not understand the concept they are explaining.  This is great formative assessment as it helps me better understand what they are having trouble with.  Typically in discussion with each individual student we decide to keep the work on their blog, but to make the post private so the world doesn't have to hear their errors.  We talk about how important it is to have a  sample of where their thinking is at that moment  time as a reference place to how far they go. Even when the thinking isn't correct it's important to make it visible.

Adding voice to non digital work is an easy way to make thinking visible, and using technology to do it  allows it to be done even when I'm not around to hear it.  

Many of my students also choose to create work with digital tools.  They do this by accessing open ended creative apps so share what they know.  Some of their favourite go to apps include the iPad Camera, Draw and Tell, Educreations,  Pic Collage, and iMovie.  They also share information through two book making apps Book Creator and My Story and the presentation app Haiku Deck.  They have many options to make their thinking possible.  When ever they can they add voice to their digital work.  They use  Draw and Tell, Educreations, Explain Everything, Voice Record Pro, and to add voice to work. There are many other fabulous voice recording apps that you may want to explore as well.  Children choose different tools for different reasons. Just like adults they don't all like to use the same tool to document learning.  Access to technology has given them more tools to choose from.   

Here are two different math examples. While both examples are sharing the same mathematical concept, each student has chosen a very different way to make their thinking visible.  You should notice that they have used different digital tools to make this thinking visible.

This was made using the iPad camera and the PicCollage App
This was made independently using the iPad Camera, skitch, Draw and Tell, and iMovie

If you check out my students' individual blogs from this year or last year  you will see they have many different ways to make their thinking visible to the world.   What tools do your students use most often to make their thinking visible?