Friday, December 26, 2014

Using Minecraft as a Tool to Show Learning

For the past little while I have been looking at Minecraft as a tool for learning. I recognize that many children love to play with Minecraft.  They are creating environments and sharing them with others. Minecraft has opened up a wonderful avenue for exploration and creativity.

Last school year I was reading how some early years teachers were using Minecraft to spark learning.  One teacher was letting her students play on Minecraft as a way to ignite writing ideas as soon as their Minecraft time was over.  Another teacher was sharing about how her students were building important buildings they were studying about such as the parliament .  Most recently I read Kimberly Moran's post on integrating technology where she talks about having her students create a book setting in Minecraft.

One of my goals it to make school and home more alike then less alike.  I know many of my students go home and enjoy creating with Minecraft.  I want them to know that I value this creativity so I am thinking about ways to do just that.

This past fall my grade one students were expected to understand what school as a community is while my grade two students needed to understand what we have in the community.  What better way to show me this knowledge then by creating in Minecraft.  My reality however is that I  only one copy of Minecraft in my classroom but far more students interested in Minecraft.  This wasn't necessarily going to be as easy as I had hoped.  So what did I do instead?

I sent a letter home to families explaining my Minecraft vision. I explained that I'd love for my interested students to go home and either create our school (and the rooms in it) or our community (and the buildings in it) in Minecraft. It was not a required assignment but it was a way for me to link their passions at home with school.

Many of my students went home that night and started creating.  One parent was telling me how her child  was using Google Earth to look  at our school so that he could create it to scale.  Another was building through their TV console.  Those students interested in Minecraft were creating in Minecraft. I couldn't be happier.

Presenting their creations was a bit more complicated.  A couple students sent in images of their creations and shared them with our class. Images were uploaded to their blogs and shared with the world.

Overall though while many students created in Minecraft far fewer shared their creations with me or the rest of the class.  So was the idea a failure because so few shared with  their classmates? I'd say no.  Learning is learning whether it gets to the presentation stage or not. My students were engaged in creating their schools or communities, at home, in their own time.  They were learning. We had those same discussions in class it was clear that they understood what I needed them to understand.

Will I invite the use of Minecraft into my classroom again? Of course!  I really love Kimberley's idea of using Minecraft to share settings from stories shared.  How are you using Minecraft with your students?

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Lessons Learned from a Hanukkah Candle

Being Jewish I like to teach my students some of the costumes and traditions associated with Hanukkah. We read books about Hanukkah (Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins by Eric Kimmel is a repeat favourite), look at a menorah and play with dreidels.  Last Wednesday morning we also lit my personal menorah.

As I struck the first candle, and used it to light the second candle something happened.  The second candle was not fully lighting.  We watched it for what felt like a long time and while it wasn't going out, it certainly wasn't shining bright.  Some students suggested that we light is again, while others suggested that we just give it a little more time.

This year,  I am fortunate to have a third of my class from last year for a second year in a row.  If you were in contact with me at all last year you'll know while I taught the most incredible children it was an extremely challenging year for me. Many struggled to shine in ways that I normally see in a grade one classroom.

As we watched the menorah candle try to burn more brightly I asked my students to be patient.  It was clear that the candle had not actually burnt out, but it was also obvious that is was not shining as brightly as the other candle.  We needed to be patient.

This patience reminded me so much of my year last year, and the changes I'm seeing in my students this year.  Last year it was tough for many to shine brightly amongst some of the needs and challenges in my room .  Many candles, while lit, were not as bright as would be expected.  Yet despite all the needs and challenges my students and I were struggling with, my students were in fact developing their own brightness.

As we watched the  slightly burning candle a little longer (and I'm sure we were all praying for it to stay lit), all of a sudden the tiny flame shot up into a full sized brightly burning flame.

As I reflect on the year I am having this year (which is so different than the year I had last year) many of the students I am teaching for a second year remind me so much of that little Hanukkah candle.  These students are  shining brightly.  They have stepped into leadership roles that would make anyone proud.  They are confident with themselves as learners and are willing to take risks.  They are finding their place in their learning journey. They are shining lights!

Last year I worried so much about so many of them yet I never gave up on any of them a lot like what happened with our little Hanukkah candle.  The little candle reminded me that I can't rush my students and I need to accept them as who they are.  It reminded me that I need to be patient and supportive and that I need to be the champion for my students.  It reminded me that despite challenging situations good things can and do happen.  It reminded me of how lucky I truly am to see these children blossoming as strongly as they are.

We have a lot to celebrate.

Wishing you a Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas or what every holiday you celebrate at this time of the year.  My 2015 bring you peace, joy, and happiness.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Skyping the Teacher?

In a regular classroom one thing that we can all count on is that things don't always go as planned.  This past week my students and I were excited to have a Mystery Number Skype video call planned with a class in New Zealand!  This was pretty exciting for us and entailed several visits to our class world map, discussions around weather and temperature, and we even wondered if they could actually have Christmas because their weather was warm in December. But alas, at the very last minute we found out that they were caught up in an assembly that went much longer than they had expected and our call had to be rescheduled.

Since we had already done the prep work for our call I quickly created a plan B (isn't that what teachers do best?).  If you've followed my class blog at all you'll know that we have been experimenting with Kathy Cassidy's grade one/two class in Moose Jaw and we have held two Mystery Number Skype calls at the exact same time.  One call has been focussing on numbers to 20 while the other numbers to 50.  This also means I have two Skype accounts to make this work.

My students were keen to have a Mystery Number Skype call but we had no one to call.  So what did I suggest?  That they Skype me!  Yes, you read that correctly.  I was thankful to have my personal computer at school in addition to my work computer. On one side of the classroom my class sat connected to one of my Skype accounts, while on the other side I sat with a couple students and my other Skype account.  

Me and my very small crew chose our number and quietly the rest of my class chose their number too. When I knew they had their number (and I did not know their number) we started the call.

They  answered the call on their computer and away we went.  It was pretty incredible to just let them do what they do best.  Classroom leaders took over and the call ran as if I was with them except... I wasn't! I was facing a totally different direction and I could only see them in the computer screen.  The few boys that were with me were giggling away as they took turns asking questions to their classmates, via computer, on the other side of the classroom.  The rest of the class took the job very seriously. They asked questions that made sense and they recorded the data that was necessary.  It was a really fantastic experience and in the end we were both able to guess the Mystery Numbers.

So what did I learn from this experience?

First off my students are very capable of running a class Mystery Number Skype call without my help.  It makes me think that I need to find a class that is free during my math time so that we can have this as an on going 1:1 Skype interaction for my students.

I also learned that classroom leaders step up but  sometimes the leaders are different then who you'd expect them to be. This year I teach in a combined grade one/two classroom and I assume my leaders will come from my grade twos. And while this is partly true I have some very strong grade one leaders too who are willing to step up, even with their older classmates able to help too.

We have been doing Mystery Number Skype calls on and off most of this first term and it's really making a difference in my students' number sense.  Their questions are far more focussed and far fewer "off task" questions are being asked.  It was reassuring to see this. 

And finally,  there are a small handful of students who really do need my support and when given extra freedom can't quite handle it yet. (It was great for me to be able to give them the guided support they required as well).

Have you ever thought about having your students Skype you and see how well they excel when given this opportunity?

Mystery Number Voxer!

When the power goes out the show must go on...

This past Friday at around 9:30 am all the power in my school went out. With a 9:50 am  Mystery Number Skype* call scheduled with Louise Morgan's class in Texas things had to change.  With no electricity, and the school wifi down as well, the only access we had to the outside world was through my Phone.  The thought had crossed my mind to use Skype on my phone to make our connection work but with a full class and no way to project the tiny phone sized image for the entire class to see it, that seemed like a silly idea.  So did we scrap the call completely? No way! With technology we were able to find another way to make it work.

Bring on Voxer.  Voxer is a Walkie Talkie type system that allows you to send, images, text and most importantly voice messages between people.  Louise and I are already connected on Voxer so it was easy for me to suggest using it as an alternative way to have our Mystery Number call.  It worked really well too.

Some of the benefits of using Voxer vs Skype is that between our interactions we were able to discuss the questions they asked so that everyone could understand the answers we were giving without the other class having to hear our discussions.  We could move around if we needed to too.  Plus the bonus of using Voxer is that you're left with a recording of the entire interaction on your phone.  I have uploaded our interaction and can now share it both here, and and on my class blog.   It's another great way to share what we are doing in class with my students families and the world.

So if you ever find yourself with a scheduled Mystery Number Skype and your power goes out, why not try a Mystery Number Voxer instead. :-)

If you're interested here is the recording of our Mystery Number call.

*What is a mystery Number Skype? The link attached takes you to a task activity card that you can use if you'd like your students to do 1:1 Mystery Number Skype calls.  The card itself explains the process which can very easily be adapted for a whole class situation like we used it on Friday.  We also used number to 50 instead of numbers to 20 as the card suggests.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Ignite Your Passion for Discovery Education

This past Wednesday evening  I had the privilege of attending and participating in the Ignite Your Passion for Discovery Education event in downtown Vancouver.  Not only did I get the opportunity to be face to face with so many incredible educators I follow on Twitter, but I also received some excellent professional development.

If you're not familiar with the Ignite format you create 20 slides, and have exactly 15 seconds per slide to share your story.  It's a five minute pressure cooker because if you get off on one slide it can mess you up for the rest of your presentation.  Or not... :-)  Unfortunately I don't think my ignite session was recorded but I will try to share it here.  I will include the script I had written, but any one who was there will know that in the end I completely ignored my script. I'm hoping this script was close enough to what I shared on Wednesday night.

According to Wikipedia “Social media is the social interaction among people in which they create, share or exchange information, ideas, and pictures/videos in virtual communities and networks.” But in a early primary classroom? Really?

YES! In my grade one/two  classroom we tweet, blog and video conference. We use social media a lot to learn, show, and share our knowledge. It’s a regular part of how we learn  and allows us to explore and learn  with the world.  Let me explain.

Last year  during our first few days of school my students sent out one simple tweet.  This is what it looks like out our window. What does it look like outside of your window today? The students were skeptical at first but the twitter universe did not disappoint.

The world responded. We had tweets from all over the world. India, Australia, South Africa, England each bringing a new set of questions for us to ask, which we did.

But the most fascinating tweet of all was the one from a school in Windsor Ontario, because they had no windows. Of course we had to find out why, and we were relieved to find out that their school did have windows, there just weren’t any in their inner pod.

We’ve created hashtags and used twitter to practice literacy skills. This is an example during our fairy tale unit where we were tweeting in the voice of characters from little read riding hood. We’ve tweeted to a grade one book club hashtag, and to many other literacy adventures.

We’ve used  it to for numeracy too. Right now we are taking part in a weekly math talk where a question is asked, and we must answer it. This week the question was, “The answer is 8, what is the question?

After reading the Rat by Elise Gravel we decided to tweet her, and let her know what we liked about her book about rats. She was so fantastic, responding personally and specifically to each of my students tweets.  

But the coolest thing of all, one of the most incredible interactions we’ve had with twitter so far this year, is that she created and tweeted an illustration of the main character in her book thanking my students for their tweets! Can you imagine how powerful that was for them.

We also use our student blogs to share and learn with the world too.  We are brave and take risks. We are not afraid to show what we know, and what we are learning. We see visit other blogs and learn from them too.

Take for example this little girl. She created 2D and 3D shapes and wanted the world to see them on her blog. She even said so in the recording she made. The blog post was shared on twitter.

Can you imagine the look on her face when she returned to school the next day to see so many people had commented on her blog? And of course in my class my students know that using social media, and in this case twitter, is two way communication so she took the time to respond to many of her comments. Talk about motivation and authenticity.

We’ve used our blogs to connect with authors, and to teach others about topics that are special to us. We’ve used our blogs in a variety of ways, but always trying to have interactions with our readers.

But we also learn with others through video conferencing. Here we are playing guess my number with a class in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. We are trying to figure out their mystery number by asking questions. We learn a lot with others near and far.

Here my student is practicing her reading, by reading to a teacher candidate two provinces over. She is receiving specific one on one feedback because she is willing to be brave and share her reading through the skype.

This student is solidifying her math skills by asking and answering questions with a student in Iowa. Together they are strengthen their knowledge of two and three dimensional shapes, taking turns, and having fun learning.

But wait! I am not sharing what we do in our classroom because it’s what you need to do in yours. My students are different than yours. Each one of us has different learners with very different learning needs.  Our students are heading in different directions and need to ride their own busses.

That’s the thing, using social media should never be about the tools like twitter, blogging, or video conferencing. It must always be about the learning. What we do with our students must always be about learning.  

But social media is a powerful tool to learn with. I need to be brave, and open to take risks. And I know that sometimes those interactions don’t  go as I planned, but there is just as much learning happening when things go well as when things go wrong.

But the thing is social media is a fabulous tool to learn with, even in the early years. However you must always remember that focus is on the learning, and it must always come first. Thank you.

A special thank you to Dean Shareski and Discovery Education team for giving me this opportunity. It was a wonderful night of learning and sharing with so many incredible people. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Making Learning Visible

About two and a half years ago I was fortunate to be in a meeting with a start up company called Fresh Grade.  Their goal was to create a tool that would better help teachers, parents, and students communicate learning on an ongoing basis.  Their vision focussed around helping students and teachers create digital portfolios by providing tools to easily capture student learning through voice, video, or images. These "snapshots" could then be easily shared with parents who could then comment on the learning too and help their child at home.

I will admit, at first the product had many glitches and was far more work then any other way I was collecting and sharing student learning.  In addition my systems were working well for me and my students shared their work on their blogs.   If you have ever visited my students blogs you'll know that they are very visible with their learning  But, is it enough?

Fresh Grade is a tool that helps my students and I do more by collecting artifacts, adding assessment information, and sharing all that information with their families on an on going basis.   Let me explain.

I use Fresh Grade to collect assessment information on class big ideas.  I create activities and collect artifacts that support the learning intentions of the activities.  My activities are broad in nature though and focus on big ideas.  For example a big idea  might be "reading", "writing",  "playing with patterns", "playing with force and motion", "playing with states of matter" etc.  They are part of my government issued curriculum.   I stay broad on purpose  because my students learn, show, and share their knowledge in individual ways.  We don't have assignments with due dates, we have on going learning.  I stay focussed on big ideas so I have a place to capture, store, and organize their various learning snapshots.

These are some of the "big ideas" I am collecting information on. They are based on my prescribed learning outcomes.

For example when I have a writing conference with a student I can take a photo of their writing, and I can make the conference notes right into Fresh Grade.  If we talk about what they are proud of, or what they want to work on I can record that information. If we set a goal I can record that too. I can record the student reading their writing, or talking about their writing.  Fresh Grade makes it easy for me to add this assessment information to their private portfolio.

If I want to include something they have put on their individual blog I can do that too by adding the link. But I can take it a step further and add my (and or their) assessment information with the blog link too. My students still have full control of what they upload to their individual blogs, but I can take what they are uploading and add it to their assessment portfolio for reporting student learning.

Now I will admit each time I add an image or video I am not typing (or voice recording) additional assessment information.   Sometimes  I just take snapshots of work so I have samples over time to help track growth.  Other times I have images of them working on something.  There is no limit to what I can add to these portfolios. I have all types of learning snapshots.

Collecting snapshots of learning, and adding assessment information to these snapshots is only one part of why I like Fresh Grade.  As soon as I add a photo (or video, or voice recording or assessment note) to a child's portfolio I have the choice to share it with the student's parents immediately via email.  By the time one of my students gets home  from school their parents may already know what we talked about in our writing conference and how they can help at home.

This is a snapshot of learning. You will note that a parent has read and responded to this information.
My students' parents can also add comments to their children's work. They can ask for clarification or they can share how they are helping their child at home.  No longer do they have to wait for the once a term report card to go home.  They are getting snapshots of learning on a regular basis. Plus I'm not having to compose and send home individual emails. The app/site does it for me if I want it to.

Now I don't email home everything I add to the portfolio but I have invited my students' parents in to see their child's portfolio when ever they want.  If at any time they want to know how their child is doing, they just have to peek in and see.  There are work samples with assessment data together.

One thing to remember though is that how I use Fresh Grade is very different than how others use Fresh Grade.  Older students are able to have more involvement with their portfolios and can add their own reflection and assessment information.  Assignments can be more specific, marks can be collected, data can be organized. You can curate resources in Fresh Grade. That's one of the things I like about Fresh Grade. There is no one right way to use it.  Different teachers have different needs and Fresh Grade allows you to personalize how you use the product.

But is it perfect? Of course not and what's great about Fresh Grade is that they are listening to feedback. I have watched them grow over the past two and a half years and I can assure you, they are listening.

If you're looking for a way to make your students' learning visible I highly recommend you check out Fresh Grade.  If we're lucky the portfolios being created in Fresh Grade will one day replace the archaic report cards that have changed so little over the past fifty years.

How are you making learning visible for your students and their families?

Saturday, November 1, 2014

A Positive Use of Social Media Strikes Again!

Over the past couple of weeks I have shared two of Elise Gravel's wonderful non fiction children's books on disgusting critters.  We have read The Slug and The Rat.  After reading The Rat, and knowing that Elise is on twitter I asked my students if they wanted to tweet her and tell her what they thought about her book.  To no surprise the answer was YES!

Since I teach a combined grade one and two class I started by modelling how to tweet with the entire class.  I ask my grade one students what they wanted to say to her and I typed their tweets as they spoke them.  In the process I modelled how a tweet is written and what we needed to include in a tweet.  

With a few tweets sent, my grade two students were encouraged to tweet to her too while I worked with some of my grade one students.  Of course, the rules never change, and I saw each tweet before it went live.  Actually one tweet did sneak out without my eyes but it was quickly brought to my attention.  This tweeting provided my students an  authentic opportunity for writing.  

 As soon as I got a chance to look back at our class "notifications" on twitter I noticed that she was already tweeting us back.  How exciting was that! Here an author/illustrator of books we really enjoyed was reading and responding to our tweets.

A bit of frenzy occurred in my room as we read the various responses to each of my students tweets. A couple of students continued their conversations with her. The rest of us moved on with our morning.

What we missed in the process was that a few tweets later Elise Gravel was curious as to what my class was called since our class twitter handle is @MsLsClass.  Thankfully she figured it out because what she had in store for us next was something we would have never have expected to happen. 

She tweeted us this...

Can you imagine how powerful that one image was for my students? Needless to say we have a lot more Elise Gravel books to enjoy over the next few weeks and are looking forward to her new books too.

Also, in case you have forgotten Elise is not the only author that has interacted to this magnitude with my students.  Ame Dyckman is another incredible author too.  Here's a blog post about our initial encounter with Ame, and how our relationship with her continuedElizabeth Schoonmaker has also worked with my students.  We've also had author's like Todd Parr and Peter Reynolds interact with us a bit too.  I am certain there are MANY others who would interact with their readers through social media.

These are just a few examples of how using social media can bring real learning into your classroom. It makes me question why there are so many districts that are still banning it.  I can't imagine not giving my students this opportunity.

If you're looking for other blog posts I've written on using social media in an elementary classroom check out "Social Media in Grade One? You Betcha!" and "Using Twitter in a Primary Classroom". 

If you're curious to see our twitter interaction I have made a storify with the tweets which you can find below.  Please read all the tweets to see how awesome she was with my students.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Do you use Google products in your early years classroom?

Are you using Google products in your early years classroom to enhance your teaching and your students learning? I'd love to hear how.  Please take a moment or two and fill in this form.  My goal is to collect all the information shared with me, and compile some blog posts to share your (and my) ideas with the world.

Monday, October 13, 2014

I've Been Thinking.... What is really needed for student SELF regulation?

For the past year or so this blog of mine has been a lot quieter than it has been since I started writing it.  As with anything there are reasons for my silence. One reason is over the past year  I was dealing with a very challenging classroom situation in a school system that continues to fund less of the very support my students need.  It's made me question a lot of things and to be honest it's taken a lot out of me.  It's pretty tough seeing broken arms being treated with bandaids (well, that hasn't happened but it's a good idea of how many issues are dealt with).  I've been on crisis management vs crisis prevention and I feel like more often than not I am fighting a loosing battle.  It's been discouraging to say the least.  I've also been thinking and reflecting a lot.  Here is one  thing that I've been thinking about lately, self regulation.

If we really want self regulating students are we able to let go of our teacher control to get our students there?

Through out my challenging year I continued to help my students learn the skills involved with self regulation. I taught them how to recognize their need for a break and how to use their words to ask for them when they were needed.  I taught them how to grab noise reduction ear phones as required, to select where to work, and to choose the way to work that was best for them.  I set up a "check in" system to help them verbalize how they were feelings, express what they needed, and how I could help them.  All this meant I gave my students a lot of control.  There were times when students couldn't handle that freedom and it would kill me to step in and make the decisions for them but I also realize as the adult and teacher in the room it was my job as their teacher to step in from time to time.

But I wonder, how many other teachers would be willing to give their students as much freedom as I have. How many are equally as willing to have a bit of chaos to help students see what was and what is possible?  When we provide our students with seating plans (all year long), or assigned carpet spots (all year long) what skills aren't we teaching our students?  Please don't get me wrong, I do understand that there is a time and place to teach children what proper behaviour looks like during work/discussion time but do we really need to control these environments all year long?

This year, like in the past, I started with no assigned seating at our carpet and our tables. But a week in it was clear that these are skills my students still need to be taught - how to choose a work space that will allow you to do your best work, and how to sit at the carpet in a spot that will help you do your best learning.  My students have now been assigned tables to sit at, and places on the carpet to sit. But for me I hope this will be a very temporary situation as my students better understand what classroom behaviour should look like in these two situations.  Yes, I may have a student or two that will required a specific spot for a little longer than his or her classmates, but the goal for all my students is to help teach them the skills so that they are capable of making their own decisions.  Which brings me back to the idea of teacher control.  If we are controlling where students sit, or how they must work are we missing the boat on teaching them how to self regulate? To me self regulation is a life long skills and one I hope my students are a lot better at when they leave my room.  This means, however, that I need to be willing to give up more and more teacher control . That things may get messier before they get calmer.  I need to trust my gut because like my heart, it knows my students best.

What is your solution for supporting the development of  self regulating students? How do you feel you are hindering your students development in this process and how are you supporting it? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Making Thinking Visible: The Power of Voice

This past summer I had the privilege of sharing a three minute showcase with my Global ADE colleagues on Making Thinking Visible: The Power of Voice.  Here is a copy of that presentation.

Making Thinking Visible: The Power of Voice from Karen Lirenman on Vimeo.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Addition Task Cards

I have been busy creating more task cards, this time for addition. Please feel free to download any or all that are of interest to you.  You can find them here

The Hand Math Symbolic Level Blackline Master

Friday, September 5, 2014

Number and Number Set Task Cards

For the upcoming school year I have created some number task cards.  Most are open ended and can be modified to meet my students' individual needs.  My students have choice as to which job to do as long as they are working on our overall class learning intention at the time.  Of course some jobs are limited by equipment and so we find ways to make that work too.  I am also open to their ideas, and I utilize opportunities for real world math as often as I can.  If you would like to download some or all of these task cards you can find them here.

I included this page as well. I find different students like to choose different apps to add their voice to their work.  In my classroom this is really important as it helps make their thinking visible.