Sunday, April 27, 2014

Part Three - Building Student Learning Communities Through Twitter

In the past I have written about how my students are using twitter in a primary classroom.   As my students use Twitter for learning it also helps them develop their student learning communities.

In previous posts I've talked about how my students have created hashtags and have invited others to join them with their learning and how they have also joined hashtags created by other students to learn with them too.  Hashtags, and the shared learning that occurs within them is an excellent way for students to build learning communities.  It is within shared hashtags such as #santasec13 (sharing secrets about Santa), #2d3dshapes (clues about 2d shapes and 3d solids), or #discoveryfn (sharing about a Discovery Education webinar about First Nations people) where my students better understood that there were other children in different parts of the world learning the same thing as them.  To no surprise my students were equally as excited to read the posts that others were adding to the hashtag.

Shared hashtags also helped my students learn how to solve math problems from other children.  When they were tweeting math number problems to the hashtag #numberstory different classes responded to their questions in different ways.  As much I was their teacher and I was showing them that there were different ways to solve math problems they finally understood the different ways when they saw the tweets from the other children solving their problems in different ways.   Shared hashtags are an excellent way to help learners build student learning communities.

Students can  build learning communities by sending out random tweets too.  This year during our first week of school we sent out one little tweet with a photo attached. "This is what it looks like out our classroom window. What does it look like outside of your window today?"

That one tweet brought my students replies from around the world and each tweet taught my students a little more about the different places the tweets had come from.  Behind every tweet was a class ready to learn and share with us.  My students had many questions or comments for the people behind the tweets and they asked them.  They were developing their own learning community from the tweets that interested them most.

My students have also learned with other students by reading and answering questions that they have found on our class twitter time line.  When a class was using twitter  as tool to collect data we were able to help them with their learning.

I could go on an on with examples of how using twitter has helped my students create their own learning communities with other children from around the world.  If you're looking to help your students find their own learning communities Twitter is another great way to do this.

If you've missed Part One and Part Two of this series on Building Student Learning Communities please follow these links. Part Four will be up shortly.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Part Two: Building Student Learning Communities Through Video Conferencing

This post is the second in a series of four posts on Building Student Learning Communities.  The first post, Building Student Learning Communities Through Blogging can be found here. Links to posts three and four will be found at the end of this blog post once they have been written and published.

I've written about how we use video conferencing a lot in my classroom for learning and while it does help with learning math concepts, or oral language skills it also helps build student learning communities. Let me explain how.

More often than not when I  video conference with my class it is done as whole class activity. My students may write on a wonder wall before a call to help brainstorm questions they'd like to ask.  In particular this was done before calls with Skype, Duck Duck Moose, and a video game programmer.  Because of the pre loading before the calls my students were keen and ready to learn and connect with our guests.  These people became people my students could contact (even if through me) when they had other questions or comments. They become part of their learning community.

Most often  the experts I bring into my class, through video conferencing, are other children  learning about  a similar topic.  Sometimes my class  video conferences with a class once, but often they meet with a class more than just once.  Take for example Ms. Kathy Cassidy's class in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan,  her students have Skyped regularly with my class this year to practice and learn a variety of concepts.  We've play a variety of math games with them over the course of the school year.  My class has even taught them about Hanukkah.  While my students don't know the names of Kathy's individual students they certainly know who Kathy's students are, and when it doubt they know we can video conference with them for just about any reason.  My students like to share their learning with Kathy's class.  My students understand how those connections are important to their learning.

There are times when my students video conference one on one with another adult or child.  Last year my students worked with Ms. Leka DeGroot's class daily often. Our students played math games with each other trying to give and guess clues.  This was a popular choice for many of our students.  My students liked the connections they were making with Leka's class and it made their learning more meaningful to them.

This year we've skyped less 1:1 for math but each week at least one of my students has been reading and learning with an adult through video conferencing.  These people have become important members of our classroom.  For one student in particular her weekly reading is a very important time in her week.  She understands how powerful a learning connection can be, even if it's just through computer screen.  This adult is a part of my student's personally learning community.

Just the other day I took my class on a field trip to the local Salmon Hatchery.  As we were arriving another class was leaving.  The first thing out of one of my student's mouths was, "Can we Skype with them?"  I smiled and knew he understood how powerful our video conferencing has been for  our learning this year.

Like blogging, video conferencing is an excellent way to help students create student learning communities.

Other posts in this series.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Part One: Building Student Learning Communities Through Blogging

I have  a personal learning network, and as an educator I believe I am a better teacher because of the people I learn and share with.  My learning and sharing happens over a variety of platforms - blogging, video conferencing, and twitter to name a few.   I love my personal learning community and I'm forever grateful for the way they push my thinking and help move my learning forward.   So to no surprise I believe it's equally  important for my students to have their own connections too.

Over the next few blog posts I'd like to share some of the ways that I am consciously creating opportunities to help my students build their own learning communities.  This post will focus on how my students use our class blog and their individiual blogs to do just that.  The next three  posts will focus on how they use video conferencing, twitter, and finally collaborative projects to foster student learning communities.  So stick around for a while as this is the first of a four part series on building student learning communities.

I began the journey of helping my students make meaningful connections with children from around the world through the class blog.  It has been and continues to be a window into our classroom.  Over the past three years I've had various other class blogs linked at the side of my class blog.   I make an effort to visit those class blogs with my students.  Sometimes it's a class in our school, other times it's a class in our district.  Yet at other times it's a blog from a class across the country, or around the world.

From the beginning of the school year my class and I regularly visit those blogs during an activity that  I like to refer to as "Blogging Around the World".  This is where my students and I visit the other class blogs to see what is happening in their classrooms.   During these blog visits my students and I read posts, look at photos and click on links if they intrigue us.  Of course we also leave comments and often ask questions.

This regular class blog visiting has helped my students see the incredible learning happening in other classrooms and it has made them curious to learn more from these children.  Having other class  blogs linked at the side of my class blog has meant that my students can revisit these blogs on their own, and more importantly from home. I still smile each time a  student comes to school and reminds me that we need to revisit a class because of what they saw on their blog.

My class has quad blogged too, as a way to create learning networks.  Quad blogging  encourages my students to focus on a specific class blog for a week before switching the focus to a new blog.  This is done with three other classes and each week a different class blog is the  focus of the week.

Again more curiosity, more connections.  During one of the rounds of Quad blogging my class and I visited a class in England that had a rocket ship land on its school ground.   Each time we visited that particular blog we were curious to see what  was happening.  It certainly spiked my students desire to learn from this class.

Today my good friend Kristen Wideen runs a Primary Blogging Community which works exactly as quad blogging does but it's geared for primary students.  If you're looking for a safe way to start building student learning communities this is a perfect place to start.

 My class blog quickly led to individual blogs for my students.  I use Kidblog as the platform for my students but there are other equally good blogging platforms. At first my students' blogs were a place to  share their learning with family members.  However, shortly there after  I introduced my students and their families to commenting.  Many families began commenting on their children's work.  Commenting was encouraged by classmates too.  My students began reading  each others blogs and they started writing  comments too.  Again this was another way to help create student learning communities. At this point the student learning communities were with in our classroom walls and our family homes.  For a few, those family homes spanned across the globe with important relatives living in far away places.

In my second year of having my grade one students blog with Kidblog, Kidblog introduced the ability to add links to the side of the home page.  This opened up a whole new world for my students.  While my students had been connecting with other students through the class blog, access to student individual blogs right beside their individual blogs was even better.  Let me share a story.

Last year I had a student with a similar name to a student in Mrs. Van Rees' class in Ontario.  They discovered this on their own.   Through the simple similarity of a shared name, a student learning network was formed.  Through out the year these two children visited each others blogs, read them and left thoughtful comments.  At times they were having conversations through the comments.   These students  had created their own personal learning network and it was all sparked by having the same first name.

There are many stories just like this all because my students had their own blogs, and on their blogs were links to other students blogs.  Even though my students are typically 5, 6, or 7 most of them understood many of the benefits of learning with others.  They were, through our class blog and their individual blogs, creating personal learning networks just like I was doing by visiting the educational blogs that I visit regularly.

Utilizing blogs to their full potential can help all students build their own learning communities.

Up next, using video conferencing to build student learning communities.

Links to other parts in this series.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Daily Physical Activity

One of the British Columbia educational requirements is that my students have daily physical education.  I teach in a school with over 500 students and one gymnasium so time in the gym is limited to twice a week. So how do I ensure my students  meet their daily physical education requirement?

In the past my students have taken part in a program called Run Across Canada.  All the grade one students at my previous school ran and walked a 1.2 km route around our school and its fields twice a week.  We totalled up our distance covered and mapped it on a map of Canada.  It was a huge success as we travelled east from Victoria, British Columbia. We often made it into the province of Ontario.  It allowed my students to have a better understanding of how large Canada really is.  When we were running through Saskatchewan we "stopped" at Mrs. Cassidy's class to say hello.  So not only did it get my students moving, it also helped us with geography.

This year I'm extremely lucky to work with a teacher how teaches Yoga.  Once a week she works with my students while I teach hers.  My students are loving the calming effect it has on them, and as their teacher I'm loving it too.

Another popular way for my class to move is the incredible symbaloos created by the Kinderchat crew - most specifically Matt Gomez and Michelle Hiebert. I have three of their symbaloos on our class blog which we use regularly and  love.  They are Kinderchat Dance Symbaloo , Just Dance Disney, and Just Dance 2.  What I love about them is the variety of dances each Symbaloo offers my students.  I'm all about choice of course so it's great for my students to have so much choice.

Recently I have discovered the GoNoodle website and at the moment it's our most popular way to move our bodies during class. What my students and I love about GoNoodle is all the ways we can move our bodies.  Sometimes we practice the track and field events lead by USA Olympic athletes.  I love seeing my students exposed to different track and field events such as sprints, hurdles, long jump, javelin etc.  The videos are short (most around 3 minutes) and are engaging for my students.  We can do a few different events in a session, or mix them up through out the day.  The site also offers dances, yoga, and breathing exercises.  Lately we've been starting with a dance, moving to a track and field event, and ending with breathing or yoga exercises.  As my students participate they earn activity minutes. As they earn their minutes their character changes in size.  We are on our second character now.  I'll be curious to see what happens when we clock enough exercise to expand all of the characters GoNoodle offers.

These are just a few ways that we are meeting our daily physical activity requirements.  How are you meeting yours?