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.