Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Some Reflections on ISTE 2015

When I returned from ISTE I immediately started writing a blog post as a way to share my experience.  I wrote about  some of the great things I got up to while I was there both at the  convention center and in the community (I love Philadelphia if you were wondering).  Things like heading to a Phillies game with people I'd never met in person and having a really great time, or heading to a party where someone was so supportive of me and tried hard to get me networked and more known by others.  There were many highlights. But the more I typed the more I felt like I was trying to make more of my experience. Yes, I did have many incredible experiences while in Philadelphia, and I'm thankful for each and everyone of them, but I'm not so sure my take away was as incredible.  ISTE was so much more about my own personal self reflection this year than all the good that I was surrounded by.

For me ISTE is about the face to face meetings of "My People".  It's the ability to share what I have learned and to learn from others doing similar and different things.  It's about the hugs, the smiles,  the conversations and the multiple opportunities to connect with people who get me.  ISTE brings together a large collection of people who understand my work, my purpose, and my passions.  It's a place where I can truly be me, floating around with the people who get me.  It's these same people that push my learning, and make me really think about my why and my purpose.  It is through them that I am a stronger educator, a more reflective educator, and hopefully a better educator. For me ISTE is far more about the face to face interactions with people then the sessions that I'm able to attend.

This years ISTE was different for me though.  I took on way too much and so I ended up being pretty stressed most of the convention.   I had sessions every day and between the workshops I was giving (three 3 hour workshops) , the Ignite and 1:3 adventures and the rehearsal time they required, I presented over 15 hours over the three and a half days of the conference.  I didn't get even remotely enough time to connect with many of the people I wanted to connect with. When I saw someone in the convention centre I'd often be able to offer them a little more than a couple of sentences of small talk, but in most cases my reality was that I was off to get to my next obligation.  I missed events I was really looking forward to attending but I also needed a lot more time for me.  As extroverted most believe I am, I get drained by people and need quiet time to recharge.

In addition I felt like I was being pulled by too many people and constantly letting people down.  Despite my logical brain saying "you can't be everywhere with everyone at the same time"  it bothered me  and  made me feel guilty.   Eventually I did get stronger at listening to myself and what I needed.  I also realized that others were feeling just as I was, being pulled in various directions, wanting to do more than was possible with so many great options happening at the same time. I learned a lot more about myself this year at ISTE.  I learned that I love to share with others, but when the sharing takes so much time (and causes me so much unnecessary stress) that I don't have enough time to connect with people who matter most to me,  then something is wrong.  This year I barely connected with anyone beyond the surface level and that's not something I'm proud of.

However despite feeling extremely stressed most of my time at ISTE, constantly running from one place to another, and feeling awful for having so few quality interactions with people, I did manage to sneak in some highlights.  One of the highlights  was my IGNITE session on the first day of the conference, but more specifically the support I had from my friends and district AND the luxury of time that I had with the people who I shared the backstage of this Ignite with.   I can't even begin to thank the wonderful people that I was back stage with. While our conversations may not have gotten deep enough - there is still so much more I'd love talk to you all about - we had a special bond behind the scenes.  I love how supportive the group was.  What most of you don't know is that when we finished our ignite the "team" was waiting backstage to congratulate one another.  I will admit it took me a few ignites to join the ritual but I think that was just the  fact that it took me a while to come down after my Ignite.   

The Ignite also scared me a lot and  required me to dig deep to keep calm and be brave.  As nervous as I was about going first, in the end it was probably a blessing because I got it over with first. And the thing is when you try something that really scares you, you get stronger as a person to try something frightening again and no one can take that confidence away from you.

The room for the Ignite
(I stood in front of the little screen in the middle)

If you're interested, here's a recorded copy of my Ignite. Thank you Petra for capturing and sharing this with me.

Other ISTE highlights included...
  • attending a ballgame with a great crew of people
  • connecting with friends from my part of the world
  • reconnecting with far away friends from my various learning communities
  • meeting on-line friends in real life for the first time!
  • connecting with  brand new friends 
  • sharing meals or drinks with people near and dear to my heart  
  • attending sponsored social events 
  • connecting with developers creating products I'm very interested in
  • eating all types of  food from Reading Market
  • visiting the String Theory School 
  • running up the "Rocky Stairs"
  • visiting  historical sights
  • and learning - about coding, robotics, makerspace, minecraft , STEAM, and so much more!

I have already reserved a hotel room for next years ISTE in Denver. I just need someone to remind me that I don't need to submit or be a part of so many presentation proposals.  And the Ignite and 1:3, I'll let others give those a try next year. I'm not sure anything can top going first on the BIG stage at ISTE.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Is Your Formative Assessment Really Formative? I've Been Thinking...

Lately I seem to be sticking my nose into conversations around assessment, and more specifically formative assessment.  These include apps or websites or favourite activities such as exit tickets or creating screencasts. My hope is that the ideas about "formative assessment" being shared by fellow educators are ways that their students are showing what they know.  But here's the thing, it seems that these conversations rarely seem to go beyond the tools students are using to share their learning.  Isn't formative assessment, or assessment for learning, way more than just seeing what a student knows, AND actually taking that knowledge and creating an action plan to help push the learning forward?

I wonder sometimes if people are so wrapped up in the tools to collect student knowledge, that they forget one of the most important reasons why this knowledge is being collected in the first place.  With formative assessment in mind, aren't we collecting our students thinking so we can help guide/support/facilitate  the nexts steps  to move their learning forward? Sometimes those next steps come from the student themselves through their personal reflection.  Sometimes those next steps come from their classmates during peer assessment. Sometimes those next steps come from the teacher. Sometimes those next steps might come from all three sources.  But isn't  the main point of formative assessment to see what a student knows and where they could/should go next?  The where to next is a key element to formative assessment and in my opinion the biggest difference between formative and summative assessment.

Maybe I'm way off base here around formative assessment.  Maybe I'm not acknowledging the growth that has occurred during a lesson or a unit or a school term. Maybe I'm missing the celebration of learning that has happened between the beginning of a unit and the end of it. In no way do I want to devalue that.  That is also a key factor in why we assess work but I think that falls under the "summative" form of assessment.  But if we are just looking at what we've achieved, and we aren't looking for or suggesting next steps then our assessment isn't formative anymore.  In my mind the purpose of formative assessment is to review knowledge and help guide/support/facilitate next steps

How are you supporting formative assessment  practices in your teaching environment? Are you just discussing tools, or are you discussing what you are learning from what your students are sharing via those tools and how you can help support and push learning forward.  Now that's something I'd love to talk more about.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

*Leadership from the Trenches

I will be perfectly honest, I have never had much of a desire to go into an administrator role in a school environment.  I'm not sure I could handle being so far removed from children in a classroom, which is one of the reasons why I've never applied for a job at that level.  But do I believe the only way you can show leadership in a school environment is to be an administrator? Absolutely not!

I am a classroom teacher, a fully engrained classroom teacher.  I love the time I am able to spend with the most incredible young people. I love watching them learn and seeing their "aha" moments when something finally clicks for them.  I love it when they see themselves as readers and writers. But I believe as a classroom teacher I can also demonstrate leadership way beyond the walls of my classroom.

In today's day and age the world is a connected place, if you chose to allow yourself to be connected. Connections can happen through blogs or twitter or Pinterest or Voxer or Google+ or Facebook or.... you get the point. Educators of 2015 no longer can use the excuse that they didn't know when there are so many places to help them be in the know.   It is through being a connected educator that ANY classroom teacher can demonstrate leadership in education.  But how you may ask? By sharing  practice! 

Most of you know that I spend a fair bit of time on social media reading blog posts, joining discussions, and learning from others.  In fact I often believe that everything I know is because someone has shared it with me. Now I don't always agree with what I'm reading, but I am constantly learning. If I believe it's something that will positively benefit my students I will tweak it to work for them.  And that's the thing, if people didn't share with me I'd know so much less.

Sharing practice is one of the best ways to show leadership from within the classroom.  It is through my sharing in a variety of venues that I am able to have a positive impact on many primary classroom around the globe.  If I didn't share the only place I'd have impact is with my students.

So here's the thing, YOU are a leader too and if you're not already, YOU need to share too!

I honestly believe this video explains it best.

Leadership is very possible from the trenches, as long as you're willing to share. So go on now, find a platform and share!  

*This post is part of a series of monthly questions that Cathy Rubin is asking several education bloggers to respond to.  This month's question was "What are the best ways a teacher can share leadership in the classroom?"  It is an honour to be a part of this group.  Please check out the complete list of posts here  . 

Monday, May 25, 2015

Teacher Stress? We've Got This Beat

If you’ve entered the teaching profession, the chances are you’ve encountered more than your share of teacher stress.  It’s an unfortunate given of the job as we try, as best as we can, to meet the unique and individual needs of our students.  Many new teachers struggle to make it past the first five years of teaching because the stress has gotten to them.  But with almost 23 years of teaching experience I’ll let you in on a little secret, there are things we can do to help better deal with the copious amount of stress this job throws at us.

Celebrate the Little Things

Often as teachers we are so immersed in teaching and learning we forget to take the time to celebrate the little things.  But the thing is without these little steps there would be no growth.  Look, and yes sometimes it’s hard to see, but notice the small steps your students are making and celebrate them!

Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously

Don’t get me wrong I strongly believe our job is very important as we have a hand in shaping the future of the next generation.  We might be the first person to believe in a child, or the only person a child can trust.  But as important as our job is it is so important that we don’t take ourselves too seriously. Have some fun with the job, laugh with your students. Take the time to play. Never take yourself too seriously.

Be Flexible

One constant we have as teachers is that there are many things out of our control.  Some of those things might drive us complete crazy, but the reality is we work in a system that is far more complicated than just us.  Being flexible is one way to deal with these constant changes.

Take Time For Yourself

Teaching is one of those jobs that can constantly demand your time. There is always another article to read, another student or parent to connect with, or another lesson to plan. It’s a job that can take every free moment of your day… if you let it. Don’t!  We are no good to anyone if we aren’t good to ourselves.  Take time for yourself. Breathe, walk away, get outside, travel, garden, read books for pleasure or whatever; do what makes your heart smile.

Be Active

Exercise is the secret drug of life. It helps keep you grounded and focused on what you need to achieve.  It helps keep stress from taking over.  Now I’m not saying go sign up for the local marathon but make a commitment to yourself to get your body moving regularly. It can be a simple as going for a walk over your lunch hour, or having a regular workout regime.  However you make it work, make time to be physically active.

What do you do to combat teacher stress?

*This post is part of a series of monthly questions that Cathy Rubin is asking several education bloggers to respond to.  This month's question was "What are quick ways to combat teacher stress in a classroom?"  It is an honour to be a part of this group.  Please check out the complete list of posts here . 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Power of Skitch

Only just recently has my class and I returned to using the app *Skitch.  If you're not familiar with Skitch it allows you to annotate images with arrows, text, and drawing.  It also allows you to easily blur out content (or faces) with it's easy to use pixilating feature.  As I watched my students dive back into using skitch through our 2d shapes and 3d solids exploration a ton of ideas entered my head of others ways we could use this simple, and free app.

Labelling Images

At the most basic level Skitch can be used to add labels to images. In the first example my student is using the text and arrow feature.

In this example my student is using the pencil feature to better explain his math.

Blurring Private Information

For most of my students I have permission to use their images online but I work really hard to not to have their image with their name. Sometimes I get great images but when I look a bit closer I see I have managed to show their first name at the same time.  In the image below you can see that I have used the Skitch pixilating feature to blur out the name.  What's nice is it's so easy that my students can do it too.

Identifying Real Life Examples

As we continue to explore properties of 2d shapes and 3D solids my students have been exploring where they can be found in the environment.  One way they have been doing this is by taking a picture then using the highlighter tool to highlight the different shapes they can see in the picture.

Glenn Young, a Surrey Schools helping teacher,  recently shared images where his students took photos of each other as they were doing a plank in PE, and then they annotated those images noticing correct and incorrect form.  My head is spinning with ideas, is yours?

Self/Peer Assessment and Formative Assessment

My students have been working very hard to master the "givens" in our classroom.  The givens include things like adding a capital letter at the beginning of a sentence, and using punctuation.  It's not an overly large list but it's things as a class we feel we can all do successfully.  In addition we have been working hard at rereading our work to make sure we haven't let any of the givens slip.  So what does this have to do with Skitch?

Imagine if I asked my students to take a picture (or screenshot) of their writing and import it into Skitch. From there they could use the highlighter tool and highlight where they have successfully achieved the givens.  To take it a step further they could easily pass off their device and have a friend do the same thing on their writing, but this time in a different colour.  What I like about this process is that not only does it encourage peer and self assessment, but it also leaves the original piece of work in it's original state.  Imagine all the things you could have students look for in their work and use Skitch to document what they have found?

Also for self assessment a student could look at their criteria and then circle the evidence in their work that clearly demonstrates they have met the criteria.  Of course this isn't just limited to writing samples, it could be used with any type of student work.

While I have been using Skitch since I met my first iPad almost 3.5 years ago I can't believe I've let it sit unused for a while when it has so much potential.  How are you using Skitch in your practice? How will you think about using it now?

* While I work in an iPad classroom, so the Skitch we use is the iOS app, Skitch is available on many platforms as well as being web based. Skitch is part of the Evernote family.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Creating a Culture of Kindness

If you know me personally you'll know that I have some pretty strong believes around children and their behaviours.  I am not a fan of whole class reward systems nor am I big fan of external motivators like stickers or candy.  I am however inspired to bring the very best out of  the students in my class and I will do what I can to do just that.

At the heart of all of this I have a strong belief that you must genuinely care about your students and their well being to have any long term impact on them.  It's a given in my classroom.  I may not know you very well when you first walk into my class, but I can assure you I will do my best to get to know you, and in turn you will find a permanent spot in my heart.

Some years I have students who are more difficult to get to know. Some take a lot longer to connect with.  But even in my most challenging years, with my most challenging students , I keep trying to bring the best out in all of my students. Building real meaningful relationships is key for me.

I also work hard to help my students build positive relationships with one another.  During our year together we are a family. I do my best to help each student see the best in their classmates. I want them to see the good in each other just like I see the good in them.

Together we work  hard to create a culture of kindness.  Our focus is finding ways to be kind, even when someone is not being kind.   We talk about staying calm and using kind words when we are approached with anger.  My students  use "I messages" to let their classmate(s) know how they are feeling.  We have talked about how important it is for my students to listen to one another.  When someone says "I don't like it when you....." we've talked about how important it is to listen and reflect.

I want my students to listen to their classmates and then reflect on their own actions, and take the right steps to make things better.  I am doing my best to teach them to do this on their own. I strongly believe most (if not all) children can do this successfully if given the opportunity to.  Far too often children run to adults to solve their problems. While I'm obviously there to solve problems I want my students to learn how to solve their own problems too.

There are many things I do in my classroom to help create the culture of kindness.  To begin with my students have a lot of choice to learn in ways that work best for them.  This choice includes working on their own or working with others.  I smile when I listen in as one student is explaining an activity to another. By having a room full of "teachers" to turn to when help is needed or is being offered we are drawn to be kind to each other. My students  understand that each person in the class is important and everyone has  different  needs to be met.

I have also worked hard to encourage my students to support one another because together we are all stronger.  If they want competition it should be against themselves, always pushing to be the best they can be, and not against each other.  We often talk about how everyone's best looks different but our goal is to continue to improve.  I love that my students understand that and are willing to support each other with their learning.

Lately we've taken the time at the end of the week to reflect on how we've been kind over the week. We tweet at least one reflection to the hashtag #classkindness. As their teacher I am proud as they each bring their tweets to me for approval before sharing them with the world.  It's a great way to end a week.

This is a sample of some of their tweets.

How are you creating a climate of kindness in your classroom?

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Thinking About Thinking: Creating a Classroom of Thinkers

A couple of years ago I was fortunate to visit my dear friend Kristin Ziemke's classroom in Chicago, Illinois.  Kristin is an incredible teacher, author, and presenter.  She co-authored her first book Connecting Comprehension & Technology which is a must read if you're looking to utilize technology to increase student comprehension.

While in her classroom  one thing that continues to resonate with me is the way she had her students engage with the text as they were reading.  Leaving thinking tracks was an integral part of her literacy program.  It got me thinking, was I doing this well enough? Could this be something I could improved at?

Fast forward a couple years and leaving thinking tracks is an integral part of not only my literacy program, but throughout our day to day activities.  My students have been exposed to various ways to leave thinking tracks. They know that learning isn't about memorizing facts but more about connecting and engaging with those facts and making them meaningful to them.

While reading my students often write on a post it note to record words they are having trouble reading. They may write down a connection or question or wonder.  They know that good readers don't just figure out what words say, but they actually think about what they are reading and engage with the text. They also know that it doesn't matter what level of text you are reading, everyone can engage with text.

Thinking tracks goes way beyond just when my students are doing the reading. During shared reading we stop and turn and talk often as a way to think about and keep engaged with the text. We do follow up thinking activities such as  "think pair share", "I knew this but this is new information", or "I used to think but now I think" .  My students  are often encouraged to draw what they learned from the story, what their favourite part was,  or  how they would  change the ending.  Adding voice to the illustrations helps better explain the thinking behind the drawings.

While watching videos my students leave thinking tracks by taking notes. I want thinking to permeate everything we do in our class so I am doing my best to include thinking activities as often as I can.

Thinking occurs during one on one conference time too.  Not only are my students explaining to me what they have worked hard at and are proud of but what they feel they still need to improve. It doesn't matter what we are conferencing about. My students  are actively thinking about their work.

What I've found most interesting this year though is that when the key focus is thinking, and pushing thinking, mistakes become far less important.  Mistakes are seen more as a place to step forward from, instead of an error that halts learning.  For example  this past week my students were experimenting with writing  math stories.  They were given the open ended task of creating a math story with "big" numbers. Big was never officially defined but we have spoken about how playing with numbers to 100 is a part of grade two math. Here are a couple samples from one of my students.

While it is quite obvious that there is a mathematical error in the second problem the error takes a back seat to the thinking behind the math.  His attempt to write mathematical stories beyond what is expected at his grade level showed me that he is thinking about his math, and trying to push his thinking forward.  Yes, we did have a conversation about the error, but it was part of a more important conversation about how he took what he knew and explored a much larger number. We talked about how he was really thinking about his math.

Thinking is occurring throughout the day and it is coming from my students. It is not about me telling them what to think but it's about them being aware of how to think, and what's possible when they engage in what they are doing.  This whole notion of students being in control of their learning leads me to a whole other blog post on the power of student voice and choice.

But back to thinking... thinking routines themselves are not new.  Making Thinking Visible by Ron Ritchahart, Mark Church, and Karin Morrison is a fabulous book that explores making thinking visible.   From the cover of the book it is written,

"Making Thinking Visible offers educators research-based solutions for creating just such cultures of thinking. This innovative book unravels the mysteries of thinking and its connection to understanding and engagement. It then takes readers inside diverse learning environments to show how thinking can be made visible at any grade level and across all subject areas through the use of effective questioning, listening, documentation, and facilitative structures called thinking routines. These routines, designed by researchers at Project Zero at Harvard, scaffold and support one's thinking. By applying these processes, thinking becomes visible as learners' ideas are expressed, discussed, and reflected upon."

No matter what age, all students are capable of thinking and being actively engaged in their learning.  For more information on thinking routines check this out Thinking routines.

Are you creating a classroom of thinkers?