Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Tablet Computer Suggestions

Today I was once again published on the International Reading Association website called Engage in their teaching tip section.  This is the second time I've written for them with plans to write some more.  You can find my article entitled "Your Classroom Got a New Tablet Computer - Now What?" here.

I'd love some feedback on it.  Much thanks.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Revisiting Our 100th Day of School - Giving My Students Full Choice

As I've mentioned before this is my 20th year of teaching, which means I have celebrated the 100th day of school many, many times before. In the past I've always put a booklet together that explored the number 100 in a variety of different ways, and as a class we would move through a variety of different activities all based around the number 100.  The 100th day has always been an exciting time in my classroom but this year I wanted to try something different.

I have been following Kathy Cassidy quite closely via twitter and her blogs so when she posted a video on her class blog about what her students were doing for their 100th day, she got me thinking.  That's one of the many things I like about Twitter.  It opens me up to ideas which I would never have thought about by interacting with my small circle of teaching friends and colleagues.  But I digress.

Kathy's class wrote about what they wondered about the number 100.  On their 100th day of school Kathy let her students find answers to their wonders.  Wow, that totally inspired me as I thought to myself, I can do that too!  So about a week ago I met with my class about our up coming 100th day of school.  I showed them the video and we talked about it, a lot.  I was curious what they wanted to know about the number 100.  I took notes.  They were so keen to share with me what they wanted to know about one hundred.  Questions like, how far can you run in 100 seconds? How long does it take to skip 100 times?  What does 100 children look like?  I wrote down all their queries.  Now some I knew we weren't going to do - like how long does it take to eat 100 chips - but most were totally doable over the course of a school day. I also added to the discussion by suggesting things my class has enjoyed doing in the past such as making and wearing 100 style glasses, and creating 100 breakfast cereal necklaces.

Fast forward to yesterday morning, our 100th day of school.  My students arrived super excited with their 100 collections in hand.  There was definitely a buzz in the air, as there usually is on our 100th day of school.  The first thing we did was take a look at the different collections that were brought in.  We tried to figure out who had the biggest collection, the heaviest, the lightest, and the smallest.  Each person talked about their collection. (Yes, this is where I need to get filming my students- something I am trying to implement more into my classroom after being totally inspired by Aviva Dunsiger).

Once we shared our collections we turned to the chart of what we wanted to discover on our 100th day.  I had begun to write ideas on the chart from the ideas they had suggested over the course of the week, and we added and created a second chart. Once the charts were created I explained to my students that they could  do as many activities on the list as they wanted as long as they remembered to sign up for their activities so I would know how they chose to discover 100.   I also let them know that if they came up with another idea we could easily add it to the charts.  You should have seen their eyes light up. They were so excited to have complete choice of their learning.

At first it was a bit crazy as they realized there was only one skipping rope to skip with, one ball to bounce, and one hula hoop to spin.  But I reminded them that they'd have most of the day to get those specific jobs done and to not worry, a free moment in the day would arrive for them to give it a try.  I also let them know that some of the items we would all do at the same time, or at least those that were interested in doing them - like for example running for 100 seconds.

The buzz was incredible, again I should have been filming their conversations.  Everyone was doing exactly what they wanted to be doing and they were ALL exploring different aspects of the number 100.  One child that loves our class Lego immediately began counting out 100 pieces of lego to create with.  Others were keen to get their special glasses made, and others wanted their own necklaces.  A few minutes later three of my boys wanted to count 100 children, so after some instructions they headed down the hallway to count children in different classes. As I suspect the glasses and the cereal necklaces were popular choices but so too were the skipping, hula hooping, ball bouncing, and drawing.  All day long I heard my students counting, over, and over again.

The counting was really quite incredible.  You see in math right now we are revisiting skip counting making sure to use manipulative as we count.  Many of my students can skip count (or at least repeat the string of numbers from memory) but have a lot more trouble when we actually have objects to count.  Watching them count their breakfast cereal, or the ball bouncing, or lego pieces opened my eyes up to who really "gets it" and who is still struggling.  It was also so beautiful for me to see them help one another out with their counting.  They knew it was important to have 100, not more or less, so they were eager to ask for help from one another when they needed it.  All this time EVERYONE was on task, engaged, and smiling.  It didn't matter if they had special needs, or their language was limited, or they didn't like to speak to others, EVERYONE was doing something that they wanted to do and they were all exploring the number 100.

Between recess and lunch I booked our school's laptops and created a blog post with links to a variety of 100th day activities.  Some students were keen to explore on line, but many were too busy exploring our non digital options.  This was actually quite interesting for me.  You see we have one class iPad and my personal iPod and these two devices are in use all the time in my classroom.  Yet never during our discussions of 100 day did they come up as tools the children wanted to use to celebrate our 100th day of school.  I didn't even realize it until the end of the day either.  I know there were many things we could have done with those two incredible devices but none of us thought about it in advance.  Maybe my students just needed a break from technology and were enjoying interacting face to face with one another instead.  I'm not really sure but it does have me thinking.

After lunch we participated in our Run Across Canada with the other grade one students.  We enjoyed a 100 day story, and we searched for the numbers 1- 100 around our classroom.  We had a few more minutes to complete our unfinished jobs from the morning too. We ended the day with reflective writing time and a whole class discussion.  It was a very powerful day and I'm so glad I took the risk to change my ways.

If you're interested in seeing my students in action please check out the post on our classroom blog

I'm curious to hear how you've celebrated your 100th day of school. Have you ever given your students a full day of complete choice? How has it worked out for you?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

An Interesting Analogy

Yesterday via twitter I came across a link to Jason Berg's blog.  He is an elementary principal in the states. His blog post titled Committed Sardines really hit home to me.  It's a comparison between a whale and a pack of sardines and how our school system is often compared to a whale taking a lot of time to change, but how sometimes we can be more like a pack of sardines.

With permissionI have put a direct link to Jason's blog post HERE.  I'm curious to read your reaction to his post.  I certainly have many as I struggle daily to get more people to jump on board the technology band wagon.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

EdCamp Surrey

Last Friday I had the opportunity to attend my school district's first ever EdCamp.  It was more like a mini EdCamp as it was organized some what last minute and was mainly organized for our district teaching staff. Because of our teacher job action we were highly discouraged to attend the focus days arranged by our school board office. That's an entirely different post, which I won't be writing.

After my positive experience at EdCamp Delta in January I was really excited to attend our EdCamp.

First off huge kudos to Kevin Amboe, Lisa Domeier de Suarez, and Orwell Kowalyshyn for getting it together at the last minute.  They did a great job organizing and facilitating the day and without their hard work the day would never have happened. I probably would have spent the day learning on my own at my school.  I'm glad I didn't have to.

EdCamp Surrey started out like most EdCamps with topic selection via post it notes.  It was during topic selection that I FINALLY met Hugh McDonald (@hughtheteacher).  Hugh and I have been chatting a fair bit via twitter so it was really great to put a face to the profile.  This was certainly a highlight of my day.

Once the schedule was created I was a bit disappointed to see that my three topics of choice were all listed at the exact same time.  No worry though, time to branch out.  There are always other new things I can learn.  After a bit of a dilemma, and a room change, I finally ended up in the room about using social media in the classroom.  The discussions were good but there is a real difference in how social media can or is used in a high school vs how it is used in an elementary school, particularly a primary classroom.  At one point someone suggested that we break into smaller groups, which was a great idea. I tried to listen more than talk, but if you know me, and you know it's something I'm passionate about, I will speak a lot.  Hopefully I didn't talk too much.

For my second session I sat with a group of educators and we talked about blogging - classroom, individual, and a little bit about professional blogs.  I got a sneak peek at where our district is heading with the new unified communication model.  It looks pretty cool but something that I think is still quite far away for me or my school.

My third session didn't really exist so I ended up back in the main room sitting at a table with other elementary teachers.  I was so excited to meet Niki Leech, and Lora Sarchet because they are grade one teachers just like me.  Initially we started talking about smart boards and how they both love having them in their classrooms.  While I had one in my classroom all of 2009 while living and teaching in Melbourne Australia, and then I had one again term one of this year I'm still not totally sold on them.  They were trying to convince me other wise but when ever they suggested how they use them, I was quick to inform them that I could do it too with my iPad or laptop and a projection device.  Having said all of this though I am excited to have one of our district loaner ones back in my classroom soon.

Then the discussion turned to my class iPad, which I had with me.  Apparently they are each getting an iPad for their classrooms soon too - Lora already has one I think.  They were curious to know how I'm using my one class iPad with my students.  I spent a lot of time talking to them about my iPad, how we use it, and what apps I have on it.  Lora took notes and seemed eager to add some of the apps I suggested to her iPad.

During app chat we also started talking about my blog.  Lora had been given a link to my professional blog, and from there found the link to my class blog.  We talked about my class blog and we also talked about my students' blogs.  Lora asked if I could teach her how to set up a blog and I said of course! We've since been in e-mail contact and I'm super excited to help her (and Niki) out.  The primary students in our district need a louder voice when it comes to technology.  I'm doing my best to be a voice for them, but if I can get others on board that would be totally amazing.

Throughout the day I also spent  time talking with fellow teachers about what they have in terms of technology and how their administration is supporting them.  It was a bit eye opening for me both in a good, and not so good way.  Of course it has me thinking - what else is new.

The day ended with door prizes but I wasn't  lucky enough to win anything. No worry though.  Overall it was a good day and I was impressed by the turn out.  It was great to see Surrey teachers interested in the first ever EdCamp Surrey.  It is such a great format for professional development. I hope we can have a bigger EdCamp one day soon.

Once again, huge kudos to Kevin, Lisa, and Orwell.  You're a crazy team but our district is lucky to have you guys.  THANK YOU!

The Power of Connecting with Like Minded Professionals

Anyone reading this blog that I have actually met in person probably knows that I often talk about the people that have inspired me via twitter. One of them is Aviva Dunsiger, @grade1.  Over the past few months she and I have shared a fair bit in the private back channels of twitter.  She has pushed my learning to places I hadn't even considered and I know because of her I am a better teacher.

Yesterday she wrote a blog post entitled Students Can Decide which, as usual, got me thinking.  After running around all day I managed to finally add a comment to her post last night.  But when I look back at the comment I wrote, it's more of a mini blog post.  I love how Aviva does that to me.  Here's what I had to say.

Aviva, I used to be the teacher that told my students what to do and when. I am no longer that teacher. For example during our first term together my students learned a variety of ways to practice word work. Over the course of a week I would rotate everyone through different stations. I spent the appropriate amount of time teaching them why/how to use the stations correctly and what type of learning I was looking for at each station. With the new year and the new term I no longer tell my students how to practice. They now choose and practice in a way that is most meaningful to them.
My students have choice with their reading, writing, and word work options. They often have choice with their math options too. I think our job as teachers is to give them a foundation but to encourage and support as they discover the world. I think sometimes when we make all the choices for them they fail to learn how to think for themselves.
As you are aware this has been quite a professional growth year for me. I’ve made a lot of changes with my teaching, including letting go of a lot, but I’m really pleased with the out come so far. My students are reading, writing, and doing math in ways that are meaningful to them. Obviously I am still around to guide, prompt, redirect, and encourage when necessary but for the most part they have taken a lot more control of their learning and I can’t ask for any more than that. It’s exciting times I tell you.
One thing I need to improve on is getting my students to vocalize their learning better. I am super impressed with what you’ve been doing with your students. Asking those important questions, and listening too. While I think I do this, I know I could do this a whole lot better. Yet another goal for me to add to my list.
Thanks for sharing your learning with me. I love the way you constantly push my thinking and make me critically analyze what I do with my students and why.

    • Karen, this is like a wonderful blog post of its own. I love how you’ve reflected here about the changes you’ve already made and changes you want to make. Dialoguing with you has helped me reflect on my teaching practices and make so many changes too. Thanks Karen!

While Aviva and I have never met in person she has most definitely been instrumental in pushing my learning this year.  I hope I am able to do the same for others.  It's powerful stuff I tell you.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Banning the Word Can't

For as long as I can remember I've never really liked the word "CAN'T".  It stems back to my very first swim coach, who always called me out whenever I tried to say, "but I can't".  She wouldn't accept it from me.  She agreed that some of the things she wanted me to do would be challenging for me, but I was expected to give them a try.

A few weeks ago I officially banned the word CAN'T from my classroom as well.  I informed both my students and their parents.  Originally it was to stop one of my special needs students from constantly saying , "I can't" but really it applied to everyone.

Can't is such a negative word.  What it really means is there is no way it can be  done so why try.  How deflating!  The word goes against everything I am trying to teach my students.

This year my class is made up of several students that have been in Canada for six months or less.  Most of my students speak a language other than English in their homes, and for many learning to read and write is taking a lot of determination and dedication.  It isn't coming easy for them.  By banning the world can't I'm sticking true to what I believe is so important.  Everyone must give their best effort.

As a class we have acknowledged and accepted that we all learn at different rates.  While some of us may be good at drawing or singing or running others are good at reading or writing or math.  We all have something that we need to work extra hard to accomplish.  So what is the best for one student isn't the best for another student.  It is a concept I've worked on with my students from day one, and I continue to work on with them every day.  It is so important for them to do their very best for themselves and not for me, their parents, or their friends.  Doing your best is the right thing to do for yourself.

Banning the word can't hasn't meant that I don't acknowledge the challenges that my students are facing.  It's the complete opposite.  I'm much more aware of my students experiencing difficulty and they know they can seek me or their peers out for help when necessary.  Because my students are unable to  fall back on the old "I can't" they are becoming more aware of what is challenging  for them as well.  I hear a lot more of, "this is difficult for me but " or "I'll give it a try". I rarely hear the word can't.

Banning the word has also made me more aware of the language I'm using with my students when it comes to things I'd prefer them not to do. This little ban of mine has impacted everyone that works in my room, with me, or with my students. We will no longer accept the word can't.

Do you let your students (or staff) get away with saying that they can't do something?  Have you ever considered officially banning the word from your practice? I'm curious to hear.