Some more reflecting

Last week I asked my students to do a final reflection on Grade Six. I gave them a google form that asked four questions:

  1. Rate your year
  2. What is your favourite memory?
  3. What is one thing that you loved about the year?
  4. What is one thing that you would change?

It was amazing to hear their words and voice through the form. I loved the honesty and it really has me thinking.

The questions that I focused on was what did you love and what would you change. Here is the response to what I loved:

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What really struck me were two things:

  1. They loved the use of technology
  2. They loved their freedom

Technology struck me because you often assume that these children are growing up in a digital age, shouldn’t they be used to using technology? But that really isn’t the case. Sure they are digital consumers of things but they don’t really know how to use it. In addition, I know that we have the tech in the classrooms but it isn’t always being used. I know that it is more but many teachers are hesitant to use it because we ourselves have no idea what to do with it. But what this really shows me is that our students don’t really know what to do with it. It shows me that we still need to teach them proper digital skills to create and use technology for educational means. They need to learn and be taught how to harness the power of technology and not just use it in the classroom. The kids want to use it they just need to know how to apply it.

The last part really struck home. This year I have been experimenting more with allowing my grade sixes to have the freedom to choose the path that they want. I want them to be in charge of their learning. The more I teach the more I am getting tired of pushing curriculum and telling students how to learn. I want my students to learn because they want to learn. I want them to be in school because they want to be in school. I know that we have a curriculum to teach and that it was made with good solid research but I still want my students to feel empowered by it and not because I put on a song and dance. This year I have tried a variety of things from rearranging my classroom, passion projects, to doing badging and going gradeless. It is great to see my student are loving those changes, that they actually made an impact. It’s amazing to see when you turn things over to your students what and how they learn. They are amazing people.

I was also equally shocked by what my students said they wanted to change:

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A lot of it centered around working in groups for math. I think I need to do some more work around how to work in groups and why we work in groups. Though I also wonder if students need some time alone to think. It reminds me of the book “Quiet.” Do we as teachers sometimes forget about those quiet moments where we reflect or think on our own? I know that group collaboration is a skill but so is working on our own. Do we give our students enough balance? I also loved the line about more homework, had a chuckle with that one.

Overall, this year has been about showing my students that they have a voice and that they are in charge of their learning. I want them to be comfortable in who they are, and know what they need to do in order to learn. I did ask one more question and that was what is one piece of advice you would give next year’s Grade Six. I did smile a little when I saw the responses because it was exactly what I was telling them all year, “Be bold, Be Brave, Be confident!”

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What would your students say about their year?

 

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My Journey to Moving towards a less Constrained Classroom

I recently blogged about a moment in the classroom when I had little to no kids. In fact I only had 8 due to various reason, so I decided that I couldn’t go on with traditionally teaching and instead moved to a choose your own adventure model of learning. I let my kids explore whatever they want to do or work on any projects that they wanted to. This got my brains thinking about:

“What if learning was like this everyday?”

I had many questions about this process and trying to make it a whole class approach:

I know that we are hampered with the curriculum but are we?  
Is it possible to let all kids explore what they want and for us to assist with the learning? 
Is there benefit to have all kids learning the same thing at the same time? or should students do what they feel like? 

I also struggled with the idea that if this is a better model of teaching how do we do train teachers and sustain this model. I loved the responses that I received from my PLN and I am still researching and learning more about this process.

However, though I still have more questions then answers I have decided to go ahead and try something for our next unit of study in Social Studies.

The idea started with Myron Dueck’s tweet:

I loved his insertion of choice of medium and how will I showcase the learning expectation. As you know I have been struggling with how do I let the openness to happen while still maintaining the curriculum. My thought is for the students to complete a series of challenges anyway that they can.

I devised five challenges that link specifically to the curriculum big ideas. I tried to leave it as open as possible focusing on a key question for them to investigate and then let them decide on how they will showcase their learning.

Here is my plan. I still have to create the website along with what the badges will look like but its a work in progress.  Thought I would share with you my process and if you have any advice please let me know.

What do you think of this idea?
Do you think it will work?
Any advice?
Anything that you would change?

I cannot wait to hear your ideas. Thanks for helping me with this plan.

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When little to no students are in your room

So recently due to a sporting event and low numbers I had a class of 10 kids. Traditionally I would normally just gone on with my lessons and let the others catch up later. However, lately I have been exploring what is a classroom.

Traditionally, the model for classroom has been rows of desks and children sitting in them. It is an industrial model that makes us the teacher in charge of imparting knowledge. However, our classrooms haven’t really changed much. I know we have moved to more student centered with grouped desks but the model we still follow has been to impart knowledge.

This has bothered me a lot because I think in todays world knowledge is being thrown at our kids so fast. I am also finding that many of my students seem to just be coming to school and really not thinking about the learning. This has really bothered me as I think it should all of us.

So having a very small class allowed me to do some more exploring. I decided to make my day a choose your own adventure model of learning. We have had a couple of projects on the go as well as some cool maker space things that we have in our classroom. I left the day up to the students and I decided to walk around and observe/ help with their learning. It was probably one of the best things that I have ever done. The kids didn’t even want to stop the learning, the bells went and they were still building robots, practising speeches and playing with circuit boards. I also saw learning for the sake of learning.

This got me thinking, why isn’t all class like this?

I know that we are hampered with the curriculum but are we?  
Is it possible to let all kids explore what they want and for us to assist with the learning? 
Is there benefit to have all kids learning the same thing at the same time? or should students do what they feel like? 

At this present time I have more questions then I have answers and I would love to here your comments and thoughts. I believe education needs to start changing and needs to look different then what we traditionally see it. How should it change?

To Code or not to Code?

I know that this seems like a topic that is in everyone’s blog post but that because it is in my own personal opinion one of the most important concepts to be teaching.
This isn’t because of being the coolest new buzz word to get everyone’s attention but because it actually makes our students smarter. Now I really don’t have any research to back me up here but from what I have seen in K-6 it has made my students smarter. Not book smart but thinking smarts.
Coding didn’t teach my kids to memorize facts or to follow procedures but to think about what they are doing and why. Sure many of them often followed other people’s ideas but the thinking that went into understanding code was tremendous.
Coding in my classroom is not just about computer science. I do not believe that in my role am I a)qualified to teach the skills and b) is the place but what it is, is part of my everyday teaching.
For me coding is a tool, a vehicle for me to teach with. I treat it like I do any piece of technology or paper. It gives students a platform for learning. But it is the teacher that brings out that learning. I will be the first to tell you I only know the basics of code. But it is amazing to see kids understand and practise knowledge concepts through the act of coding.  Coding makes my students think about what is going on. It makes them understand the algorithms that we teach and learn in class and it gives a place to solidly knowledge that we normally solidify with a test or some sort of worksheet. 
Coding makes kids think and makes them creators and innovators. It teaches them to problem solve, to think and isn’t that what we want for them?
I love this info-graphic:
Source: https://datascience.smu.edu/blog/kids-and-computer-science-infographic/

So the questions then becomes how do I start?

Simple answer like you would another lesson. Have a big idea that you want to teach with, plan possible outcomes and find ways to modify for various students. Now think of a way to insert coding. You see it is not coding that makes it a great lesson but the planning that you do before hand. You cannot go into a lesson a just say hey let’s code, you still have to plan.

Some lessons that I have done:

Measuring the distance around my hand in pixels: this grade 2 lesson had kids have their pixie move around their hand and count the pixels of their movement. We then compared the distance of our hand to fingers or the width of our thumb to that of our pinkie.

Design a game to create a pattern rule:
Students made a game for their partner to guess their rule. I also had them ask what is the algebraic statement. Students had to use algorithmic language to tell the computer what to say
Lightbot and codeable:

Are two great iPad apps that have many great practical knowledge built in. Counting, rotation, spatial sense, Cartesian planes, etc.

Coding has endless possibilities it is all up to your planning and own innovation. Remember it is not the tool that teaches but the teachers. Coding is a tool but you still need a good plan to teach.
For more ideas you should check out:

Let me Google that for you

This post has been in the works for quote some time.  In fact it started with a conversation with my good friend Michelle Cordy in China on a high speed train.

We were joking about a tweet on downloading youtube clips on chrome and I tweeted that I found this on google. This was then replied with: did you just let me Google that. My reply was yes.

This is a conversation that we are having more and more as the power of technology grows. Our students have in their hands a whole universe of knowledge and this is just what they are doing. Can you blame them?

However, just googling it is so much more and this was were Michelle ‘ s and I conversation went. When I google I don’t just let the first response dictate the information I use, I don’t just keyword something and believe the information, I curate.

The funny thing is curate means to be a priest in charge (a fact I didn’t know till today and yes google told me this); however, to:

curate something (especially on the Internet) to collect, select and present information or items such as pictures, video, music, etc. for people to use or enjoy, using your professional or expert knowledge.

When I search for information for friends or myself I use Google but I collect and select carefully. It isn’t just any information that I use but ones that I feel are important for my research.

So how does this relate to today’s classroom. Lately I have heard a lot of fear that we are raising a society that jusy google and that is not good enough. My fear isn’t that I am raising kids who google but that we are raisin kids to memorize and not critically think about the facts they consume.

Information isn’t like it was when we were kids, even when our parents were kids. Information is rapidly changing. In my lifetime I have used encyclopedias (book form), to digital Cds, to having it at my finger tips. Information changes so quickly that we have new phones every Six months. The information we are giving our kids will not serve them when they head into the work force. What will is being able to critically think and search for that information.

So I am fine that my students are googling, in fact they should be because my assessment and learning doesn’t depend on the facts they find but how they use those facts. Googling is a tool that our kids should learn how to use. They should be curators of data and learn how to search, find, and use the data that is at their finger tips.

What do you think? Love to hear your thoughts.

Love every student

I still remember my associates teacher words in teachers college, love every student. I know its simple but it is also hard to follow up on sometimes.
Now I am not saying that as teachers we don’t, we all came into this profession because we love kids but I also know that as the year goes on there are students that can just bug or irritate us just so and we cannot wait to the year ends.
Lately I have been reading some books by Dr Greene Ross, the explosive child and lost at school. This has been mainly because of my daughter who I know is one of those kids that by the end of the year we just can’t wait to have a break from. I mean I want that break and she is my kid. However, as I have been reading my daughter has a lot of lagging social skills that need to be developed. We all know that ALL kids want to be good.
Take a look at this sheet.
It was developed by Dr. Greene to help identify the types of problems that a child may have. This is the first step to Plan B as he calls it.
Plan B is where you collaboratively with the students to solve problems. Once you identify the problems you can then start the empathy stage. Here you seek the students perspective. It is important that we do not force our perspective. At this stage we are just hearing the child out. It is also important to note that this stage may take time. Many kids are not familiar with being asked what they think is up. Once you identify the concern, re-voice to see if it truly is the problem. Then state your concern and seek help to solve it. The last note is that this does take time but in the end you save time because you are solving problems.
This year I plan to do this with my whole class and have a whole class collaborative problem solving period every week and maybe more if we need it. 
I think about all of the students that I have had in the past and how even though I thought I was talking it was me telling. So as you start your week out, getting to know your students academically don’t forget the social side. Remember that ALL students want to be good just many don’t know how.

What it is Like to be an ELL Learner?

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be an ELL learner in your classroom?

For me I would have to say I never really have.  Not that I haven’t thought about how I could help but that the perspective has always been from the other side. Me the English learner, teaching English with good pedagogy. But never really with the lense of what it was like to receive a foreign language.

I will have to say I have never experience life as an ELL learner until I was in China. I mean I knew what it was like to be a teacher of ELL students, I know the pedagogy and the approaches that I need to do in order to engage and help my ELL students but I have never felt what it was like to be one until two weeks ago.

It is probably safe to say that the majority of us in North America as teachers can say the same thing as I did just above. Born and raised as an English speaker, in an English country I have never known what it was like to not understand the language around me. Well that changed dramatically when I went to China for the Global Education Summit.

Even though this summit was a Global Education Summit it was predominantly meant for Chinese teachers so it was predominantly or pretty much all in Chinese. In addition to this our interpreters didn’t understand English that well and there was not enough of them to go around for all of the English speaking teachers.

This meant that I spent the majority of my day listening to the cadence and rhythm of random words and sounds. Though it was pretty and every now and then I picked up a word or two it was quite frustrating and often times I tuned out and wasn’t engaged in the conversation. I mean why would I want to be when all I heard was the Charlie Brown teacher. WanWAA WANAA

This was quite a frustrating experience. My brain was able to comprehend what was going on but I wasn’t able to communicate all of my thoughts in a manner that was acceptable to the audience I was talking too.

To help with this there was a lot of hand gestures, asking questions, visual cues, lot of review of english and Chinese, repeated practise or listening and talking, etc. But in the end many of times I was just bored and lost interest.

This got me thinking about my own classroom. Is this how my students feel? Is this what they are going through as they learn a new language?

In my head I was thinking no way, my classroom is amazing! but to be honest it is most likely the reality that many of my students have just tuned me out.  Can you blame them? It is a lot of work to listen intently, to try and pick up words that you think have meaning. I mean I wanted to learn, I wanted to be there, I wanted to participate but I just didn’t know what was happening. Even with translators it was hard work and after a day of it my brain wanted to explode.

I know as teachers we do amazing things in the classroom to engage our ELL learners but it was truly humbling to be in the other shoe ( so to say) and really shifts your paradigm and perspective on your own classroom.

What do you do in your classroom to help engage the ELL learner? What strategies do you find work best? 

This post s more of a umm…I never thought about this. I have more questions than answers but wanted to put this thought out there. I would love to hear your ideas and thoughts.