Celebrate!

Embed from Getty Images
The clock is ticking down on 2014 and people everywhere are celebrating the promise a new year brings, which has me thinking about the importance of celebrations.  The month of December gave us many opportunities for celebrating.  One of these was our 4H Blog Launch Party.  Earlier this year, our class connections led to an invitation to participate in author Joan Galat’s book launch of Branching Out: How Trees Are Part of Our World. It was an exciting experience and got us thinking about our writing. Since our student blogs were recently up and running, we decided to celebrate with a Blog Launch Party.

I asked students to make a list of what we needed to make the occasion a celebration.  The list included guests, time to chat and visit, and of course cupcakes! We decided to invite our school admin, our parents and George Couros.  George shared some stories with us about his use of social media, and the opportunities he’s had to meet people and travel the world because of it. Then we all had the chance to check out our class blogs, read the posts and comment on them.  It was a blast, especially when we realized that we had some outside visitors participating as well!  Some were parents who were participating and commenting from work.  Others had discovered our blogs as a result of George’s tweets about the party.  The afternoon flew by for all of us, and there was a chorus of “Not yet!” when I had to stop them.

I loved the whole experience.  It was wonderful watching the kids see their writing come to life and recognizing that their words have power.  The room was buzzing with chatter and comments.  I was having a tough time keeping up with moderating them all! The good feeling continued into the rest of the week, as students were excited to read George’s post about the experience, and to comment on his.

Capture

As the school year passes, we take time to mark certain special occasions like Halloween and Valentine’s Day with parties and celebrations.  Our Blog Launch Party experience has made me realize how important it is to also observe the ordinary, everyday events and achievements in our school life.  As the calendar changes to 2015, my resolution for this new year is to celebrate more often.  I want to make remarkable what often slides by each day as unremarkable, and to have students recognize just how special these moments can be.

Our days are filled with opportunities for celebration – the struggling student who writes nine sentences unassisted using Read/Write Gold; a very busy Division principal who makes time to visit with my students and reaches out to the world for them; parents who support our online activities with comments; complete strangers who respond to tweets from our class with insights and information; an isolated student who rushes outside to play with newfound friends; my daughter who volunteers to make us cupcakes for the class party;  connections and support from a remarkable PLN; and many, many more.  I may not be able to pull out cupcakes for each, but I can make each one memorable and special.

Here’s to 2015 – a year of celebration!

Advertisements

Making Differences Ordinary With Minecraft

Minecraft Group 3 Day 1
Last week I read a post “Making Differences Ordinary” by Leah Andrews that really resonated with me.  In it, she wrote

For many students with learning difficulties, we know two things: routines are critical for them to be successful, and it is often difficult for them to develop meaningful relationships.  When we ask students to go in and out of the classroom for various interventions, this disrupts the students’ routines.   It also makes it more difficult for these students to develop meaningful relationships with their peers and their classroom teacher when they are being pulled in and out of the classroom setting. Do these unintended consequences outweigh the benefits of a pull-out intervention? Is there another way?

Leah talks about the unintended consequences of pull-out interventions during class times and the importance of student routines, and I agree completely.  However, there is one major school routine called recess that can be a huge obstacle for some students, especially those already dealing with learning difficulties. For these students, developing positive relationships is a challenge, one that is made even more so in the unstructured setting of the outside playground.  Others need to know that their relationships are real and based on meaningful activities, not just babysitting.  I work diligently to create a safe classroom community that includes all learners but then the bell rings – and for some stepping outside of the room for recess can be that pull-out with unintended consequences.

I was fortunate to work for several years with the very wise Susan Weisenburger who created a recess Friendship Club in her office for just those reasons.  Students who experienced difficulties on the playground were able to have their break with her and bring a friend. They played games, Legos or just sat and visited.  I loved walking by the room and hearing the hum of happy voices and seeing smiles on their faces.

I want to recreate that experience of growth and positivity that can come from a smaller scale, safe recess setting. In my class there are students who need help establishing positive friendships, and others who would benefit from participating in meaningful activities. I am using Minecraft to provide a safe setting and establish common interests as the beginning of friendships and building positive relationship skills.

I know that having meaningful connections and relationships with peers is a critical factor in student success at school.  Just as I plan provocations and activities to build reading skills, I also need to provide strategies and scaffolds for students to assist in relationship building.  This year I can use the Minecraft club for students as a means to do so. For a student with limited mobility, outdoor recess is a challenge.  Providing the opportunity to remain inside with friends is necessary, but so is the need to ensure that they are engaged in activities which allow all equal opportunities.  Playing Minecraft does just that.  All the students are very invested in creating the world.  The focus shifts from staying inside at recess to the conversations and discussions about the requirements of their world. When this is in the forefront, individual differences fade to the background.

Leah asks “How do we continue to strive to make differences ordinary in the everyday classroom? ” I am excited about using Minecraft as a tool to do exactly that!

Twitter Time

It makes my heart happy to see so many teachers creating class Twitter accounts.  Having a one has created some wonderful learning opportunities for my students over the past two years. I’ve learned a few things (sometimes the hard way) so thought I’d share some things in the hope that it can help others.

One of the first things to you need to do is create a Twitter handle – I chose @Millgrove4H.  I would probably use something different now because I’ve learned to

  •  pick a name that will last
  • keep it short
  • make it memorable

 When selecting a name, try to choose something suitable that will continue through the years.  As teachers, we often change grades and even schools.  (As well, we discovered that using a school name can make your site simple to find during a Mystery Skype).  It’s a good idea to try to keep the name as short as possible, as it takes up less space in the 140 characters allowed.  It can be a lot of fun coming up with a name.  Probably my favorite is Victoria Olson’s @EduMinions! Handles can be changed later on.

When do we Tweet?  What’s worked well for us is to set a time each day.  Last year we called it Twitter Time, and it coincided with our morning snack.  Students got their snack and brought it to our Smartboard carpet while I brought up our Twitter account on the SMARTBoard. Each day we would check our feed and notifications. Some days, that’s enough.  At other times, if we are involved in a project such as the #mathphotoaday, or have special activities or events we will send out related tweets throughout the day. We bring the class iPad to assemblies, or use it during class presentations.  Since I have our class account on the class iPad and my iPhone, we can use whatever device is most appropriate. On days with lots of activity, the buzz of my phone is a signal for everyone to check out the latest exciting tweet!

Where do we Tweet? Everywhere! Having our Twitter account on multiple devices means we can use whichever one is most convenient.  The class iPad works well with individual or small groups of students to use.  We use it within the classroom and school.  It’s great for taking pictures and tweeting during special events like our school Olympics or assemblies.  When we leave the school for field trips it is usually easiest to use my phone.  Making predictions about what’s in store for us is a great way to spend a bus ride!

Who Tweets? Who do we Tweet with? Everyone! During Twitter Time, usually students suggest ideas, the group finetunes them and I type.  Once the class is familiar with formats and ideas, individual and small groups can also tweet. (All students are aware that since it is a class account that I am responsible for, all tweets need to be checked by me or another responsible adult before being sent out.)

For example, while growing our amaryllis, each day my Guided Math group would tweet out the new data.  If we’ve initiated a Twitter activity like #whatdoesyourspringlooklike, 2 or 3 students will take the iPad and tweet our followers to ask for feedback.  When we’ve had lots of feedback on a question, such as when we asked what people had for breakfast, and got replies from around the world, I ask a couple of skilled students to tweet individualized thank you messages. They enjoy the challenge and opportunity to put their writing skills to work.

One of my favorite ways to use Twitter is during assemblies and class presentations by giving the iPad to a student who might have difficulty focusing on the speaker. Being the class tweeter is very motivating.  Students love summarizing the learning, stay engaged, and love the positive attention their tweets get.  It’s a real win/win situation!

We’ve had lots of great group discussions about important elements of digital citizenship regarding who we tweet with.  For example, the class decided that as a rule we would only follow other classes.  As they pointed out, sometimes adults (even teachers) use their Twitter accounts for adult conversations that aren’t always appropriate for students.  Also, our account was for our class and therefore learning focused.  Of course, we did make a few exceptions such as for Olympian Neville Wright who came to visit our school.  I loved the spirited discussions that revolved around each exception, and the students’ critical thought about the importance of digital citizenship. It’s interesting to note that they asked me to check out his Twitter feed and report back to them about how appropriate his tweets were before their final decision. 

What do we Tweet? Most importantly, all our tweets reflect our understanding of digital citizenship.  At the beginning of the year, we spent a lot of time talking about the importance of digital citizenship, and thinking carefully about what we wanted to say.  I loved that my kids decided that two simple questions were all that we needed:

  1.  Is it appropriate?
  2. Does it make sense?

 Is it appropriate? was what we used to ensure that we were being polite, courteous, and ensuring we thought about any consequences the tweet might have. For example when tweeting photos we needed to be sure that we had permission to use the images, and that anyone involved knew what we were doing with them. Students know that any photos we tweet will not show student faces.  This has inspired many creative moments as they come up with ideas that relate to the tweet, but do not include faces.

books

Does it make sense? usually relates to editing.  Often what we want to include goes over the 140 character limit, so we have many opportunities to practice revising and removing any extraneous information.

We literally ask these two questions every time before ever hitting the Tweet button.  As the class grew more comfortable, they began giving two thumbs up showing their approval (which sped up the process).

Of course, we tweet about everything! Our tweets reflect our learning topics or activities, thanks to people and groups who’ve impacted us, or asking questions of experts.

experts

 

A special favorite is tweeting authors while reading or finishing their books. During the Olympics some of the athletes were really good about reaching out to students. It’s incredibly exciting when they tweet us back!

Hashtags provide great tweeting experiences too and are a fun way to invite others to join in. I love that Dana Ariss uses #ourawesome as an opportunity for students to reflect and think about gratitude.  I will definitely be using it this year with my class. Hashtags also provide a quick and easy way to organize tweets. When we have a presentation the class tweeter will begin each tweet with the speaker’s name (eg. #tanyasays).  At the end of the day using a tool such as Storify makes it easy to gather them all together for everyone to see.

I’d love to hear more ideas and comments about using class Twitter accounts.  Feel free to tweet us at @Millgrove4H!

Student Blogs

As we start this school year, one of my goals is to invite parents and families to participate virtually with our class activities through social media tools.  Last year I realized that while parents were very willing to provide their support, they may not have been aware of how best to do so.  I have been thinking through how I use different tools with my class as I prepare a presentation to invite them to be ‘digital volunteers’ in September.

Our Student Blogs

Capture

In addition to posting work on our class blog, students also have individual blogs for their work.  These blogs provide a space for reflection and a snapshot of their learning on any given day.

The experience of working with our class blog and their blog means that students appreciate the world wide audience they have for their work.  Having that authentic audience and knowing that their voice can be heard worldwide can be a transformational experience. Every year, I see the remarkable motivation blogging gives them to not only write, but take the time to carefully craft their pieces to ensure they are most powerful.  Once started, kids write – all the time.  They continue to write on weekends, while travelling on family holidays, and even into the summer.

I am always thrilled to see how excited students are about their writing.  We say “The more you write, the better you get and the better you get the more you write!” The opportunity blogging provides to reflect on their learning helps them clarify essential understandings as well as what they would like to explore further.

To me, the transformational piece that elevates blogging from traditional classroom writing is commenting.  Having others respond to their writing tells students that their voice is heard and that they matter. They are so excited to have their peers comment on their posts, and even more so when other students and adults from all over the world do so.   It is so incredibly powerful, as seen in this example from my class where author Peter Reynolds commented on Maddisyn’s work.

Once students have familiarized themselves with the process of posting and commenting, we practice these skills using a quadblogging community.  Our class is grouped with 3 others from anywhere in the world.  We spend a little time learning about each other’s classes, then each class has a turn being the focus group and having the others take turns commenting on their posts.  It’s wonderful to see how this process creates a community of learners and assists students in creating their own learning networks.

As the year goes on, we use student blogs to create a digital portfolio for each child. The wide variety of tech tools we use means that students might record video presentations they completed for class, or sound recordings of songs they wrote, reflections on their artwork or important moments from their lives and much more.  As Holly Clark says, when kids make their learning visible to the world, they take ownership and pride in what they’ve done.

Digital Citizenship

Student blogs provide many entry points for discussions of citizenship in a digital age.

Images

We discuss and develop criteria for the use of images that includes

  • Students are not identifiable by name on personal or class blogs
  • Any images must be free of copyright
  • Personal images must be used with permission

Comments

All posts and comments are moderated by me, which means that I see everything before it is published. Students are encouraged to think carefully about their digital identity, and to be responsible to leave feedback that is positively phrased. Prior to students getting their blogs, we practice the blogging process using paper blogs and post it comments.  We develop criteria for comments with a positive focus.

Capture

Responsibility to Share

We know that these blogs are part of our students’ digital legacy.  This means that it is important that they think carefully about their digital footprint and legacy.  We are continually inspired in our learning by the work we find online. I feel that we also have an important responsibility to share our learning. It is always a defining moment to see the pride when students realized that their work has inspired others.

How can Families and Friends Help?

All our students love getting comments on their blog posts.  They each have a “subscribe by email” widget which makes it easy for anyone to receive notification of new posts. Please subscribe, then encourage family and friends to as well.

Please take a moment to comment on our student blogs, as it has a significant impact on their writing experience.  Feel free to share with your family and friends, as more comments mean more writing. We know that the more you write, the better you get – and the better you get, the more you write!  Consider adding feedback to other students work as well as your own child’s.

At times, I will invite the world to comment on certain student posts through the use of the #comments4kids group. Anyone is welcome to do so, and more information is available at their website. A few moments of your time on a child’s writing can have a tremendous impact, so please consider adding your time to #comments4kids!

Finally, remember to follow the criteria for comments as set out on our class blog. Your child will be happy to give you guidance!

Sharing Our Class Blog

Embed from Getty Images
As we start this school year, one of my goals is to invite parents and families to participate ‘virtually’ with our class activities through social media tools.  Last year I realized that while parents were very willing to provide their support, they may not have been aware of how best to do so.  I have been thinking through how I use different tools with my class as I prepare a presentation for September.

Our class blog is our portal to the world, and an indispensable learning tool.  In addition to providing information and forms, our class blog has been the impetus to some incredible learning opportunities.

On any given day, checking our blog provides a window onto our learning in a variety of different ways.

  • After a special activity or event, I can post photos and/or videos so that parents have an opportunity to attend virtually.
  • After introducing a new topic, as a class we summarize our learning and I record it on the blog.
  • One or two interested students write a review or summary of the activity/presentation
  • After a presentation/field trip/activity, students write a written reflection.  Each student selects their best line or phrase, and we weave these together as a collaborative post.
  • We often find articles of interest in the news or on TV that link to our current units of study.  After discussing them as a class, students reflect and provide comments about their opinions. These are then a starting point for new conversations.

I often use short videos to introduce or complement a lesson.  Students always ask to watch them again, and posting them on the blog means they go home and view them with their families. Links to websites we use during class are also added to the blog.  It’s easy for students to access the sites during class, and then they go home, use them and reinforce their learning.

These learning focused posts are a great way for parents to connect with their kids.  Instead of the dreaded “What did you do at school today?” with the inevitable response of “Nothing”,  parents get to see what has happened during the day and are ready for dinner table conversations.

The class blog provides a simple method for providing information about class assignments and events, and easy access to forms.  No more lost papers!

Sometimes, I find out about activities at the last minute or on weekends when it’s too late to let parents know.  Since all my families are subscribed to the class blog, it’s a simple matter to post the information there, allowing those interested to take part.

Each year our school identifies specific goals.   Linking goals to certain class activities informs our family and community about how we are working to achieve them, and raises awareness in a friendly, fun manner. 

Our blog has a worldwide audience, and is an easy to use source of information.  When we have a question, we can ask for feedback , data or for answers from experts .  These are the starting points for continued conversations that lead to more connections, such as Skypes with the experts and further learning.

In addition to our class blog, occasionally we post on the Millgrove School Blog, or the Parkland School Division 184 Days of Learning site.

Digital Citizenship 

Each and every day our class blog provides us with relevant lessons in digital citizenship.  From our first day of school, each time we write a blog post students are reminded of how to be good digital citizens.  They recognize the importance of copyright, and we practice how to properly cite images and ideas.  Wherever possible, we use our own pictures to illustrate our writing providing us with many opportunities for fun and creative photo shoots.  Modelling responsible use of images everyday means that students have a firm understanding that it is necessary to always have permission to use a photo, and think carefully about the appropriateness of their choices when doing so.

When I use children’s photos, my practice is to not identify them by name (with the exception of when requested by the parent).  Students are aware that this helps keep them safe, and are then more thoughtful about their use of pictures on the Internet.

Another important aspect of digital citizenship is the responsibility of sharing.  Being a connected classroom means that we learn from others, and that others also learn from us.  It is a very special moment when we realize that our actions as described on our class blog can inspire others.

How Can Families and Friends Help?

  • Subscribe to our class blog.  Scroll down on the right side until you see Subscribe by email, enter your email address and click on create subscription.  It’s that easy!
  • We love it when we get comments on individual posts.  Our class blog is our home page on our class computer and we see it every day.  It’s exciting to hear from you! You might suggest a link to a post, or describe a connection from your experiences/work for us.
  • Discuss the posts with your child.  Ask them about the activity described, come up with new questions about the topic, and think about possible extensions and connections.

I know that Tracey Kratch is designing a Digital Volunteer program that has some exciting ideas for including families.  I would love to hear any ideas you have for sharing with parents, and opportunities to invite them to participate!

The Power of Words and Teamwork

Embed from Getty Images
Earlier this year, I volunteered my class to present at our school’s monthly Parent Council Meeting. Students were loving the few Chromebooks we had, and we hoped we might be able to sway the decisions being made about fundraising money to purchase enough for a class set.  My kids were very keen on the idea, to say the least!  As a class, we brainstormed lists of all the ways we were using Chromebooks, discussed details and then started creating a shared Google Presentation. It was a fabulous opportunity to think about persuasive writing, and students even staged a photo shoot when we realized we needed some additional pictures. Not everyone could come but a group made arrangements to be at the meeting to present the ideas on behalf of all.  They were very excited about having a chance to not only contribute to the discussion, but also to impact our school decision making.

Imagine my dismay when I opened my email the day before the meeting to see that the Council had firmly decided that no further money would be put into technology, and would only consider requests for other areas. It was tough to break the news to my class, but we focused on the positive aspects of having the opportunity to present what we’d been doing.

We were first on the agenda, and although a little nervous, the kids were also excited.  They took turns explaining each slide and answered questions like pros.  My heart was full of pride and joy as I watched the reactions of the adults move from amusement (aren’t they cute?) to amazement, not just at what we had been able to accomplish this year but at the polished, thoughtful speaking abilities of the students.  The powerful impact of our connected learning was obvious.

There were so many questions that we went slightly over our time limit, and then the meeting moved from our room back to the library.  After the kids went home, I rejoined the meeting in time for the fundraising discussion.  As I waited, I mentally rehearsed my (hopefully) convincing argument to consider putting technology items back on our wish list.

It wasn’t needed.  The chairperson looked at our principal and simply asked, “How many Chromebooks do you want?”

It was a dramatic shift, and one that reinforced several key ideas for me.  First, never underestimate the power of a child’s voice.  When given the opportunity and support to share their ideas, they can create powerful change.  I know that I could have presented the information they shared but it would not have come close to having the same effect.  Hearing the kids describe our projects, and seeing their confidence, skills and abilities sent a powerful message.  It said that what we do in our classroom is real, it is relevant, it makes a difference and it is all about the learning for kids.

Secondly, I was reminded of the importance of teamwork.  We created the presentation as a team, and we delivered it as a team.  Although not every student in the class was there, they did contribute to the shared presentation and add ideas during the rehearsal.  The presenters very clearly stated that they were representatives of the larger group.  All those voices combined together to create one very powerful message. One student shared the following reflection:

What did I learn?  The power of words and teamwork!  Words are powerful enough to change people’s minds if you use them right.  Words can change your emotion or can change your mind. Sometimes working in a team helps with making words even more powerful.

Through my teaching, I have a lot of practice facilitating this process with students.  What was reinforced for me that night is that our parents and community want to be part of that team as well. All it takes is for us to share what is happening with our classes for the support to be there.  All of the adults in the room were so enthusiastic about the experience.  They wanted to support our connected learning, and they wanted to know more about how to do so.

This year, I want to focus on ensuring that I give my parents and school community an invitation to see and be part of our connected learning. As the year begins, I want my parents to understand and appreciate the full extent to which our class is connected, and the powerful learning, connections and benefits that brings.

One way I plan to do that is to invite parents in at the beginning of the year to provide an overview of our online activities, and show them that signing the technology usage form gives students more than just permission to use technology devices in school – in our class it is the ticket to connecting with the world. As a connected class, each and every day we learn with and because of others. Our learning happens through the use of a number of tools including blogs, Twitter, back channels, video chats and other Web 2.0 tools.

As I create a presentation to share with our families, I thought I would use a series of blog posts to organize my thoughts. Stay tuned for more!