Thursday, 26 June 2014

End of the year: What have I Learned?

I started the year in a brand new grade and a brand new division. Before this I taught eight years of junior, going between grade four and five positions. This year I am teaching grade two.  My first impressions were, YIKES! I mean I didn't know if I could handle the younger grades. But here I still stand and it has been an amazing journey, with an amazing class.

Here are some things I have learned (I appologize if some may seem like duh moments):

1) primary students take longer to do work. I know this may not be shocking news but I don't think I was quite ready for this. I mean I prepared myself and I wrote plans to reflect this but it really didn't truly understand. Now this actually was a big blessing in disguise. It taught me the importance of going deeper and slower. Because of this my students and I worked through constructing sentences, writing paragraphs, indepth inquiry projects. Math concepts were developed at the students pace. This feeling is a lot different then junior or even intermediate where the need and rush to fit all the dense curriculum is a lot of pressure. 

2) teaching primary has allowed me to focus on inquiry and really developing a inquiry model in the classroom. As I mentions above students work at a slower pace but that doesn't mean they cannot do wonderful things. In fact it's a lot easie because they still have this curious engagement in all topics. Some how this is lost on their way to junior and I think we need to bring it back.  Inquiry has always been a big part of my teaching but this year I have really tried to allow the students to be a big part of the project design and questions.  I have been using provocations, students I wonder statements and trying to flip projects inside out so that we start with a question and develop our understanding through that question.  This is still a big work in progress so stay tuned.

3) even though they are young they are ready to be independent. One of the biggest pet peves of many junior teachers is that the students don't seem to be ready to be independant. They rely on the teacher for answers, not patient with problem solving or just are not ready for success.  I was also told by some that primary they cannot do certain things because they are young or small. Well I wanted something different and have tried to push these skills in grade two in hopes that they are ready for these junior years.  Guess what they can do it.  It took a lot of work and building with students but they are so capable of doing so much.

4) I think that all grades should have a primary mindset. Now I know that this gets harder as kids get older but the inquisitive spirit of a primary child is remarkable.  It's this spirit that we should be harnessing and using to teach our curriculum not the curriculum to teach our students. Now don't get me wrong, curriculum is still important and it's a great guide but that is all. We need to have more inquiry, where students are able to explore and develop understanding. By following this model I actually finished my curriculum ahead of the year and found that I had to give more challenges because the students needed it. If only all grades taught or allowed this to happen, think of the possibilities.

5) I actually like teaching primary, shhh!! I might ruin my image but it's been a lot of fun. The kids are great, they have come so far and it truly has been a lot of fun.

From this learning I have thought of three areas to work on next year:

1) more inquiry
2) more reflections and online portfolios
3) more parent connections and celebrations

What has been the best part of your year? What learning have you done? Love to hear it.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

My Next Steps for Genius Hour

Let me start this post with I absolutely love Genius Hour. I think that it is one of the best things that I have started this year. I believe this because it has allowed my students to blossom both in independent work and in academic work.  My students have soared in reading, asking critical questions and in there academics.  

Before I get into wherei want to go let me tell you What it look likes.  Right now, genius hour happens once a week in my classroom. I spend about forty minutes where the students research, whatever they have a passion about.  Now it's not just a free for all, my students have one goal, it must teach the class something.  The students first submit a proposal, and then research, present and reflect. It's been a great process; however, there is some tweeting I think I would like to do.

Here are my thoughts:

1) Though I should have done this from the beginning I think I need a wonder wall. My vision for this wall is to post students I wonder statements. Students can ethier answer their own questions or pick a topic from another students thinking. Once they have answered this, they can present the information to the class and post their work on the Genius Hour board, with the question attached.

2) I want to tie Genius Hour to a term monthly sharing process with the parents.  The reason that I want to do is I have found that though my students have been come excellent researchers and explorers they have struggled to complete projects. Some have done a great job but others have really struggled to do even one.  Having a celebration tied to the project will allow students (at least I hope) to have some urgency or a sense of planning to show their parents what they have done. I am also hoping that it will promote slightly deeper thinking into their questions and choice of topic.

Just a few simple ideas but next year I hope they will support and improve this wonderful experiences that I have had with Genius Hour.  Would love to here your thoughts on this or any other suggestions.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Why Google

I was lucky enough to be able to present at a GAFE summit in April on using google apps. To be honest and fair I knew about google apps but not really for education. Sure I used youtube for videos, I even used it to flip my classroom but was I fully using all of the capabilities; not even close.

Before the conference, this is what I knew:

1) I owned a gmail account and used docs, forms and blogger but sparingly. 

2) YouTube was for the occasional posting of videos and searching for some really cool minds-on activities.

After the summit I was inspired by all of the amazing things that teachers are doing with it. Two great colleagues are Rolland Chidiac and Scott Monahan, check out their twitter, blogs and google plus accounts. Not only are they amazing people to get to know but amazing ambassadors for google.  I went right away to my principal and said I have to do this. Now you have to know that my board went Microsoft. Microsoft 365 is useful and well known but for me there is more than word. Also, want I like to say now is that what 365 wants to be, google already is.

Since starting this just two months ago this is what I have learned:

1) My kids have easily become proficient in the use of many of the apps. They easily figured out how to create, share and copy any project. Some have started to use slides as a presentation tool and some have explored google draw capabilities. Now I think all would be able too but some just haven't explored the program enough or have an interest in tech. Though more are coming around as we use it.

2) Even though I am pretty tech savvy, I would say that it is really user friendly and easy for anyone to use.  I know the names may seem out there (forms, Gdocs, slides, doctopus, goobrics, etc.) but it is really seamlessly integrated and user friendly.  

3) What I didn't know there was videos, training and great people to help me along the way. This brings me back to the amazing people in my PLN. I have connected with truly amazing and helpful individuals. Not only that google for educators has a great website: and amazing hashtags to follow are #gafe or #gafesummit.

4) It really opens up the classroom for collaboration and practical formative assessment.  For example, I was in an OFIP (in school PD) and I had my kids working on their docs.  While in the session I was able to monitor my students work, comment on their progress and give them feedback in real time.  Another great example is the ability to share work and comment as we go.  Many of my assignments are now on Google Docs.  The students can share them with me at any time and I can comment on them at any time.  Also, when I finally mark them I attach a Goobric (its a rubric) to them and students have a chance to resubmit.  The nice part is the rubric stays with the document and you can attach a brand new one to it.  Not only does it allow you this feedback but these rubrics are kept on file for you in your drive.

5) Great programs and amazing storage.  This is just a nice bonus but you also get 30Gb of storage which is a far cry from the 8 I get with 365.  Google also works with any of our devices, so when I am with the iPads in my literacy centers or on netbooks or chromebooks my students have access to their drive.

6) Reflection and online portfolio:  Now that everything is in the cloud, students will have access to their work for their school career (or for me as long as they are in the school).  When they leave they can create their own space and transfer these docs to that new account.  Now students have a real look at their learning and progress from Kindergarten to whenever they graduate.  Talk about reflection and portfolios.

As you can tell I am really impressed with Google for education.  If you haven't checked it out I encourage you to take a look and try it.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Watercraft week two

It is really week three but I am a little behind.  Just to recap, I gave my class a challenge to create a game for students to play within Minecraft. Our real hope was for them to actually program but it is taking us a lot longer then we originally thought so we are just having them create three worlds to showcase their learning of conservation of air and water. The first world is all about conservation, the second is on pollution and the third is a choice but must be on a water issue.  The project is in it's gaming phase (as I would like to call it). Students have completed their plan and are starting to make their plan a reality in the minecraft platform.

Here are some of my week two reflections:

1) students need to plan: I am all for creative play and working through problems but what I have been finding is that the students are way to excited about showing me what they can create that they really are not completing the task.  In the middle of the week I made sure that the students had a plan using their google documents. This is linked to iPads and can be checked regularly.  We are also using it to share information as the google doc allows us to write more information on the topic nd share the link. Planning also allows students to make goals and reach them. It allows them to self regulate and check their progress.

2) students are highly creative moreso then what the game may allow them.  We have had to have a lot of conversation as students thoughts cannot be easily translated in the game. For insistence, some students want to create pollution in the water, this is really hard in the game but my students used chickens and had them floating. Now if I didn't talk to them all I would see was chickens. The dialogue that we have had is the key to seeing their understanding.

Also students have a great mind to create things. The thinking that they have done with this project is truly remarkable. Take a look, this is a sink: 

3) this is a longer process then I originally thought: we originally planned three weeks for the project but it has taken the students a lot longer than this. Now this could be we didn't have a solid plan, they are in grade two, or it really takes this long. 

4) as always you the teacher are very important in this educational process. I know I have said this before but as a teacher, even though the kids are exploring, it is our job to guide and direct. I am constantly asking questions about what they are doing, why and how it works. You are redirecting were needed and assisting them when they need it too. This has help with the process and keeps the project moving.

Overall, I know many of studied the impact that gamification has on students but from our two weeks on it, I am sold. This is because it has taught my students problem solving skills, it links many strands together, it gives voice, formative assessment is automatically built in and it's a lot of fun. 

Stay tune for more reflections.

Monday, 2 June 2014

My 2ndish attempt at using provocations

I would like to think that I teach through Inquiry.  I really try to keep all of my work about the kids and their thinking; however, I do find myself still leading discussions more than I would like.  Then I learned about provocations.  WOW! I know that I have previously blog about this subject but since that time I have tried to use them more.  Today in science I did just that (at least I hope I did).

Here is what I did:

1) I got a bunch of experiments working on air and water

Center 1: AIR

Center 2: Water

Embedded image permalink
(note: some of these items were for other provocations)

Center 3: Water Cycle

Center #4: Pollution

I then broke them into groups had books and iPads at the centers and asked them what do they observe?  Wow, I couldn't believe the talk, the focus, and  the engagement.  Take a look at this shot:

Here the students were so engrossed in what was happening that they didn't even notice me.  They were saying, "cool look its raining!"  They were also using the vocabulary that we have been building before this through our watercraft project.

What did I learn?

1) Inquiry (true inquiry) is allowing planned exploration.  Students really need time to explore and make observations about the subjects.

2) This takes a lot of planning.  I been planning this for some time now (many thanks to my amazing PLN for their help in this).  As I have been planning I had to think about questions, get all of the materials ready and even think about possible misconceptions.

3) True assessment.  I was amazed at what the students had absorbed through previous books, the Watercraft project and our discussions.

4) Its a lot of fun to watch the joy and engagement of true learning

So if you haven't done provocations before, give it ago.  Its a lot of fun and you would be surprised at what you will learn about your students.

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Google for education, doctopus and goobrics

So I am absolutely in love with google for education, let me tell you why.  I know this may not be new for many of you but I have just found one of the easiest ways to keep track of my students documents, give feedback and mark them all in the same time. 

So what has gotten me so excited? I have been using google apps for the past month. My students have access to their own Gdrive (I have eliminated their email). You might not think this is anything special but within google apps there is an amazing scripted called doctopus.

Now a script is a computer code that is embedded into your program to allow you to other functions. Doctopus works with spread sheets to create lists for your class and "push" documents to your students without having to click on every single name and share.  It also allows you to give the ability for students to edit their own document and then have it there for you to mark; all in one easy area.  The nice thing is I can send all students one document, I can have certain groups have a document or I can have every single kid have a different document all in one click of the button.

Take a look at this YouTube video from Jay Atwood:

This is how I have been using it.  Because of apps I have been able to hand out documents that I want my students to work with. In this case I wanted them to be able to collect their research on communities and write a comparison paragraph. I gave most of the students a copy of a template I wanted them to follow. The template included success criteria, and a check list for them. I also created another one for my ESL students which had a chart and sentence starters.  If I wasn't using google apps this would have had to be photocopied for certain students or each student would have had to copy out the success criteria on their own. Part way through the writing process I shared a doc with them all as we talked about paragraph writing, students found my doc and then copied it to their drive so they had access to the exemplar. Yet again without google drive they would have had to photocopy or hand write.  Students just finished the work today, so back to my spreadsheet. Through doctopus I was able to add a "goobrics" a fancy name for a rubric.  See this video for more help:  

I then embargoed the work, which means they no longer have access to the document until I am done marking.

When I mark the rubric is right next, so I can highlight. I can also leave comments, do track changes in their work and then send it back for them to reflect, revise (if they want) and send back.  Not only this but students have this in their drive and can access it for an online portfolio.  This has been mind blowing and I can't believe I didn't start earlier.  If you haven't used doctopus yet I highly recommend trying it.

Friday, 30 May 2014

Fraction kit and playing games

Fractions have always been a passion of mine. Started researching the concepts in my math part 1 AQ class and have been fascinated ever since.  I even ended up completing my Masters' of Education thesis in the subject.  Through my studies I came across fractions, Marilyn Burns' fraction kit and games.  I still haven't found something anywhere close that helps students understand fraction concepts like this kit.  

For those not familiar with it, let me tell you about it.  The kit in itself is very simple, it is five strips of paper. Each piece is to be cut to a corresponding fraction (halves, quarters, eighths, sixteenths, and a whole). 

Now you may ask yourselves how is this the best thing ever it's just a bunch of paper. It's the best thing ever because of the talk that it generates. Since finding this in my research I have done some modifications that really bring out the talk. 

First and foremost, I have them create the kits. It does you no good to create them for your students.  By them creating the strips, the students explore how fractions are division, fair sharing, why fractions are a part of a whole and many more fractional concepts.

Second, I created a context to go with the problem. As many of you know who read this blog, I truly believe in contexts. A good context makes kids think beyond arithmetic and focus on mathematical big ideas.  For this problem I tell my students a story of how I need to clean up my mom's back yard, she has a huge yard and in payment my mom buys me a large party sub. Now many students now don't know what a party sub is because they don't sell them anymore, so you may have to show them a picture: 

The students are so impressed and they can't believe that I would eat this much. Now I tell them that just before I was about to eat lunch one of my friends popped over. Now what?  This continues all the way to eights, the door bell ringing every time we figure out portion we need to cut.  For sixteenths I tell them this is what we are going to do as I really don't have sixteen friends; however by now we have really constructed a good understanding of the pattern that is happening.  Now why this context. I like this context because it is a linear model like the strips. Having the sub also means students have to think about measurement and division because technically you cannot fold a sub, as all the pieces fall out. The other part is students often will try cutting the their strips horizontally instead of vertically. Now this also brings up interesting discussions about equivalency versus congruency but this context stops that because if students cut a sub horizontally they don't really get all of the sub.

Third I don't have the students label their fractions.  When I have done this with my fours it was mainly because I didn't want them to associate a particular fraction with the strips whole. Basically, 1/2 strip is 1/2 of the kits whole not 1/2 somewhere else.  A big misconception with students thinking is that a what they learn is he only representation of a particular fraction. When you label the students don't understand that the size of the whole matters.  That 1/4 can be bigger than 1/2 depending on the size.  However, now that I am in primary I see a whole new benifit, it makes students understand what a fraction is. Why is 1/4, 1/4? While my students where playing cover-up, one of Mariyln burns fraction kit games, they asked me which fraction is 1/4? I turned it around and asked them. They then just picked a random strip up. I the. Asked them why that one? This discussion continued as students explored that the amount of pieces that we break our sub into is our denominator and the amount we use is our numerator.   If I had them label the fractions they never would have explored this concept and I would never have realized that they struggled with it.

The final change is the questions that I ask around this particular problem.  It's not just to make the stud ets create the kit but to think about the big ideas around fractions. Have a listen to my grade two class discussion on fractions:

Day 1 of our Fraction Talk

Day 2 of the Talk:

It is quite interesting the talk that can come from building these kits and the big ideas that come from it. I have played this game in junior and primary and personally I would do this for middle school as well.  In junior I start to add fifths, tenths, thirds, sixths, ninths, and twelves.  By adding these other fractions you also start to see other misconceptions of students halving strategies but for primary halving is still okay.  I hope you really try the kits and see the benefits of it in your classroom.

You can find all of my fraction research and resources on my site:  Feel free to use anything you want.