The SWST experience

Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend the SWST Provincial Symposium as a host teacher, with a team from my school board. The day centred around finding ourselves within the work, reflecting on our experiences and moving forward. It really made me stop and consider how the SWST experience has impacted me as an educator.

When our SWST approached me with the opportunity to be a part of the initiative last Fall I was more than happy to jump on board. But, I wasn’t really sure what this meant, what would be required of me? Of my students? Would I have time to participate and was I qualified? Despite all these questions, I was confident that whatever the process involved, it would ultimately enable me to continue to grow as an educator. So, I signed on.

I quickly discovered that this was an opportunity to work with our board SWST Tracy, in order to set specific goals for a group of target students. With the understanding that using strategies for these students should have positive impacts on all students. I was excited to tap into Tracy’s knowledge bank and deepen comprehension in my young learners.

I set out with the intention that IF I provide more engaging opportunities for students while reading, THEN they will deepen their comprehension and produce more meaningful written responses. I determined that I would focus on the use of academic student conversation, drama activities and technology to achieve this.

I anticipated that I would see results with my students. What I was not prepared for was the depth of thinking that evolved with my grade 2 students over the course of the year. I selected quality literature that supported our learning goals in Social Studies; tackling issues of child labour, war, poverty, racism and gender discrimination. I was prepared for the heavy conversations that would come from presenting these issues.

Then the magic happened.

I sat back and watched as my students fell in love with reading. They laughed along with books, they cried for the characters, they asked endless question and they came to me long after a book was completed to tell me they were still sad it was over. They were engaged. They immersed themselves in the books we read and they connected with the characters. The conversations and connections before, during and long after a book was completed became much richer, and their written responses improved significantly.

Yesterday was an opportunity to share our experiences and to reflect on our learning. To hear FNMI students share their experiences; learning to become researchers in order to bring about social change through the StAR initiative. To recognize the importance of listening to students in order to learn from them, and being responsive to what we discover. To provide rich, engaging learning opportunities in order to move students forward in their learning.

So where do we go from here? As an educator I am excited to begin a new year, at a new school using the action strategies I utilized this year. I am hopeful that teachers will be provided with the same types of engaging opportunities we present our students; opportunities for choice, at future PD sessions. Most importantly; I hope that the shift towards empowering students as active participants in their own learning will continue to enable them to grow as researchers, learners and empathic citizens so that they can make a difference in their world.


iPads; Toy or Learning Tool?

I was recently asked if my students “played” on the iPads a lot. The question was intended to be offensive, but rather reflective of a misconception by some, around the integration of iPads into education. iPad use in my classroom is not an activity, but rather they are a tool; much like a pencil or a chalkboard. I am not alone here, there are many innovative educators that have adopted this technology and found engaging ways to incorporate it into their programs.

So here is the thing. Technology is sexy. It’s flashy. It’s engaging. What it is not, is education. An iPad on its own is as useful as a pencil that is not picked up. As facilitators, I think we are responsible for looking for ways to use this appeal to amp up our pedagogy. The burning questions seems to be, how do we do that?

I think the answer really depends on the educator. How comfortable they are using the technology, and what their purpose is. Whatever it looks like, it should be engaging and efficient. If it is creating more work, it isn’t effective!

So, what are my kids doing on the iPads, if they aren’t playing? In a nutshell; researching, documenting, collaborating, creating and sharing their work. They are blogging, tweeting and learning what it means to be a responsible digital citizens. And, more often than not….they are teaching me something new or cool that they discovered.

I came across a quote not long ago, and really wish I knew the author to give due credit. It said, “pedagogy is the driver, technology is the accelerator”, and this pretty much sums up my philosophy.

So, next time you see a teacher wheeling a cart of iPads to their room, please remember it isn’t an overpriced toy box on wheels!

Some apps worth checking out:
Explain Everything
Write About This

Student Authored Digital Portfolios

Originally posted on doug --- off the record:

Isn’t this a sign of the times?

That’s the bit of information that you’ll find attached to Kathy Cassidy’s newest iBook “Student Authored Portfolios: Archiving Learning with iPad“.

In the book, Kathy takes on the issues and technical side of things as she describes how Student Portfolios work in her classroom.

It’s a relatively short read (only 17 pages) but covers the topic in a way that makes it all reachable with technology.  While the title does make reference to the iPad, the techniques are certainly not restricted to that one piece of technology.

So often, there are blocks to successful implementation.  Kathy takes these on up front explaining how it works for her.

  • safety
  • tools
  • platform choice
  • photos
  • video
  • audio
  • drawing

They’re all nicely addressed within the various sections.

If you’re curious about using digital portfolios with your students, looking for ways to convince yourself and…

View original 33 more words

Augmented What?

Our Grade 2 classroom has recently taken the plunge into a new world. The world of augmented reality. I was recently at @edcampswo where @colinjpattison shared his experiences with this technology, and provided a quick walk through of the apps @aurasma and @Layar.

To say I was mind blown is an understatement. To be able to create a virtual layer in our classroom, to display content that would otherwise create clutter (and violate the ever present fire code) was a definite feature for me. What was even more surprising was how easy it is to create this content. We had the opportunity to experiment with both iPad apps and created layers within minutes. I was hooked.

So, what does this look like in a primary classroom? I first introduced it to the class by adding a virtual layer to our read aloud’ “Four Feet, Two Sandals”. When scanned with our class iPad the book cover displays a picture that I imported of a refugee camp. The students loved having a real world connection to our class read aloud!

I was interested in using this technology as a way to present student work and deepen their understanding. To me, incorporating this into our World map seemed like a natural fit. Students have been working to research and create presentations about a specific community around the world. As they have been completing their presentations we have been linking them to our map. Now, a student that views that map with the iPad has the opportunity to see their peers work (tellagami videos, screen shots etc) and connect what they are seeing with the location on the map. And the bonus; less paper on the wall!

We have only just begun to use Augmented Reality and already my 7 and 8 year olds are learning to create layers independently. They are thrilled to show anyone that visits our room their work and have begun to approach me with new ways we can incorporate it into our room. I am looking forward to seeing how it evolves in Room 7.

Sticky Notes

I don’t think I picked up a sticky note my first year of teaching. It wasn’t until I was faced with an overly inquisitive student that I decided to break out the yellow pad of notes. During a moment of desperation I informed the eager eleven year old that he had a ration of questions he could ask during a lesson. Anything not addressed could be written on a sticky note and left on my desk and I would respond as quickly as possible. The first week, it seemed like the worst idea ever. I was getting bombarded with a multitude of questions. Once the novelty wore of though, an amazing thing began to happen. He realized that by asking only relevant, meaningful questions I could respond in a much more timely manner. Not only did his questioning strategies become more effective on paper, but he transferred this skill and began to ask much richer questions in class.

This year, sticky notes have become an intregal part of my teaching practice. It wasn’t planned, it just sort of evolved. I realized early in the year that I had two types do writers in my class. The ones who had an extraordinary amount of (sometimes relevant) information to share, and those who would stare at a blank page with panic, not knowing where to begin. So, how was I supposed to motivate one group to write more and one to write less?

Sticky notes offered a way to tackle this issue. I started to ask students to record their ideas on these little notes and worked with my over-writers on how to summarize. My non-writers seemed to find the notes much less intimidating than a half sheet of lined paper. They didn’t have to stress about how many sentences they included, or if it looked like it was ‘enough’ of an answer. They just wrote what they knew. Collectively, they all learned that they could write small and neatly (even in grade 2) and that you need to initial your work to get credit for it! One thing that all of my students enjoy this year is to see their work displayed. Even on a note. This motivation has worked in my favour and I now have a community of writers. Sticky notes are not the only reason, but they are definitely one of them.

So, in addition to think-share-pair or milling to music acitivies, we record our ideas on notes. Sticky notes have become the vehicle for ‘drafting’ portion of our Reading Responses.

This isn’t the only place you would see them being used in our classroom, though. Whether learning about verbs and recording their words to share, providing peer feedback, or recording their “I Wonder” statements; they have become a vehicle to share ideas and ask questions.

From teaching summarizing and asking questioning, to giving my quiet students a voice; these little notes have been beneficial to me this year. I’m curious how others have incorporated the use of sticky notes into their classrooms. Have they been effective for you?

Why QR into the classroom?

My last blog post was about my plunge into the world of QR; the use of scannable codes in the classroom. QR is not new technology. In fact, just yesterday fellow educator @mraspinall posted a picture the hard drive of a computer that his intermediate students had dismantled with a QR code on it. QR is also found in stores and on posters; smartphones have allowed them to evolve into an effective marketing tool. Apps like @Qrafter allow users to download scanners for free, or to create QR codes by upgrading for only a few dollars.

So, why QR? Does it have a functional use in the classroom? For my grade 2 class the answer is absolutely.

Yesterday I introduced QR to my students. I was ready to explain what it was, in kid friendly language. I didn’t need to. Before morning announcements had even finished 3 students had asked why I had a code and what we were scanning. Some questioning led me to discover that all 20 of my kids knew what it was.

I guess I wasn’t introducing something new after all. Another humbling moment for me.

So, our little code made its way into our class library and students used it with absolute ease. Scanning the code, they were brought to a list of websites where they can listen to books. This eliminates the step of typing web addresses or site names into google and navigating through web pages to access the page they need. All useful skills; but not essential during participation in this work station. For me, the greatest benefit was not being interrupted to help find information, while conferencing with my writing groups.

I shared the code with my fellow primary teachers and they were just as excited about the possibilities as I am. While researching and analyzing data on the web is an important skill it can make research in a primary classroom a nightmare at times. QR will allow me to direct students to a pre-screened list of sites (or directly to one site) that are appropriate for their age and topic. A time saver for sure.

7 students asked for a copy of the code to take home last night, to use with their own devices. As I handed out copies of the code I was again reminded that it only makes sense to link the technology that we have access to, to student learning.


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