QR Codes in the Primary Classroom

I introduced QR codes into the classroom a year ago. I was frustrated with students not being able to access appropriate sites on their mobile devices, in order to listen to reading. 5 minutes later our problem was solved. A QR linked to a Google Doc allowed students to scan and then select a site from a list, eliminating frustrations and building independence.

Fast forward a year and QR codes have made their way into every aspect of our learning environment.

Linking a QR to Google Drive has allowed young students to access relevant information with ease. During a Social Studies inquiry around Land Use I was able to create a working document for each topic and then add a variety of articles, videos and images that are at the students level. Young students are able to develop research skills, using technology in a safe environment.

Listen to Read QR

Listen to Read QR

During math class students love using QR codes to check the answers to problems. Our NASA QR is well used by those that are interested in Space and the bins in our classroom library have codes that link to author websites.

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One of our most powerful experiences with using QR codes was a result of coupling the use of a QR with Google Forms during our data management unit. Students created their surveys using Forms and then independently created a QR. Their task was to survey as many people as possible; students went out into our school community, took the codes home to their families and posted them to our class Twitter account. By the following day some students had over 300 responses. We followed up by using QR codes and Forms to measure the impact of PSAs we shared through social media and received data from over 150 people.

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Videos created are shared with QRs, which are posted around the room. They have become commonplace in our classroom; they are a tool that is accessed and utilized more frequently than pencils in our little corner of the world.

QR codes provide another way to share digital work with parents.

QR codes provide another way to share digital work with parents.

The Kids Are Alright

There is no doubt that I have a non-traditional approach to education. I don’t see a lot of value in worksheets, ‘telling’ and compartmentalizing subjects. I believe in hands-on, cross-curricular exploration centred around student interest. A focus on community, mindset and developing skills that will enable to be successful later in life. Most importantly, I believe that EVERY, SINGLE STUDENT has the ability to succeed. All of them. Even the ones that are disengaged or that have less than desirable behaviours. It might not be easy, but it really is possible.

I had a few interesting conversations in the past few weeks, with various educators. The highlights of these chats include

  • My students can’t handle hands on activities. They’ll just misbehave.
  • My students are too weak, I can’t waste time on inquiry.
  • Inquiry doesn’t work for my students, they don’t care or wonder about anything
  • I teach grade 6, we can’t waste time on that, we have EQAO
  • You’re crazy
  • What about next year? What if they have a traditional teacher?

So, some valid concerns and comments. It can be scary to step away from the ‘norm’. For years we have been told that we don’t need to recreate the wheel; but we do! The wheel is broken! It may not be easy; particularly if you do teach in a school where students don’t have a lot of home support. I have spent countless hours modelling what a ‘conversation’ looks like. I understand that not every student comes equipped with the skills needed to jump into rich conversations and to utilize technology appropriately. Isn’t that even more of a reason to teach them? Students learn through doing. Having an academically weak, disengaged class is even more reason to get them moving, inspired and learning!

I teach grade 3. I understand the pressure of standardized testing. I also recognize the value of providing ample opportunity for students to engage in rich conversations using math vocabulary and sharing strategies through activities such as Number Talks. They are able to develop skills in one format and then transfer them to another. Believe in them. They can do it.

I also have faced a classroom of 7 year olds that had no interest in the provocations I was presenting to them. They had no wonders. How is that possible? Turns out, they just thought what I was sharing was lame. Go figure. Easy fix; I set up a wonder table and had students bring in items that they were curious about and then I found ways to incorporate curriculum into these topics. This group has evolved into a team of scientists that are curious about everything; they question so much of their world and have developed research skills to find the answers to their wonders.

We talk a lot about student mindset. I would like to suggest that teacher mindset is even more important. If you believe in your students, set the bar high and guide them in the right direction they will amaze you.

I leave you with one image. The 15 year old, high-school drop out version of me. The couch-surfing punk rocker. The girl that didn’t understand traditional math, that was pulled out for regular resource help and that was too scared to ask a question because she didn’t want to look any more stupid than she already felt. The kid that almost failed grade 8, the one that really, really just wanted to succeed. Don’t write off kids like me. Give them all a chance. They deserve it and they can do it.

Engage them! Inspire them! They can handle it!

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Building a Math Community 

It was early in September when I discovered I was in serious trouble with my students and Mathematics. Not only were the majority of students lacking a concrete sense of number; their mindset was problematic. It became my mission to strive to create a rich math community where all students were engaged and growing as learners.Screen Shot 2015-03-31 at 1.12.47 PM

My first task was to try to change the mindset of my students around math. We looked at one of my favourite Prezi’s; Mindset Theory for Students and discussed taking ownership over our own learning. Students really seemed to understand that they are responsible for their learning, and that challenges meant growth was happening!IMG_0948

Next I decided to create life size models of familiar math materials. I grabbed my rolls of tape and set to work. Our classroom carpet has a giant place value mat where we explore numbers using base ten materials as a whole group. We also have a 5 foot by 5 foot hundred square grid taped onto the floor. I printed off numbers 0-100 in red and black and laminated the two sided cards.

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We spent much of September exploring math materials and develop a sense of ‘howmuchness’ in number. Lessons are set around one of our floor models and students use white board versions to follow along. We refer to this seating format as our knowledge building circle; as co-learners we share our knowledge and build an understanding in a supportive setting. What I really like about this format is that everyone is included and I am able to see misconceptions and provide immediate feedback. Initially I did much of the leading however as students have gained more confidence I have become more of a facilitator.

Students were still resistant to taking risks when it came to written work. There is something incredibly intimidating about putting pencil to paper for many students. White board markers on table tops provided an easy solution to this problem! Students loved the idea of writing on desks and the large workspace lends itself nicely to collaboration. Creating student folders in Google Drive allows me to store documentation of digital work with ease. Recently, we have begun to use SeeSaw. This app allows students to upload digital content and assign it to their own portfolio. As an added feature, they can add audio or text to discuss their content.

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I still found students were not as engaged as I would like. I also found this particular group of students really wanted a great deal of reassurance and attention. I decided to harness the power of social media in order to access an audience for them. Early in the year I had students consolidate our learning about patterning by creating a math questions with a partner, that we would tweet out. As soon as we had our first response (and I did some messaging in advance to ensure we would have an active and immediate audience) they were HOOKED! Almost every week we send out math questions to fellow students across the world, administrators, parents and community members. We have a set of criteria established prior to tweeting out our questions and their understanding of concepts is assessed during these tasks.

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Problem solving is centred around authentic problems in our classroom. We wanted to determine if the public service announcements we planned to create about our local food bank would have an impact and so we used Google Forms to survey over 150 people via social media. We used our Twitter analytics to determine when the best time to tweet out our PSAs would be. When planting seeds to grow food for our local food bank we needed to determine how much soil would be required for the 96 plants and which soil was the best value based on price.

A Number Talk is displayed when the trigger point is scanned with Aurasma

A Number Talk is displayed when the trigger point is scanned with Aurasma

Number Talks have provided an opportunity for students to develop their math vocabulary while strengthening their mental math skills. Twenty minutes a day is devoted to solving 3-4 questions. Students use math language to explain their strategies while I record thinking on our SmartBoard. Often, a student will discover their own errors as they explain their thinking. Mistakes are celebrated as “AHA” moments and a group of students that was once reluctant to answer based on fear now recognizes the value of errors. Scanning our Math Wall with Aurasma you can watch video of our Number Talks.

Using Plickers allows me to assess student understanding quickly and tracks the data for me. Four questions a day; from multiple strands are displayed on our smart board. We answer quickly and students justify their decisions for their peers. Using the cards allows me to ensure all students have a voice in every single math class.

Students answer math questions based on individual needs

Students answer math questions based on individual needs on our Math Minute wall

My students have become confident is selecting efficient materials to solve math tasks and share their work. Rekenreks, ten frames, Explain Everything and table tops are routinely used to show work. Conversations are rich and meaningful and students engage in math talk when I least expect it. They have evolved into risk takers, problem solvers and they recognize that not knowing the answer is okay. What is important is understanding how to access and use the tools to solve problems. They have become incredibly supportive of their peers; when Cameron moved from decomposing numbers to twos to add to making tens his classmates all cheered for him, recognizing his step towards a more efficient strategy in addition!

We have very little paper evidence of our work, but the work we do is engaging and authentic. Our math class is built around talk, exploration, collaboration and sharing. When we have free time they usually ask for mat Some of my students still struggle with concepts however all of my students enjoy math; as all students should.

Measuring the length of our plants

Measuring the length of our plants

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Challenge Based What? Engaging students through authentic learning experiences.

It was early in the 2014-2015 school year when I first heard of Challenge-Based Learning; a pedagogic approach to education pioneered by eimageducation staff at Apple, Inc. Through CBL students are encouraged to harness the power of every-day technology in order to solve real world issues. Learners engage with their peers, teachers and community members as they develop innovative solutions to social issues. It sounded engaging, authentic and I was intrigued. I decided to explore CBL further and consider how I could incorporate it into my classroom. While I was excited about the concept of CBL I wasn’t entirely sure how I would introduce this into my grade 2/3 classroom. When concerns for too many of my students centre around safety and food, how could I expect them to become engaged in this process? It was during a conversation about food banks that it became blatantly clear to me that THIS was their real world issue. Food security in many of their own lives. With a deep breath, I dove in. What I didn’t realize is that it would take on a life of its own. I had no idea how completely it would transform our learning experience. The journey that my students and I embarked on was one that did not include a clear road map. I wasn’t always sure what direction we were headed in, and not every path led us where we needed to be. We still haven’t reached our destination, but this process is definitely all about the journey. The work my students have done around Food is well documented in a LKDSB iBook co-authored Screen Shot 2015-03-29 at 4.57.13 PMwith Sharon Drummond titled, “Community” that can be found in the iBooks Store. I have had several educators ask me how I plan for CBL. There isn’t a cut and dry answer to this, for me. It absolutely requires me to be flexible and responsive to my students and actively involved in the topic. I provide articles, videos, written texts and community experts to share ideas with the students and I follow their lead when they have an idea that they would like to explore further. I reference my curriculum AT LEAST once a day, in order to ensure that our work meets expectations. I loaded  our class Twitter feed with reputable food organizations and farmers. We talk. A lot. Students share ideas, ask questions and challenge each others thinking. A common phrase in our class has become, “That’s a problem, so what can we do about it?”. image We have met expectations through Language as we respond to texts, create public service announcements, blog, tweet and engage in Grand Conversations. Math has become meaningful as students created and surveyed an audience of over 150 through social media and Google Forms, determined the quantity of soil needed to grow food for our food bank and the best value based on price and measurement. Local artists assisted in meeting visual arts expectations as we created artwork to make our food bank more inviting. Science units about plants, soils and air and water are addressed though the growing of produce and in Social Studies some students choose to explore the impact of food waste created by residential and commercial land use, on our environment. Screen Shot 2015-03-29 at 4.53.30 PM Additionally, my students have developed remarkable collaboration skills with their peers and community. They have demonstrated responsibility, built relationships and become innovative problem solvers. They take initiative and they seek opportunities to help, just for the sake of helping. They are kind. A fellow teacher recently commented to me that this will be a lot of work. What I plan and teach this year can not be used next year. This is true. I am okay with that. When I see the excitement in my students, their passion and their commitment; that is well worth rethinking how I share curriculum with next years students.

Clarifying the SAMR Model

This past week I had the privilege of listening to Dr. Rueben Peuntedura speak at Lambton College in Sarnia. The College graciously invited a group from LKDSB, I was very pleased to be included in this group.

Over the past few years visual representations of the SAMR model have been strewn across my office desk, as I have grappled with the task of maximizing the impact of using new technology with my students. Initially, the SAMR model provided the structure that I needed to come to terms with how I could integrate iPads in my primary classroom. In the early days of iPad use in my program I would refer to the model as frequently as I did the curriculum; ensuring that I remained focused on the academic goal. With all the flashy apps available, I feared it would be too easy to get off track.

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Fast forward a year and I have gained a much stronger understanding of how to drive forward student success through technology. Having a 1:2 device ratio has allowed me to embed the use of tech into curriculum delivery and task assignment. The first two steps on the SAMR ladder really are incredibly convenient for myself and students and required minimal effort to set into action. I have definitely moved my students into Modification, but I have struggled with what is really needed to reach that highest level; in order to achieve greatest student success.

Dr. Puentendura shared a great deal with us; the following is a list of my highlights taken both through his lecture and a conversation I had with him around a CBL project my students are engaged in.

1. Greatest student achievement occurs when students engage in tasks in all areas of the model, for extended periods of time.
2. There are no bad levels of the model. The different levels just serve different purposes.
3. Jumping along the model is fine. It’s not necessarily meant to be a linear path.
4. Redefinition does not always include the use of technology. It can be the result of technology use through SAM.
5. Advantages of going up the ladder through a task means that if one piece doesn’t work you still, have all of the other learning and experiences, the risk is not as great as just doing one piece.
6. The key to Redefinition is applying peer feedback.
7. The gains from using technology are not always evident in assessment; depending on what is being measured.
8. When determining what type of technology to use consider your purpose; social, mobility, gaming, visualization or storytelling. (EdTech Quintet)
9. Consider Michael Fullans 6 Cs as the basis of why we use technology in education.
10. There’s no app for that. Just as one app can’t move you to a specific level, a single app can be utilized along all levels. It not just the tech; it is how you apply it along with the content that makes the learning meaningful.

My biggest “Aha” moment is the realization that working along the SAMR model really isn’t that complicated. I think I had been over-analyzing it for some time. My understanding of the basic concept of the model wasn’t too far off, but I definitely have a much clearer understanding of how to move forward with my students from here.

The day exceeded my expectations, a big thank you to Lambton College and Lambton Kent District School Board for including me and to Dr. Puentedura for sharing his expertise.

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The Power of a Tweet

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Twitter kind of happened by accident to me. I have always enjoyed the use of social media, but despite my (not so best) efforts, I wasn’t really buying into it. I joined, sent my first tweet into cyberspace and then marveled at the fact that in a world with so many tweeters, I could shout out and not be heard. I felt like that awkward kid in a crowded room, the one that nobody notices. I deleted the app from my phone and decided it just wasn’t for me.

Fast forward a year and I was at Tedx Talks in Chatham. Everyone had their devices out and Tweets were flying around the room. A quick visit to the App Store and I was up and running. I quickly recognized the power of being digitally connected. Conversations began. Photos were shared. Connections were made.

Over the course of the next few months I slowly dipped my feet in, generally watching from the sidelines. I became an active “followee”; seeking out influential, inspiring educators. I learned about events such as Edcampswo. My professional learning community grew and I was continually exposed to innovative educators. I still didn’t feel like I was contributing though. My twitter presence was just barely noticeable. While I could see the value, I still wasn’t getting what all the hype was about.

And then, it happened. During September 2014 I was looking for ways to use technology to expand the walls of our classroom and connect with others. Our first class tweet went out with a purpose. We wanted to share our work and ideas with other grade 2/3 students. With the memory of my personal experience in the back of my mind, I ensured that we had an audience that would respond. I set the stage by direct messaging some active users ahead of time; requesting that they please take a moment to tweet back. I personally believe that having a ready audience made all the difference to my students.

Our first live math class!

Our first live math class!

We embarked upon our first “live” math class. Students tweeted out pictures of questions they had created, in hopes that someone would attempt to solve their problems. Bodies and manipulatives were strewn across the floor, some on task and others; not so much. The smartboard was on and our twitter feed up. The first two students sent their questions out……and almost instantly they had a response! The energy in the room exploded. All of the students were running to see who answered and if they were correct. They were amazed that their work was being viewed, solved and retweeted. Everyone, instantly was on task. Work became neater, attention was given to detail, students began to REALLY collaborate. They wanted THEIR questions recognized. They had a new audience and they couldn’t wait to connect with them. It was one of the most powerful, transformative moments in my own teaching career. Just when I thought the moment couldn’t get any better, @Sharon_Drummond kicked it up a notch and sent back an extension question, and our other twitter responders followed suit. Students began to collaborate between groups to help solve problems, sharing strategies and challenging each others thinking. The learning was authentic, in the moment and unscripted. It was powerful. I was sold.

Our use of Twitter continued through October as we connected with others through the Global Read Aloud project initiated by @pernillerip #GRAEdward My students quickly fell in love with the characters in The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane and enjoyed sharing their reflections, predictions and questions with the multitude of other classrooms participating in GRA across the globe. The walls of our classroom were no longer limited by brick and mortar. We were communicating by sharing videos, skyping and blogging with students from Hong Kong to Saskatchewan, that we connected with via Twitter. We were becoming responsible digital and global citizens.

And then, I sent out one little tweet, asking for soil samples. I really didn’t expect much in return. I mean, the investment of a few minutes on twitter is one thing, but to actually send something via mail? I didn’t think it would happen. Of course, it did. Over twenty soil samples came to us, from across North America. We planted our seeds and watched our little plants grow; amazed that the sandy soil from the Sonoran Desert actually did as well as our Pennsylvania soil. We taped our samples onto our wall map, and it really meant something that we had actually connected with people from these communities. Again, my expectations were exceeded.

Collecting and displaying soil from across North America

Collecting and displaying soil from across North America

Twitter quickly went from being an ‘event’ to being a part of our classroom routine. It is often up, students monitor our news feed; following local weather, sports and classrooms. Some will tweet their parents samples of work throughout the day and I frequently send out a pic of what we are up to. Along with all of its other purposes, It has become our digital journal, in a sense. Parents have commented that they love being able to talk to their child when they walk out the doors of the school and into their cars and homes, about what they saw them doing in school that day. On the flip side, my own sons teacher @MrCAnderson2014 jumped on the Twitter bandwagon and I thoroughly enjoy being able to see what my little guy is learning and up to! As a parent, I am more engaged by being given a peek inside his school life. Dinner conversation has evolved; from I did “nothing” today to talk that stemmed from pics shared through social media.

Eric shared his work with his Dad on Twitter

Eric shared his work with his Dad on Twitter

Collaboration, communication, citizenship. Twitter was impacting who we were as learners, and the students recognized this.

We were sitting in our knowledge building circle one afternoon, discussing our read aloud, “One for the Murphy’s”. It led to a discussion about food, specifically the lack of for some people. The students really wanted to do something to help those in need. They wanted to raise money and donations for the food bank. They had grand ideas about how to help people that are living in poverty. Then one little voice spoke up and said, “I don’t think we can help. I think we are the ones living in poverty. My family goes to the food bank”. All eyes were on me. She was correct, some of the students in our classroom community are living in poverty. That is our reality. We logged on the website for our local food bank and began to research. We looked up ways we can help and to our surprise there were several listed. I began to read them off and as I got to “raise public awareness” the students started to shout out their ideas. They were unanimous. We have a strong twitter audience and we could teach them about the food bank! They were on a mission.

The next few months saw us visiting Outreach for Hunger to learn about the services provided, volunteer there, head up a canned food drive, create PSA’s (which received some airtime) and create and tweet out a survey via Google Forms to measure the impact of our campaign. We analyzed the data found in our settings to determine when we had the highest audience engagement and deliberately tweeted out our first PSA’s during this time period.  Our Adobe Voice PSA’s were tweeted out and led to connections with @foodbankscanada and @OAFB (Ontario Food Banks).

Analyzing our data to find out  the best time to share our PSAs and survery

Analyzing our data to find out the best time to share our PSAs and survery

Twitter became a way to showcase their creativity and to build character education. It also provided opportunities for critical-thinking. It has been a very powerful tool, in my classroom. My students know that they can have an impact on others, that their voice matters and that they can create change in their worlds. And that, is the power of a tweet.

Participating in DPA challenges with other LKDSB schools!

Participating in DPA challenges with other LKDSB schools!