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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
This past school year has been remarkable, to say the least. What began as a desire to help our local food bank led our class on a journey I had no intention of taking. We worked with local artists to make the food bank more welcoming; we created PSAs that received airtime, were featured on Treehugger, presented to the Lambton Kent District School Board of Trustees, spoke at Tedx Chatham-Kent, donated food from our indoor organic vegetable garden, worked on a photo project with The Chatham Daily News photojournalist Diana Martin, held an art auction and a community corn roast.
All around the issue of food security.
Who would have thought that a group of 20 grade 2 and 3 students would care so much about food. Certainly not me. Yet, they were the most passionate group of students that I have ever had the opportunity to teach.
Along the way I somehow got confused as someone that was on expert on the topic of food security; who happened to share my passion with my students. This is not at all the case. I barely know how to cook. My 13 year old daughter jokes that our stove is an art piece and my 10 year old son recently gave me a high five for FINALLY making sunny side up eggs without destroying them. And, while I was writing this, I burnt the bacon.
What I am passionate about is listening and responding to student voice. Shaping curriculum delivery and integrating topics and activities that students care about undeniably engage student and result in greater success. These little game changers are completely responsible for the successes in our learning community this year. Every time myself or our principal thought that their interest would fizzle out they would surprise us and lead us in a new direction. I looked for opportunities to tie their interests, projects and learning into curriculum and ensured that their work was purposeful. Curriculum was covered, students were engaged and the learning was meaningful. That to me, is the greatest achievement of the year.
Someone recently asked me how I would top last year. I won’t. I don’t expect to. Each group of students is unique and so each school year is different. I do however look forward to a new year of adventures and learning!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It was early in the 2014-2015 school year when I first heard of Challenge-Based Learning; a pedagogic approach to education pioneered by education 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 with 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?”. 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. 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.
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.
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.