Friday, 22 June 2012

Mobile Learning: An Exploration

Here is web site I have been working on. We have just begun exploring the value of iPads as a learning tool.

My impression so far is - AWESOME!!

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Meaningful Engagement and the Countdown

Something that has hit me over the last couple weeks is the idea of engagement and the end of the year. I never really thought they went together. I've always been inclined to think that it's hard to get any kind of meaningful work done in the last couple of weeks as the kids start to lose focus, and the interest, to learn. This has certainly been the case for me in my classroom before and I'm sure it's happening all around in many North American classrooms right at this moment.

As a non-classroom based Learning Leader, my job is to support teachers and students by helping to design and implement engaging and authentic learning tasks/inquiry based projects. I've noticed my schedule become more and more empty as the year has come closer to an end. At this crazy time of year teachers are:

  • busy getting their report cards finalized
  • cleaning their classrooms
  • prepping to move to another classroom
  • getting ready to move to another school or retire from the profession
  • and in some cases, getting classrooms ready in preparation for building alteration work to be done over the summer. 
At our school all of the above is happening. It's crazy!

So my question has always been, why do kids 'lose it' at this time of the year? Why can't they be bothered to work? I've always said, and hear a lot of colleagues say (with regard to their students), "they're so ready summer" or "they're so tired and in need of a holiday".

After visiting another school today, I confirmed what I have been wondering lately ~ Is it our students who need the break? Or is it more us that need a break? Are we still focused on student learning? Or are we focusing on other things that are going on in our school? Are we planning authentic learning tasks right up to the final whistle? Are we, even as teachers, learning all the way to the final day of school? My assumption would be that towards the end of the year our brain and/or our attitudes begin to slow down and focus on other things rather than what our students really need, want and deserve.

As I toured the school I visited today (Calgary Science School) I saw quite a different attitude. Even though it was their Sports Day throughout the morning and also the fact that there is only a few days few days of school left, their was meaningful learning going on where ever I went - It was awesome to see. The tasks students were doing were similar kinds of tasks you might see going on in our school during the year, but this is the final week and they're still slogging away at the work.

Back in my own building, a new teacher who has only been teaching for a few weeks (she's fresh out of university), has her grade 5 students engaged in reflecting about a novel they just finished reading. They are presenting their feelings about certain parts of the book through the medium of making a movie using iMovie. They choose a particular part of the book reflected through a picture copied from the book. Then, importing the photo in to imovie and incorporating classical music, they are using Ken Burns effects to talk about the feelings of certain characters in the story. The work they are doing is focused, meaningful to the class, it's fun and certainly authentic. It been a breathe of fresh air to see. And also reconfirms my thoughts. Here is someone who is fresh into the profession and she's rearing to go. Long may her flame keep burning!

As a whole staff, I wonder how we might go about things differently next year when approaching a holiday or the end of the year. How can we ensure that we are still working on meaningful projects, even at those silly times of the year?

Do we need to have direction from the top? Do we all just need to refocus our attention on the job all the way to that final buzzer?

I guess we'll see again next year...

Delicious to Diigo

This week, I made the transition from Delicious to Diigo. I have hardly heard anyone mention Delicious as of late. However, I've heard everyone talking about and recommending Diigo. I have yet to find out the extra capabilities but I'm sure it's better for my needs as an educator. I now need to make it come alive for me as a resource. Sharing it through my blog is one way for me to start this process.

It was easy to do. I was able to export all my bookmarks (including tags) from delicious to my computer's desktop. It saved the file as an HTML document. Then once my new account in Diigo was created, I just imported the saved file and BOOM! It was done!

The next job is to go through my bookmarks and find obsolete ones. I'm hoping there is a tool for that.

Here are my ever-changing Diigo tags displayed in a cloud.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Google Form for Recommending Apps

This is a form I made for our staff to fill out throughout our exploration time with the CBE ILC iPads and iPods. The results of the survey/form can be found in this Google Spreadsheet. Please feel free to give your two cents and also to share with others!

Friday, 15 June 2012

ShowMe an Awesome App


Over the past few months, we have been exploring the what possible uses and value that iPads and iPods could could bring into our building. Apart from the buzz that each and every student had whenever these mobile devices were in the classroom, we have found some amazing Apps that could be so valuable in the classroom.

One of those Apps was one that a colleague found in her personal exploration of iPad resources. That App, called ShowMe (ShowMe on Twitter - @showmeapp), is an amazing way for students to show their understanding of a topic or concept, or share an idea by drawing and talking about it. It works somewhat like Smart Recorder does for a desktop computer. It records whatever you do on the screen as well as your voice. You can also record your voice over the top while playing back.

An account does need to be created in order to share recordings. An account is free and very little personal information is shared. Students under the age of 13 would need to have an account ShowMent made for them (either one that a parent acknowledges or a teacher created account). I would try to make an account for my class to access.

However, a way around creating an account is to playback ShowMe's directly form iPad. With a Apple VGA adaptor cable you can mirror whatever is on your iPad screen through a data projector.

Here is a link to the ShowMe website with some of their ideas for using the App in the classroom -

During the City Planning Project students were given a plot of land and a question:
  • You are given a piece of land for sustainable and responsible development.  How can we organize this area while meeting the diverse needs of plants, animals and humans?
Groups of students then worked together to plan out their piece of land. Through the discussion of ideas and sharing of opinions each group designed their plan together. Groups then shared their plan to the class using ShowMe. This was an amazing way for students to plan, collaborate, draw and colour their ideas, change and adapt their work and finally present.

Thanks to Laura Hildebrandt and Kate Logan for sharing this App making learning more engaging for our learners.

This video shows the Recording being shared. I speed the video up through the middle to show more progress.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Yawwwwwwwn - Fractions are boring!

Day 5 - #30DayChallenge

Fractions - one of the hardest concepts for elementary kids to get a grasp of.

Today I invited myself into a grade three class that were learning about fractions. The lesson was not deep inquiry or problem based but more of an exploration around understanding 'part of a whole'.

The students had completed some preliminary activities around finding the shaded fractions of shaded areas. I think in most cases students were able find and write or describe fractions of 'pizzas'. I walked in during the class discussion about they'd already done.

I helped out with the lesson and by the end I noticed that some students were yawning, bored and still struggling with what we has been talking about. I know that the understanding of fractions won't happen in one lesson but I also wonder if we could have had the students work on more engaging work.

How could we make this more authentic and engaging for these grade threes. To me, the biggest problem was the timeframe we had to work with. The exam is next week and there is still content to be covered (a typical problem, I'm sure for many gr3, 6, and 9 teachers.

My ideas for making the work more engaging:

  • Real Problem - designing a real life problem for students to solve - This would possibly a longer project so not good for this time of year
  • Add in some authentic tasks - building, making, cutting, drawing, explaining, and finding fractions from our community/school building
  • Using technology:
    • Smart Notebook for solving problems and building fractions
    • iPads - Finding and taking pictures of fractions
  • Using ideas from Marion Small - using "Big Ideas" as building blocks for developing understanding
  • Doing a range of different activities to help reach all learners

Have any other ideas? Please share!

Monday, 4 June 2012

Student Choice - Too Much or Too Little?

Day 4 - #30DayChallenge

These days in education we always seem to be talking about giving students more choice.

Today's focus is on a project I have been involved with in a Grade 4 Social Studies class. The teachers wanted to to have their students engaged in Social Studies project where they learned about the past through telling stories about artifacts. The focus of the project was to study artifacts from Alberta's history and then find out what that artifact meant to Alberta and its people. The artifacts came from a variety of sources such as The Glenbow Museum, the CBE Aboriginal collection of artifacts and teachers' personal collection of artifacts.

The following is what the students were able to choose:

  • Each student chose an artifact they were interested in and research information about it.
  • Students chose/found their own source of information - in print and/or Internet
  • Each group (that the teacher formed) got to choose a format to present their stories
  • As a class, the students help choose (co-created) the criteria of what and how the project would by assessed

Positive takeaways

  • From the moment I was involved with these classes they were ENGAGED. They have been so into what they are learning about. The excitement on the faces of these Grade 4's has been a sight for sore eyes! They have been so enthused to share their knowledge about the origin and history of each particular artifact.
  • The students acted like archeologists to find out more about their artifacts. They really felt like experts.
  • Almost all student have found success with their learning. Some student have needed more coaching than other but all have been able to learn something about their chosen artifact.
  • The small amount of information that most students found was enough for most to infer, or guess, the value of that artifact to Albertans and the stories it might tell.

Negative takeaways

  • This project has been hard to manage. The students had 7 or more choices of ways to present their information. This made it hard to give enough support/feedback to each and every group.
  • The artifacts were hard to research. We did not come up with enough sources to help the students. The information we found was not necessary what we needed to know about the artifact.
  • Students who often struggle to access information and pull important and relevant information found it hard to infer a deeper understanding of the artifacts.

What would I repeat what I would change next time?

  • I loved the enthusiasm this project brought to Social Studies, a subject I have always found hard to make exciting. I would definitely do a project like this again - Acting like archeologists, and presenting their findings was a powerful way to learn about our history.
  • I think the range of choice when it came to presenting the information was too broad. Next time we could suggest everyone presents in a similar way, such as a video for an online museum, a page out of a brochure, an audio recording for a radio show etc
  • I would make the research more successful ~ give certain websites to use or narrow down possible research sources. This was hard to do with such a wide range of artifacts the students had to learn about.

Things I wonder?

  • I wonder how to find sources of information without making it a HUGE task ~ Is this possible?
  • What are some other ways to engage students with artifacts?
  • Were there enough choice in this project?
  • Were there or to many choices?
I will post some photos of students working on this project soon...

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Daydream Regularly to be More Engaged!

Day 2 - #30DayChallange

I wonder how many teachers give their students a chance to daydream every day?

Today I discovered a blog post about the positive effects of daydreaming. Wow! That's awesome!

Why Daydreaming Isn’t a Waste of Time by Annie Murphy Paul -

In this day and age it seems that we're too busy to stop and relax. I certainly don't just sit down and listen to the sounds around me, or to music, or just stare into space. I know if I did, my brain would probably start spinning with all the things I had to do. I wonder what students would do when asked to daydream. What would they think? How would it benefit their work and their Learning?

Annie Murphy Paul believes, "A lack of time to daydream may even hamper kids" capacity to pay attention when they need to". When in a relaxed state, our brain settles down and actually reflects, remembers, and thinks ahead. When we give it a chance, our brain will do what it does best, think!

This is a great example of another metacognitive skill that may help our learners become more engaged learners. Something I want to try with my learners!

Friday, 1 June 2012

Day1 ~ #30DayChallenge

Engagement Through Inquiry: 

As I was thinking about what to post today, I met with a teacher to talk about our plan for next week. Sitting in the centre of her classroom was a student made city - The City Project - I asked her how about it. It started off as a simple French project and then turned into an integrated inquiry projecting. They integrated Math (Area and Perimeter) , Social (Democracy), Science (Trees and Forests) and French (Places in our city).


Students have been totally engaged in this project throughout the past two weeks. The inquiry question was as follows: You are given a piece of land for sustainable and responsible development. How can we organize this area while meeting the diverse needs of plants, animals and humans?

A lot of city planners decided to incorporate rooftop gardens to their buildings


I believe that the engagement in this project comes from the fact that the students owned it. They did the planning, they made the decisions, they made the mistakes, and they made adjustments. Through collaboration, students had to plan and decide on a city that met everybody's needs.