Friday, June 26, 2015

My Top 5 Summer Reads for Educators #summerreading

For those who think that teachers have two months of "vacation" in the summer, they would be wrong.  Many of us of compiling lists and plans of professional development "to-do's over the summer months.

Here are my top 5 suggestions for those who are looking for a starting point.

50 Things You Can do With Google Classroom by Alice Keeler @alicekeeler
This one I haven't read yet.  But I want to. Actually, I haven't gotten it ordered yet.  Perhaps someone will get if for my for my upcoming birthday?  Hint, hint?

Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess @burgessdave
Amazing insight into classroom practices. How to use your personal creativity to engage and inspire your students.

Learn Like a Pirate by Paul Solarz @PaulSolarz

I am in the middle of this book currently.  The Twitter chats are amazing at #LearnLap.  Follow the hashtag and check it out.  

What Connected Educators do Differently by Todd Whitaker (Author), Jeffrey Zoul (Author), Jimmy Casas (Author)

This book it a "how to" to get started with Personal/Professional Learning Networks.  Wanting to get started with Twitter and not sure how?  This is definitely the book for you. Hands on and practical; terrific for new Tweeps.

Comprehension Collaboration: Inquiry Circles in Action  by Harvey, Daniels

This is my go-to bible for inquiry learning and collaboration.  My copy is completely covered in stickies and notes.

For more summer reading ideas, Fractus Learning has compiled a great list here.

The Top 50 Best Books for Teachers 2015

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Brock's Youth University: a trip to remember

This year, our school bucked the longstanding "Toronto Trip" tradition for our Grade 7/8 class trip.   Instead, we went to St. Catharines, Ontario for the Youth University program at Brock.  

Change is often a good thing.  Unfortunately, the unknown is often uncomfortable for people and so they are resistant to it. Though the students had voted to attend the Brock program, many were sceptical before they went, worried that they weren't going to have a fun time.

They need not have worried; it was the best school trip experience ever! Last night's grade 8 graduation valedictorian speech and student-created slideshow were true testaments to the fun that they had as it earned rave reviews from the graduates.

Brock catered to our needs, and created a custom program for us based on the student's vote on which programs they wanted to participate in. With all of the technology in our classroom going on this year, the students gravitated towards technology programming, rather than the traditional Leadership activities stream. Clearly, technology in the classroom has made an impact on the students.

Apparently, we were the furthest school to attend their program, and they bent over backwards to make it work for us. Due to the long travel distances, they created a 3-night program for us, rather than the traditional 2-night excursion.

So what did we do @YUatBrock?

  • swimming in the pool, complete with swim test, fantastic lifeguard supervision, Tarzan rope and diving boards
  • orienteering
  • animated art using Adobe Flash
  • video game creation with RPG Maker software
  • robotics with Lego Mindstorm EV3's
  • special effects with iMovie
  • a dance (huge hit with the students)
  • gym time with games
  • ongoing recreation activities
  • science fun including an egg drop challenge
  • nature hike
  • campfire
  • and so much more...
Students were also introduced to state of the art computer labs, lecture halls, and a discussion about post-secondary options for all (not just University).

It was an incredible 4 days.  Though we were exhausted by the end, the teachers and chaperones had just as much fun as the students. We took part in everything and were especially proud of our special effects project. 

Looking for an amazing class trip experience?  Brock's Youth University program is at the top of my list.

Want a good laugh?  Here is what "the biggest kids" learned about using special video effects while at Youth University.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Classroom Digital #LearningSpace: the students have spoken

My 21st century digital learning space has been in place for a couple of months now.  As the year is winding down, I am already starting to make plans in my mind for next year. I need to reflect on what is currently in my classroom, and ask myself the question: Where do I go from here?


As educators, we need to use data to back up decisions that we make about our pedagogy and classroom practices.  So, I turned to the experts: my students.

This morning, I put a QR code on the projector screen, and without any instructions, my class got out the iPads and laptops, scanned the code, and completed the survey.

Want to take a look at the survey questions?  Click HERE.

                                                                 or use the QR code?

So, what did I find out?  The results surprised me.  Above all else, I was surprised by how positive they were. Why? Well, with the amount of pushback throughout the year, and the strong resistance to change, I was expecting more negative or ambiguous feedback on the survey.

The results are in. 

Here is what my intermediate (Grade 7/8) students had to say:

Question #1.

Classroom learning configurations.

Using our Ontario Level System (Level 1 is low, Level 4 is high), the students rated how they liked to learn in the classroom space.  Students were asked to rank each, not put them in order, so a student could choose level 3 for each, for example.
  •  "CAVE" is a quiet, independent work space, which in our classroom is in the back room, at an individual computer desk with rolly chair, or in a cubicle outside the door.
  • "WATERING HOLE" is working in  small group, either at the purple collaboration tables, the standing height tables with stools, or at the cafe tables
  • "CAMPFIRE" is whole class discussions. Usually we pull our chairs into a whole class circle for this
  • MOUNTAIN TOP is when someone is at the front, presenting, lecturing or demonstrating.  Usually, this is the students and guest speakers.  I try to limit the amount of whole class lecture-style instruction and make it minimal each day.

Question #2.

Seating plan or no seating plan?

Seating plans. 80 % of students don't want them.  Interestingly, the 20% of students who preferred that the teacher create the seating plan are the students who have more difficulty in social situations. Currently, there is NO seating plan in my classroom. Perhaps next year I can find a way to incorporate a seating plan for some, while allowing others the choice. Something to ponder further, for sure.

Question #3.

What are the things that you like most about our learning space?

This was an open response question, and I got a wide variety of answers.
"It is good to focus on work."
"There is a lot of space to work."
"I like how we have the standing desks and a reading area at the back of the room."
"I like how everything gets to be a group collaboration because of the big seating tables we have." 
 "Many choices of where you want to sit. Different seating arrangements." 

Question #4.

What do you like least about our learning space?

Most responses to this question were "nothing". That's encouraging.  The rest of the feedback was about the small cubby area where I have been having them put their binders at the end of the day.  Because it was a mid-year transition from individual desks to our new learning space, many have had a hard time adapting to organizing their belongings and keeping items in their locker or in a shared shelf space.

Next year, they will be be using this system from the beginning so hopefully there will be better management of  their "stuff". Also, we will be using GAFE from the first day, so NO MORE ENORMOUS BINDERS!!!

Question #5.

What are some changes you would like to see in our learning space?

By overwhelming majority, the answer was "none". A few requests for a couch (if only I had a larger room) and a designated art area was a wonderful suggestion (I already had it in the works for next year).

Question #6.

How has the new classroom changed the way you learn at school?

I got THE BEST responses to this question. Many students responded positively about iPads, laptops, and the easy access to information. The ability to collaborate was also tops in their books.

"It's more interactive than before."
"I don't always work with the same people each time. I work with different people at times to times since we're allowed to sit where ever we want and having the iPads are way easier than using paper all the time (sic)"
"Learning is actually interesting with how we can project our iPad images on the SmartBoards. It makes it more interesting and fun." 
"It made it more fun and easy to collaborate with different people." 
"It's improved my marks by getting input by people at the group tables. It's also fun working together."
Now, in my classroom, there is very little emphasis on marks. We talk about learning - and focus on feedback. I'm assuming that marks=learning in this student's mind - so that's a win if that's the case.

I love working with students in my new classroom learning space. What's holding you back? Start planning for next year to transform the learning in your classroom!

 Read more about the transformation in my classroom this year:

Classroom Design: A Reading Room
21st Century Intermediate Learning Space: A Pilot Project
21st Century Learning Space: No seating plan required
21st Century Digital Learning Space: My Classroom Makeover

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

#CriticalThinking and #appsmashing in the classroom

What do apps have to do with critical thinking? More than I thought possible.
And my students managed to blow my mind with their answers.

Critical thinking is something that is key for students. Throughout life, they need to be able to think critically every day.

Here are a couple of articles from The Critical Thinking Consortium that give background information into critical thinking in the classroom.   Understanding Critical Thinking  Embedding Critical Thinking into Teaching and Learning

This year, with our new classroom iPads and our new 21st Century classroom learning space, I have been pushing for the students to think critically about the choices that they make in my classroom every day.

  • Where should I sit?  Why is this spot the best place for me to learn right now?
  • What topic and questions should should I choose for further inquiry? Why?
  • Which classmates should I collaborate with to improve my learning on this topic?
  • What technology should I use? What is the best tool for the job? iPad? Laptop?
As a culminating task for our Geography inquiry, students were required to create a final media project for literacy.

They were required to ask themselves the following question: Which app(s) and software are the best tools for the job?

I purposely did NOT tell them which app to use. They needed to think critically about their audience, the message they were trying to send, and the characteristics of different apps.

Here are some of the Success Criteria:

Media Presentation
  • effective choice of media to deliver your message (Text)
  • utilizes features of that media type (Production)
  • appealing to your audience (Audience)
  • communicates your message clearly (Text)
  • integrate a new-to-you technology/media (Learning skills)

Yesterday we began our presentations in class. I was so impressed by what they came up with that I raced down the hall to grab the Principal so that she could see the awesomeness.

My students used combinations of new-to-them and tried and true apps. They problem-solved ways to smash them together to come up with amazing, mind-blowing culminating tasks.

We had trigger images showing Plotagon movies explaining about global inequalities. We had Arc-GIS created maps in movies created with Shadow Puppet, and we had Powtoon videos with iMovies and Pic Collages.

The thinking and learning went far beyond what it would have been if I had given the students the topic and the tool.  The task was not about the technology, but rather, the selection of an appropriate means of sending a message.

In my classroom, we DON'T do..."make a slideshow about child mortality". What I try as hard as possible for is to make sure that we DO do learner voice and choice, inquiry, critical thinking, and perhaps MOST of all, we do FUN. Because believe me, watching the 25th slideshow on a single topic is NOT fun for any of us!

Here are a few of the many different apps and software that they chose:


Have you ever wished your stories would turn into real animated videos? Plotagon is a playful new app making stories come to life, with you in the director’s seat. Create characters, put them in funny situations, and press play – it's that simple.

Aurasma: Use trigger images to create augmented reality with overlays of their learning

Shadow Puppet: A student found this app and loved it for its video-creation features

Pic Collage: Create collages with text, video, links, images.