Sunday, October 28, 2012

Getting Back To It.

I kind of just remembered that I had this blog.  I guess my idea of using this to journal my teaching and learning experiences didn't quite become a priority in the new school year and I need to start changing this immediately!

I just spent an amazing week at Campus Calgary Chevron Open Minds Zoo School with my grade 4 class and my partner teacher, Kathleen Phelan.  It was an absolutely amazing experience, one that will feed my teaching and learning for the next year, and beyond.  It is something that I will definitely be applying for next year!

In just one week, our class "gelled" as friends, had astounding growth in reflective thinking, reasoning, and insight.  They also sketched some pretty fantastic drawings! 

They also got to learn from Zookeepers, see and "pet" a hognose snake, feed a giraffe, look at skeletons of sharks, snakes, and gorillas, and learn how to take care of the people and the world around them.

Truly fantastic.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


I have a four year old son.  Watching him grow and discover the world around him has been a fascinating and amazing journey, one that I feel very privileged to take part in.

Yesterday, we went grocery shopping.  He often sits in the cart and plays with toys or reads a book, but that day, he decided to bring his crayons and pad of paper so that he could draw.  As I was getting him settled in the cart, he yelled excitedly, "I know!  I can make pictures and give them to people!"  I thought that this was a great idea, and encouraged him to do it.  I thought he'd probably give one to the cashier at the end of the trip. 

What I didn't realize at the time was that this would be a shopping trip in which I was brought to tears and felt incredible pride in my son. 

Immediately, he started drawing excitedly and tried to get the attention of people around us.  "Hey!  Hey!," he started with, waving pictures in people's faces.  Most people completely ignored him, or looked at him briefly and smiled.  I was a little embarrassed and sad for him, and I told him it would be great for him to give a picture to the cashier.  He said he wanted to give them to the people around him instead.  I told him that some people were too busy and tried to redirect him to the cashier.  

He was adamant that he wanted to give his pictures to the people shopping and he kept trying to get the attention of the shoppers around us.  Again, most people ignored him, and as I stood there with him in the cart in front of me, I thought, "Why not?  He just wants to make people happy and share his work."  So I reassured him that we'd find someone who would love a picture soon.  I also asked him to try saying "Hello, do you want a picture?" instead of yelling "Hey! Hey!"

As we continued on our shopping trip, Ben kept drawing and trying to give his pictures out.  We found some very nice people who were happy to accept his drawings, some who were so delighted it nearly brought me to tears.  Every time someone accepted his drawing and we'd started to walk away, Ben yelled "Yay!  Now they REALLY like drawings!" 

It was amazing to see how excited he was to share.  He was genuinely hoping to make someone else happy and was delighted when it worked.  One man was so touched with Ben's offering that Ben immediately gave him another. 

I like to think that my little boy brightened the days of others yesterday, rightly feeling proud of himself for trying something different, something that crossed the unspoken social conventions of grocery shopping (one does not speak to strangers or give them things).  I am so proud of him for his generosity and perseverance.  Even when people ignored him and I felt embarrassed, he kept trying.  It was a great experience for both of us, a reminder that children have much to share and to teach us, if we let them.

Monday, July 23, 2012


The more things change, the more they stay the same.

I spent the morning at a free "iPads in Education" workshop at my local Apple store.  It began with a promotional presentation of the new iPad 3, a bit of a meet & greet between the participants and a discussion of what we hoped to learn.  Everyone there was fairly new to iPads and was hopeful about learning different ways to use iPads effectively for educational purposes.  Every single teacher there mentioned iPads and SMART Boards, which do not work together yet!  I was shocked to learn this last month, as my school prepares to go 1:1 iPad for grades 5 and 6.  The new SMART notebook app is supposed to be released some time this summer, and was announced in May 2012.

As we progressed through the workshop and looked at various apps, I was struck by how little things have changed in education.  We've taken all of the traditional tools of our trade and made them digital.  Lesson Plans?  There's an app for that.  Spelling quiz?  Dolch words? App for that.  Printing practice?  There's an app.  Dissect a frog?  There's an (admittedly amazingly cool) app for that, too.  Grade book, essay marking, math flash cards...I could go on and on and on.  I saw some really amazing things, but little that I couldn't replicate with traditional classroom materials.

There is an ongoing argument that kids will be much more "engaged" simply by transferring our standard, traditional lessons and assessments onto iPads.  I'm not convinced by this. I think the gadgets, bright colours and reward schemes are exciting in the short term, but this isn't innovation in teaching, that can't be accomplished simply by adding technology. 

I'd heard this argument before, and I'd heard the counter argument, but I hadn't really taken a look at the apps.  It had never been staring me in the face.  Almost all of the apps that I learned about at this workshop replicated traditional teaching methods. That was disappointing.

After the workshop, an article called Teaching Innovation is About More Than iPads in the Classroom.

After all of this, I'm left with a lot of questions about how to meaningfully use iPads and computers in the classroom.  I don't want a lot of flash in my classroom, but I do want excitement, passion and collaboration.  I want students jumping up and down because they are excited to share what they have learned.  I think that this can and should happen in conjunction with technology in the classroom, but in order to move from "traditional" to "transformative" teaching and learning, we can't keep using technology to continue teaching and learning in traditional ways.  I'm not suggesting that we throw the baby out with the bath water, a lot of what is traditional teaching and learning is such because it works....for some people.  However, things are changing and they are changing rapidly.  We need to change teaching to meet the needs of the children in our classes today. 

I found this graphic on a colleague's blog and I find it really interesting and a great way to reflect on the past school year and plan for the next.  How will you use technology to move to transformational learning?

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Last Days of School

Our last official day of school was on Thursday.  We spent an organizational day at school yesterday, discussing calendar dates for the fall, classroom moves and clean ups, etc.  I still can't believe it's over, already.  Where did the year go?

I am so incredibly blessed to be an educator, fully immersed in a career that I love.  The last week of school was filled with fun, laughter, and creativity.  My kids, who will always be "my kids" in some way, spent Wednesday afternoon building and testing Rube Goldberg machines.  It was a spur of the moment thing, borne out from a science review that included Simple Machines (Wheels & Levers here in Alberta) and with a trip the Science Supply Room and a few other classrooms for supplies, we suddenly had an amazingly creative and educational activity.

We ended on a high note, with sundaes brought in a thoughtful parent, and gifts given on both sides.  It was a wonderful way to end an absolutely amazing first year of teaching.

I am completely exhausted but also exhilarated.  I know I need to take a break, but I just want to get to work on next year!

Happy Summer, everyone :)


Saturday, June 23, 2012

Innovation Day comes to Grade 4

I've been following Pernille Ripp on Twitter and reading her blog for about a year and half now.  Last year, as a newly graduated teacher, I took advantage of my early summer break to really learn about twitter and read a lot of teacher blogs for information.  I remember seeing Pernille's first blog post about Innovation Day and thinking what a great idea it was, and I mentally filed it away. This year, in the midst of my first year of teaching, I'd kept Innovation Day in the back of my mind but hadn't really planned anything out.  Along came Pernille's blog post about her second annual Innovation Day this Spring!  It was perfect timing for me to get it organized.

I should say here that I am incredibly lucky and so thankful to be at such a fantastic school with an amazing Head of School who supports my efforts to teach "outside the box" and try new things.  I am also lucky to have a fantastic group of supportive parents who are happy to help their children both in and outside of the classroom.

So, about two weeks ago, I got things ready.  I used Pernille's 4th Grade Innovation Day Planning Sheet from her first blog post, explained it to the class, and emailed the parents.  I showed my class some of the projects from Pernille's post.  A lot of kids asked, "Really?  We can learn ANYTHING?"  They were super excited and a little bit sad that Innovation Day wasn't the very next day.  I explained the rationale, shared the planning sheets and blog posts (both by Pernille and Josh Stumpenhorst) with the parents and everyone was on board!  Most kids knew what they wanted to research right away, but as two weeks went on, things started to gel and plans were put into place.

The kids counted down the days excitedly, and the supplies started rolling in.  Finally, the day was here!  When the kids started coming in on Friday morning, they were SO excited to start.  We had a quick class meeting to discuss any lingering questions, and they were off!  They positioned themselves in various areas around the room and started working immediately.

The first thing that struck me was the air of complete concentration around the room.  The students were busy, but were incredibly engaged.  Conversations were happening all around the room as they worked, shared, and discussed their projects.  There were a few times when the room went nearly silent as they worked.  It was amazing.  When snack time rolled around, I had to encourage quite a few of them to take a break because they just wanted to keep going!  The same thing happened at recess - one or two of my students asked the recess supervisors if they could come back in the school to keep working on their projects. The day flew by and the fantastic projects were shared with enthusiasm and interest to the class at the end. 

As I looked around the room during Innovation Day, I could see excitement, engagement, and creativity in each and every one of my students.  I will definitely be repeating this again next year!

Here's a list of what my students learned and created:
  •  A table sized recreation of The Battle of the Somme
  • A presentation and model of a manatee
  • A stop motion video of an aquatic food chain (fish, giant squid, sperm whale) with an accompanying informational Prezi)
  • A model of a butterfly and several of its food sources
  • A castle with working catapult and Jello moat
  • A presentation and stop motion video of a lemon shark eating a fish
  • An explanation of C4 and why the Mythbusters use it so often (with model)
  • An intricate experiment involving the types of taste buds and various taste tests
  • An experiment to determine the fizzing capacity of various soft drinks, and which one fizzed the most (Ginger Ale!)
  • An erupting volcano model 
Like Pernille, I learned that:
  • Staying out of the way is a good thing!
  • Aside from answering a few questions or helping with some technical issues like downloading pictures off of unfamiliar cameras or moving stop motion video from an iPad to a laptop, they didn't really need me.
  • They really did direct their own learning and figure out what they needed to know and what they should share with the class.
  • The planning part was essential - with the planning done both at school and at home, their projects were achievable in one day.
  • With trust and support comes amazing learning.

This was an absolutely amazing experience to have and I cannot wait to repeat it again next year!

Monday, May 28, 2012


I spent the weekend at the most amazing conference, the inaugural ConnectEd Canada (#ConnectEdCA) conference.  I'd like to preface by saying that I am a conference type person.  I love PD, I go to as many as possible and occasionally have to talk myself out of going to too many workshops and sessions.

I love learning and discovering new things and I love to talk about teaching and education. 

This conference was different.

I learned so much and connected with so many people, I'm not sure if I can accurately reflect on the whole experience.  I'm not sure if I've been able to process the whole experience yet!

The conference included a tour of the amazing classrooms of the Calgary Science School, with my knowledgeable tour guides, George (gr 4) and Chris (gr 9).  They showed us each classroom, helped us understand how classes were set up, answered a lot of questions, and helped us make connections with students in the classes we visited. It was SO great!

The workshops were both inspiring and validating.  It was great to have some feedback on some of my current teaching practices and ideas about inquiry, and to be challenged and supported in my desire to keep going forward on this path.  I learned about design-based thinking & wicked problems through role play and thinking out of the box with Mark Szabo ().  I talked about 1:1 iPads with Dan McWilliam (), Jody Pereverzoff () and Lisa Nelson.  I participated in a Skype chat with Brad Ovenell-Carter () about the ancient ideas of education and about how teaching kids how the world works is more important than delivering proscribed curriculum. That was all just in one day! 

The next day, I learned about inquiry in both English and Science high school classrooms.  Shelley Wright ().  She reminded us that we need to ask our students three main questions: 1) What do you want to learn?  2) How do you want to learn it?  3) How are you going to show me what you know?  After that session, I realized that I have often asked 1 & 3, but have missed 2.  I won't do that next time.  I also loved this quote by Shelley, "I ask a lot of questions.  I don't give a lot of answers."  That reminded me that I'm not the "Holder of the Knowledge,"  It's not about who is right.  It's about the kids finding out and creating their own knowledge.  I think I needed that reminder at this point of the year, as I try to finish up the curriculum without just "covering" it.

For the last session, I couldn't decide where to go.  I didn't want #ConnectEdCA to be over!  I ended up workshop surfing a bit.  Joined in on both Formative Assessment with Bernie Soto () and Collaborative Teaching with Deirdre Bailey (), Amy Park (), Ivy Waite (), and Jaime Groeller.  Both gave me some great food for thought.  Bernie reminded me that no one is an expert in Formative Assessment, but that I'm on the right path.  There was a lot of talk about how assessment should be a conversation, not a judgement - love it.  In the other session, I was reminded of how wonderful collaboration is and the inspiration and support that one receives when working with a partner.  I don't have many embedded opportunities to collaborate in my school, as I am the only grade 4 Progressive teacher, but this inspired me to find other opportunities for rich and meaningful collaboration! 

I spoke to so many great educators, many of whom I'd already "met" through Twitter, which is a fantastic source of PD and an online PLN.  At one point of the conference, I can't remember the exact context of the discussion, but it was something about social media and the comment that came up was, "What, you don't like to share?" This became a bit of a tagline through the weekend.  It reminded me that I need to take the next step in my online PLN.  I read blogs, I tweet, I take part in #edchats, but I haven't taken the last leap.  I haven't shared or reflected on my classroom and teaching practices.

I think I'm ready to do that now.  Thanks, #ConnectEdCA!