Thursday, November 29, 2012

Math? Language? History? It's about understanding

"To be truly educated, a student must also make connections across the disciplines, discover ways to integrate the separate subjects, and ultimately relate what they learn to life."
~ Ernest Boyer

To better understand where we are in time as a part of our unit investigations, students have worked collaboratively to create a huge timeline spanning over 4 millennia. We began this mathematical inquiry be discussing what we already know about some of the words associated with time: decadecentury and millennium. It didn't take long for students to make connections between other words they have used in math, such as decimal, centimetre, millilitre. How many centimetres in a metre? How many millilitres in a litre? What other words have these beginnings? The connection to the base 10 system was strong and made sense; decades were 10 years, centuries consisted of 100 years and a millenium was, of course 1000 years (this is all leading to a new word study centre 'It's all Greek ~ or Latin ~ to Me', but that is for a later post!).
Once the students understood the parts of the timeline, we looked at a number line we would use in math. While counting from 'Year 1' to today makes a lot of sense for students in Grade 4, go further back in time, Ancient Rome for example, is another story. This led our conversation into a discussion of BC and AD, terms the students had heard before, but what did they mean? Again, a discussion about Latin, as well as the Christian influence in our calendars. We moved on to talk about how today, many scholars agree to call these times the Common Era (CE) and Before the Common Era (BCE), which we have agreed to use for our timeline. Now a very tricky bit of thinking occurred, if we look at the separating point between BCE and CE (traditionally thought of as the birth of Christ) we know that the numbers get larger from 1 to present day ~ 2012. We explored how the numbers also appear larger as they move farther away from this point in the opposite direction (BCE).

The students then formed 4 groups with each one responsible for the construction of a segment of the timeline. Each segment was to represent one millennium and show the centuries and decades, labelled with the appropriate years. After much measuring (to ensure equal parts of 10) calculating, cutting, labeling and gluing, our timeline is complete and hanging in our classroom.
Lastly we placed the major events and periods of time that the students have investigated as a part of their inquiry into this unit. In doing so, they will have a much greater appreciation of where they are in place and time.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Learning in a Digital World

"If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow."
~ John Dewey
There is no denying the impact technology is having on our schools and they way we approach inquiry. Working in a 1:1 laptop environment with my Grade 6 students has made this a mandatory conversation for our school; how are our technology initiatives affecting student learning? And so, I asked my students, how has their access to technology helped them with their own learning. We created a Google Doc to share our ideas and the following article is the result of this collaboration.
We use our computers and access to the Internet to do many different things at school and at home. Technology helps us develop our skills in communication and collaboration; provides information for our investigations and research; has tools that let us show our ideas in creative ways – we use technology every day.

Our Blogs
Our blogs are a great sharing tool for us when we need to show our learning. We regularly use them to share our experiences. Just like the “Bahrain Blogger” shares his experience of being in a civil war, being bloggers lets us show others what life is like at our school. We can upload media files to express our feelings or show our presentations. There are cool widgets that we can insert into pages or posts. We can also learn from each other by giving and receiving feedback on blog posts. I think that the blog is a great way of connecting to other people all over the world.

We also have a class blog that shares information about what we are doing at school. There are reminders on this blog about important events and our parents can visit to see what we are doing. Our teacher also puts links and videos on the blog that are connected to our units of inquiry. We can also download things we need like rubrics, letters and tasks. I can also find the links to other blogs, such as other students, teachers and schools, as well as favourite websites.

Google Docs/ PiratePad
Google Docs is a very helpful tool when you are working in a group. It is an online collaborative site that allows you to work online with other people typing at the same time. I use Google Docs almost every time I am working on a group project. Sometimes, I even use Google Docs when I am working alone so that I can access my project or information from anywhere. In Google Docs you can edit a project when other people are working on it at the same time. You can also make a spreadsheet, a survey, a presentation, a scrapbook and many more other useful items. The chat allows you to communicate with other people, even if you are not in the same place. It also auto saves so when you type it will save for you making sure that no work is lost. You can also access a Doc by a link, and you don’t have to be shared with it to change it. The owner of the document can limit the functions of other people, such as make them view only, or comment only. The owner can also change who the owner is. On a Google Doc, you can change the visibility so that it is public. Then other people can answer any questions you might put on the Doc. Google Docs is useful for collaboration, gathering information, and group work.

PiratePad is similar to Google Docs, but has several other features. On Google Docs, if you are signed into Google, you are stuck with your login name. If you are not signed in, and you have accessed the Doc by a link, then your name is ‘Anonymous User’ and then a number. With PiratePad, you can change your name as much as you want. There is no ‘owner’ on PiratePad, you need a link to view and edit, and you are not allowed to change someone’s status. The only problem with that is that the document is public. Another cool feature of PiratePad is that you can replay the entire development of a document. Everything that is typed, chatted, or changed is recorded and can be viewed like a recording.

Mathletics is an online learning tool that allows students from all over the world to compete against each other on their basic facts such as addition, multiplication, subtraction and division. Besides that, it also provides online lessons and you can work on math problems and tasks that teachers assign to students. I like that we don’t all have to do the same tasks and if we get stuck there are tutorials that we can watch. We use Mathletics to practice and it was fun to take part in the World Math Day challenge.

Khan Academy
Khan Academy is a website where students and teachers can login and either watch the educational videos or practice math skills in the practice section. It is a great online practice tool that can help you understand a math skill. For example if you are stuck on probability, there is a video where it would help you out then you can go to the practice page for that skill. There is even a ‘scratch pad’ so you can use drawing tools to help figure out the answer. Teachers can connect to their students’ accounts to check on their students’ skills and use of time on the website. There are also achievements to boost morale, and skills must be sometimes reviewed. The downside is that unlike Mathletics, coaches cannot assign skills for students to work on, and there is currently only math practice, although there are videos about other things, even science. Students are able to set goals for themselves, track their own progress, ask and answer questions about videos, and finish challenges. The best part about it is, Khan Academy is probably the best free teacher and motivator around!

YouTube / Vimeo
I love using Youtube or Vimeo because it allows you to share your videos and pictures with the whole world for free. You can control who sees your videos, too. Everyone can watch if you publish something and make it public, but you can also have videos that are private or unlisted. If you want to share something with your friends you don’t have to send a big file and they can watch it anywhere there is an Internet connection. I find it really interesting when someone from a far away country comments on my videos and these provide feedback for my Youtube channel. I also make lots of friends on Youtube – we subscribe to each others’ channels and can share our videos. When I have free time on the computer, Youtube is the site I go to most! Personally, I feel that it is a great site no matter if it is for education or for entertainment. I like to surf the web and see if there are any interesting videos to watch, sometimes this is for school to help me understand something, sometimes it might be to find a solution to a problem I am having in a video game and sometimes it’s just for fun. Youtube is basically a online school, but we have to be careful because some tutorials may not be accurate and some videos may not be appropriate, so it’s always good to double check their sources.

One fun way to do a summative assessment or task is to make a movie. Quite often our tasks involve making trailers or interviews and showing them to the class. When we go on fieldtrips we also film and take photos of things around us. Students and teachers can use this educational tool for sharing presentations, books and their learning of something. Using iMovie we can easily piece together movies, adding music, special effects and the photos and films we have taken. The application includes a camera to capture your film, special effects, sound effects and themes, such as newscasts or scrapbooks. iMovie is simple and easy to use and it has great editing tools which helps your video to be more exciting. We use iMovie a lot so we all know how to use it and have fun with it.

Soundcloud is an online audio website, where instead of videos, like Youtube you can put up sounds. Sounds may include original songs, written or composed, they can also be covers of songs that have already been made, they can also be a clip of you playing an instrument, you name it. The presentation of these sounds is really cool because there is a wavelength feature so you can see what is loud, and quiet. The accounts are completely free and come with approximately two hours of audio time. If you upgrade to their paid version, there is an unlimited amount of time. You can comment on a specific section of the song, or just make an overall comment. It helps people to become recognized in the art world. For example, I started an account for fun a month ago, and now there is already over 700 plays of my songs! It is a really good interface because I can get feedback from musicians halfway around the world! Also, similar to Twitter, you can follow people and they can follow you.

Student-led Conference Series
Our class participated in an on-line student led conference series this with schools from Australia and Romania. Using a virtual classroom called Blackboard Collaborate we took turns sharing presentations we had made with each other. Our subject could be about anything we wanted - my presentation was about Minecraft. I think this was an amazing project!

Skype is a free way to video call people around the world and is something that you can use to interact with different schools and communities. It is simple to use so you can easily communicate with others. Skype has a chat function that is student friendly. We have used Skype to chat with other schools across the world, and right now team members for the PYP Exhibition can create Skype conferences to chat with each other after school. There are some drawbacks. Sometimes people say things they wouldn’t say if they were face to face and then cyber-bullying could become a problem. Also, some people stay on Skype too long chatting to friends. You have to be principled and use Skype responsibly.

Global Hello Project
The Global Hello Project is an online website where a variety of schools connect with each other and share what life is like in their school and country. Each school has their own page to add links, videos, and pictures in order for visitors to about each other. Our class is part of the Global Hello Project and added a video to our page.

Twitter is a great place to send out short updates of what is happening for us right now. We can quickly and easily share an update or an event that’s going. Other people can even reply to your tweet or retweet you and share your tweet on their own page. I like using Twitter because it is a great way to connect with other people in your class or even songwriters, director and singers! Twitter enables us to contact people in our exhibition group and even our own families! You can use an @ to talk to someone specific and a # (hash-tag) to tweet about an event. We are currently using twitter for our exhibition as we don’t have a lot of time to write a blog post. A great way we used Twitter was when we wrote what our top 3 choices were for the Exhibition. Then we had a neat little hash-tag called #cdnispypx12 and when we searched on the Twitter page, all the results which had that hash-tag came out.

WallWisher/CorkBoard.Me (online bulletin board)
Online bulletin boards are a very useful tool, when you want to share your ideas or thoughts you can just start writing into it. It is not possible to get confused about who wrote what because each person uses their own sticky and the sticky asks for your name before you write anything. There is an unlimited amount of stickies you can out on the board and you can pile them up if you want to. Since you have your own sticky if someone uses a new line it will not move your words. WallWisher and CorkboardMe can also be used by a large amount of people, once our whole grade used it to write down ideas for a project. While the whole grade was using the corkboard the online bulletins did not lag or have any problems. Unfortunately sometimes the online bulletin board sticky has a word limit and that can be annoying.

Applescript editor is a fun tool that is pre-installed on our computers. From this we can learn to code different types of dialog boxes, and make our computers ‘talk’! Learning how to code is actually a skill that will be useful later on in our lives, which are heavily influenced by technology.

Applescript is easy to learn and it helps you understand how your computer and software that you have works. Once you know how to use it you can use it is easy to make your computer do things by writing applications. We have made different ones including a security application that opens on login to make sure the owner is using the computer, and an application opener, that opens up different applications and asks you what you want to do with them.

Some of us like to use Xcode, which is more advanced than Applescript and lets you design your own apps. With Xcode you can create apps and post them on the app store for anyone to download.

We also go to a website called Code Academy, where we can learn to create Javascript. Applescript is slightly different from Javascript, and the two are not interchangeable. However, both serve basically the same purpose and both are quite fun to experiment with.

NoodleTools is an online website where you can organize a research project. You can cite your sources here and it will create a proper MLA bibliography. You can also add people to your project and work collaboratively, linking to your note cards and a Google Doc. You can share your project with your teachers and they can give you feedback using annotate.

I like using NoodleTools because it is an extremely helpful resource.

~ Collaboratively written by the 6C Cookies.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

My Technology Story

"Do not confine your children to your own learning, for they were born in another time."
~ Chinese Proverb
Recently, while browsing through the happenings at ISTE, I came across a link to tell My Technology Story. Being interested in the ways in which technology are driving change in education I obviously clicked and was taken to a form with two questions:
  • How has technology made you a more effective teacher or administrator?
  • Based on your response to the above question, how has student learning improved as a result?
As I began to type my responses into the form I realized what great questions these were. With all the talk these days about 21st century learning, being digital natives or digital immigrants, using web 2.0 or 3.0 tools I feel we are skirting around what needs to be at the heart of the discussion – how we use technology to improve student learning.

Below are my brief responses to the questions as I shared them on the ISTE form.

How has technology made you a more effective teacher or administrator?
Working in a 1:1 laptop environment with my Grade 6 class has enabled me to do so much more with differentiation. I am able to have students work on very different tasks - informed by need, learning style and interest - yet develop the same concepts, working toward a more in-depth understanding of our central ideas or enduring understandings.

Technology has also enabled me to become a more consistent and effective communicator with parents and the wider school community. Updates on our class blog keep parents informed about our events and activities. My professional blog (this one!) helps me better understand my own practice; reflecting and 'thinking out loud' help me to clarify my own understandings about teaching and learning.

Finally, building a PLN with access to blogs, wikis, organizations and social networks such as Twitter, keeps me connected to other educators. This is a vital part of my learning and I am now trying to share some of these ideas with my students. We are learning to use Twitter as a class, creating a list that allows all of the students and I to share thoughts, questions and ideas with each other.

How has student learning improved as a result?
I believe my students feel ownership over their learning. They have choices about what they will do and how they will show or share their learning with others. This became most evident during our recent student-ledlearning reviews when my students created their own agendas, planning how they would share their learning with their parents.

My students feel connected. They have multiple opportunities to learn with others in various ways: Skype conversations, presenting and participating in a student-led conference series via Blackboard Collaborate, blogging, tweeting – they have an authentic and global audience.

My students are skillful. They know how to locate relevant information and are learning how to evaluate the reliability of the source. They are writers. They not only maintain their own blogs, they read and comment on others’ blogs. They create amazing videos and tutorials to share, applying the processes once reserved for writing. They participate – joining and contributing in areas of personal interest. Many of my students have their own YouTubechannels and SoundCloud accounts where they share their compositions and ask others for feedback ~ which they receive!

Most importantly, I believe my students' learning has improved because they are aware of their learning; they are the directors of their learning. This has been made possible because of the technologies available to them and the access they now have to their own learning communities. As their guide and facilitator, they can contact me when they need help - this might be on a weekend or in the evening, but through Twitter, email, blog comments and Skype, we are no longer confined to the school day or the actual building.

What strikes me when I review My Technology Story responses is that it has little to do with technology. It is about empowering students to be actively involved in their learning. The conversation needs to be about how we develop spaces for learning, where students collaborate, question, challenge, create, participate.

These two questions are a great place to start this conversation.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Student Led Learning Reviews

Tell me and I'll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I will understand.
~ Chinese Proverb

Today is one of my favourite days of the school year. It is the day when our students share their learning with their parents. Travelling from class to class I see parents listening to their children as they explain the different elements of the programme; demonstrating skills they have acquired; performing and sharing their challenges and successes. Our Student Led Learning Reviews (SLLR) empower our students more than any other school event and I am so proud of my students ~ they shine!

When I first began teaching this was a time of the year I would dread. Report cards about students were written by teachers and then discussed with parents. The adults would then decide upon next steps for the student to ensure continued progress. The person at the centre of all this was not at any time expected to be a part of the process. Innately it bothered me ~ I knew it was not about learning, but it was the way things were done. Thankfully, things have changed.

Earlier in the year we conduct student-led three-way conferences, where students share their portfolio with their parents, discuss their goals and create an action plan to achieve these. This coming together to discuss the learning needs of each child is an essential part of the process. Not only does it set the stage for personalized learning, it encourages children to take charge of their own learning, with their parents and teachers’ support. With such active involvement, students are acutely aware of not only what they are doing, but why they are doing it.

I challenged my students this year to think of creative ways to share their progress with their parents in a way they could not do at home. After all, if their parents were taking time off work to come to the school for an hour-long session, it should be worthwhile and not something that they could have done at home with their portfolio and computer. We developed the following guidelines as a class:

  • Must be relevant - shows your learning 
  • Must be an activity that needs to be done in the classroom 
  • Interesting or entertaining ~ engaging 
  • Show your growth in all of the essential elements and the subject areas 
  • Must share progress toward achieving goals - with evidence 

And rise to the challenge they did! Here are some of the amazing ways in which my students presented what they know, understand and are able to do.

One made a Jeopardy game with the answers relating to our various investigations and her knowledge, conceptual understanding and skill development. Another made a similar game, but did so in French illustrating growth in a second language communication skills.

One boy created a board game that had spaces designated as concepts, knowledge, skills, attitudes and action. He made cards to accompany each category with questions, statements or definitions as well as a special die with a different transdisciplinary theme on each face. Using a regular die to move on the board, you pick a card related to the space you land upon. You are then required to connect what is on the card to the transdisciplinary theme rolled.

Another student had his parents build a unit of inquiry, explaining the process using examples from our previous units to illustrate his understanding of the PYP as well as his growth in various areas.

Others used the charts in our room with the class created success criteria for different routines, such as reflective writing. They then had their parents write a piece, modeling the process and showing their own work as examples.

To end the each learning review I asked the students to write a blog post with their parents reflecting on what was learned through this event. Articulating what was learned through the learning review was a wonderful way for parents to celebrate and acknowledge their child’s accomplishments and growth. It also provided meaningful feedback to our students, allowing them to set new goals. What did they have to say? Below are quotes taken from my students’ blog posts following their SLLR.

"Overall this has been a great way to show my learning journey."

"Choosing what activities to create and play with my parents was the hardest part of preparing for my SLLR. I knew what I needed to share, but did not know how to share it."

"The best part of my SLLR was when my parents applauded and commended my effort in the end."

"Preparing for the SLLR helped me better understand myself as a learner by letting me see some of my strengths and weaknesses."

"I really enjoyed the 45 minutes and now have a better understanding of how and what he learns."

"The children learned a lot of different concepts, much different and more difficult from what I learned in [school]."

"He is an active learner who now takes a lot more initiative and responsibility in his learning, applying his knowledge to everyday life and other similar situations."

"The best part of SLLR was learning what he is doing in school, learning and growing all the way."

"The most exciting thing we observed was how confident she was. We feel that the format of this SLLR where she had the autonomy to decide on the activities she presented to us led to a more authentic interaction, where she could show us with confidence how she is progressing as a learner."

"She structured the learning review in a fun and interactive manner. She presented each subject as a game or activity where we were able to see and learn about the topics and units she is studying. It was fun to experience her interpretations of her learning and take part in her classroom activities."

"I am impressed by how organized he was during the SLLR process. He was clear in explaining the process and the purpose of each exercise. We created a new central idea together and I was surprised at how well he understood the concepts."

"I got to learn more about how students walk through the unit of inquiries, how they prepare for whatever activity they have to do, how they process the information."

"I loved to see the positive change she demonstrated."
Watching my students prepare for this day and then conduct their reviews with such poise and confidence I really do wonder why we still need to write reports. A piece of paper will never have the ability to capture the authentic assessment and reporting that occurred today in my classroom.
What a fabulous day!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Considering Digital Literacy

The fact is that given the challenges we face, education doesn’t need to be reformed - it needs to be transformed.   
 ~ Sir Ken Robinson in The Element
My last assignment for my CET course was to create a video in response to the following questions:
  • What is digital literacy?
  • What is an area of digital literacy that could be improved upon in schools?
  • How might we improve in this area?
774-Neuron Connection-Pattern by
zooboing on Flickr, CC-BY-SA 2.0
And so, in my effort to worker 'smarter not harder' I have included the transcript from this video below as a post (the video is below).

Our world has changed and the environment students’ live in is vastly different than the one their teachers experienced as children. It is electronic and digital; media rich, fast, engaging and dynamic. By the time our students graduate they will have spent as much time online as a professional pianist would have spent practicing.

Marc Prensky describes this generation as one that operates at ‘twitch speed’. It is their accepted norm to have instant access to information, goods and services at the tap of a screen. They expect to be able to communicate with anyone anywhere at anytime. More importantly, there is strong indirect evidence that these digital natives think differently, that in fact their brains are physiologically different from those raised in the pre-digital world.

And so, as educators we must ask how are we preparing these digital natives, our students, for the 21st century? What does it mean to be digitally literate?

TheInternational Society for Technology in Education, or ISTE, has developed National Educational Technology Standards ~ commonly called NETS, that provide a widely accepted description of the skills and knowledge students need to be digitally literate. These digital literacies have also been defined by the International Baccalaureate (IB) to promote the integration of technology to support teaching and learning in their Primary Years Programme.

Both organizations have similar ideas about the attributes of digital literacy; collaboration, communication, digital citizenship, yet it is the need to create that strikes a chord with me personally. The ability to create, while an important digital literacy, is also a higher order thinking skill. When students are asked to create in the context of real time, creating solutions to real world problems and then share these, teaching others, research from institutions such as the National Training Labs, tells us that the retention of students’ learning is dramatically improved.    

And so the question becomes what do our students need to become creative problem solvers? How have we changed to facilitate this?

In Sir KenRobinson’s book, The Element, he states that the mistake made by many policymakers in education is to believe that ‘the best way to face the future is to improve upon what was done in the past’ (p 235). But we know this is not working – our world has changed and so have its inhabitants. We need to transform our education systems to meet the needs of our digital children.

We need to rethink what learning spaces might look like – do they encourage collaboration – both locally and globally? Do they provide for the use of appropriate tools for our digital age? Do they empower students to create content, solve problems and share their findings, teaching others in the process?

Many educators worry about keeping up with technology – which is understandable as the rate of change makes this a futile exercise. Students today will be better served if we focus our energies on designing spaces that facilitate learning in a digital age. We still teach children and as always, we must consider the needs of people and how to best support meaningful learning.

Works cited:
Churches, A. Educational Origami. <> March 2012.

Fenton, J. ADE Application Video. <> 2011

ISTE: International Society for Technology in Education. 2011.

Jukes, Ian & A. Dosaj. “Understanding Digital Children (DKs)” Teaching & Learning in the New Digital Landscape, The InfoSavvy Group, September, 2006. Prepared for the Singapore MOE Mass Lecture.

Prensky, Marc. “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants” On the Horizon. NCB University Press, Vol. 9 No. 5, October 2001.

Prensky, Marc. “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants, Part II: Do They Really Think Differently?” On the Horizon. NCB University Press, Vol. 6 No. 1, December 2001.

Robinson, Ken. The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything. London: Penguin Books. 2009.

The Role of ICT in the PYP. International Baccalaureate Organisation. 2011.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Building my PLN

The growth of any craft depends on shared practice and honest dialogue among the people who do it. We grow by private trial and error, to be sure -- but our willingness to try, and fail, as individuals is severely limited when we are not supported by a community that encourages such risks. 
~ Parker Palmer in The Courage to Teach, p. 144
I have always been aware of the benefits of developing a professional learning network (PLN); seeking the advice of colleagues and mentors, knowing that there is much to be learned from the collective wisdom of others. When I first started teaching I may not have referred to this collection of people as my PLN, but in fact that is what they had become. Over time, with advances in technology, it became easier to bring my network with me, after all my former colleagues were only an email away, but once the Internet became such an easily accessible virtual space, my PLN began to take on a life of its own, growing at a rapid, and at times, uncontrolled pace.

Prior to reading David Warlick’s article, Grow Your Professional Learning Network, I would have described my PLN as consisting of my colleagues (present and former), some Twitter contacts and the blogs I subscribe to and read regularly. I have now become more aware that my own PLN was in fact a conglomerate of three different and distinct networks. The diagram below illustrates the make-up of my current PLN. Inspired by Warlick’s model, I wanted to apply this organizational structure to my own learning groups, trying to better understand how they fit in my PLN as a whole. 

Created with Bubbl.Us

This exercise required me to think more critically about my PLN and I have a much better understanding of the types of learning activities I’m involved in and how these relate to each other. Prior to this reflection, my PLN was a vague collection of people and groups that were maintained in a haphazard manner. I now see the value of organizing my network. I now have a greater appreciation as to why I have had some difficulty in keeping up, feeling a bit over-whelmed by the sheer volume of information coming to me through my contacts. With a better understanding of the different types of PLNs and their ‘avenues of cultivation’ (Warlick, 13) I feel I am better equipped to manage my network. This has been a definite area of improvement to my PLN. I no longer feel the need to maintain all of my connections with the same level of intensity. For example, I used to spend a great deal of time keeping up with the blogs, wikis and nings I followed, reading and leaving comments as often as I could. Now I realize that it would be more beneficial for me to spend the time developing relationships with people I feel are vital to my learning network, whether they are current colleagues or people I know only through Twitter or as the author of a favourite blog. I will no longer devote as much time to my ‘dynamically maintained asynchronous connections’ as I do my ‘personally and socially maintained semi-asynchronous connections’ as I realize there is not the same need (Warlick, 13-14).

With this better understanding of PLNs and their potential impact on my own learning, I would like to now purposefully cultivate my connections to better meet my needs. Thinking about how I can use a network to connect, communicate and collaborate with others about areas of particular interest will help me attain a greater focus (Novak). I plan to introduce Diigo as a tool to help with this refinement of my PLN. I also believe my PLN will be more effective with some weeding, removing those connections that no longer suit my learning needs. While I will always maintain relationships and participate in various community groups (both virtual and face-to-face) I will not necessarily include everything in my professional learning network. I think as my purpose becomes more clearly articulated, the more effective my professional network will become.

Works Cited
Warlick, David. “Grow Your Professional Learning Network: New Technologies Can Keep You Connected and Help You Manage Information Overload”. Learning & Leading with Technology March/April 2009. 18 February, 2012.

Novak, Bev. “If you don’t have a PLN, you don’t know what you’re missing”. Connections: a newsletter for school librarians. Issue 80. Education Services Australia. 18 February, 2012.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Evaluating Web 2.0 Tools

The most serious mistakes are not being made as a result of wrong answers. The truly dangerous thing is asking the wrong question.
~Peter Drucke

For a recent assignment in my Certificate of Educational Technology course we were asked to review three Web 2.0 tools and evaluate their worth to teaching and learning. A fairly straight-forward task and quite pertinent considering we make these kinds of decisions regularly in our classrooms. We had reference material to guide us, such as the revised Bloom's taxonomy and the NETS from ISTE, but I also wanted to see what others do ~ how do other educators decide which tools to use to support and enhance teaching and learning.  When I began this search I was surprised that I could not easily find many examples of evaluation tools available to educators. I compiled what I was able to find using Storify.

One of the most challenging aspects of this task was deciding upon the three tools to evaluate. How to choose, with so many available? So, I started with the obvious, the Web 2.0 tool my students and I use on a regular basis, Google Docs.

Description: Google Docs is a set of free online tools that allow you to create, edit and view your documents, spreadsheets, presentations, forms and drawings from any computer or smart phone. All of these documents allow for real time collaboration and have privacy settings that allow you to control who has access to view and or edit the document. Simple to use and easy to download to your own computer or embed in another site, such as a blog or wiki.

Digital Literacy Value: While Google Docs can be made private and edited and viewed by only one user, the digital literacy value is in their ability to support collaboration, allowing groups of people to communicate and work together to create one document. When student groups use Google Docs to collaboratively inquire, they have opportunities to conduct research and apply critical thinking skills while sharing, analyzing and synthesizing their data. These are also authentic opportunities for students to develop their digital citizenship skills; learning how to treat others in a virtual space, respecting others’ contributions and using online sources ethically. I also love the fact that it helps our classroom to become a 'paperless' environment.

Examples of Use: My students have used Google Docs to support collaborative inquiries during smaller investigations to collate data and then to prepare reports, which allows me to provide feedback to the students on their work. Students also used Google Docs to support their investigations when preparing for the PYP Exhibition, which allowed them to share their progress not only with the classroom teacher, but with their mentors as well. I have also used Google Forms to collect information from my students. For example, we use this tool as a regular part of our math classes as a digital exit slip where the information helps me plan for next learning steps. Lastly, I have used the Google Docs and Presentations for professional reasons when preparing to facilitate a workshop with someone who lives in another country. 

The second tool I chose to evaluate was VoiceThread because it is one that has great potential and I haven't used it as effectively as I would like. After preparing this evaluation I have decided to use VoiceThread more often with my students.

Description: This is a wonderful tool to foster collaboration and sharing ideas around a topic or an issue. VoiceThread is like an online conversation where you can upload images and then leave comments about the content. These comments can be typed, audio recordings or video recordings. Participants are also able to draw or write upon the images as they share their comments. The best part about this tool is that participants can listen to comments and then build upon what others have said.

Digital Literacy Value: VoiceThread can be used in various ways that would support students’ digital literacies development. Using a teacher created VoiceThread could provide students with opportunities to analyse and evaluate content. They would need to understand the comments left by others and build upon this, justifying their own opinion. Having students create their own VoiceThread to show their understanding of a concept would require them to apply their knowledge in a different context.

Examples of Use: I have recently used VoiceThread with my students as a means for collaborative groups to share the central ideas they created with their classmates. Students had a set of success criteria and were trying to decide which of the statements best met the criteria and should be included as entries from our class in the larger ‘voting’ process for the Exhibition central idea. More recently we have used this tool to support a conversation about small group animations the students have completed for a unit of inquiry. We will be using the comments left by students as a mean of assessing their understanding of our central idea.

The last tool I selected for this assignment was Storify. I've not yet used it with students, but I've always liked the idea of compiling socially constructed information to tell a story. 

Description: This tool allows you to search social media such as Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Google and Youtube to build a story around an issue or topic. Easy to use, you simply type in the subject you would like to explore and select which media you would like to search. You browse the links that appear in a sidebar and select the items you wish to include in your own story by simply dragging them into your workspace. These ‘stories’ are then hosted on Storify and you may share the link or embed them into your own site. You may go back later on and update any stories you have created.

Digital Literacy Value: While I have not yet used this tool with students, I have used it myself when exploring an idea. I like it because I am able to keep the sites I come across in various places together in a way that is easy for me to access. By reading a variety of perspectives I build my own understanding of an issue and it is an opportunity to evaluate what others may be saying. If done well, this tool could be used to create a ‘story’ that is either well balanced, showing multiple perspectives, or if your purpose is to persuade, deliberately biased toward a particular view. 

Examples of Use: I’ve created stories to capture my explorations of Twitter and the flipped classroom model and most recently, Choosing the ‘Right’ Web Tool. I found it helped me to read a variety of posts and view videos in a more focused, purposeful manner as I had used a ‘guiding question’ in the description of my story.

The real power of this exercise was not in my own evaluation of three Web 2.0 tools, but in the sharing of our thoughts in class. The resulting compiled list of tools, with my colleagues' annotations has become a most valuable resource and I would highly recommend such an endeavour.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Inquiry as a stance: revisiting ideas

“...inquiry is a collaborative process of connecting to and reaching beyond current understandings to explore tensions significant to learners.” ~Kathy Short

One of the first books I read about inquiry was Learning Together Through Inquiry. It was in a sense the book that propelled me to look more critically at what I was doing as an educator, which ultimately led me to the IB and teaching in an international school. So when I recently read, Taking the PYP Forward  I was excited to see that it was Kathy Short who had written the first chapter ~ quite fitting, I believe.

Inquiry as a stance on curriculum outlines the key features of the inquiry model developed by Short and Harste in 2002, addressing some of the common misconceptions about this ‘authoring cycle’ and clarifying what this model might look like in practice. Revisiting these ideas that are at the heart of inquiry practice has been a great reflective prompt for my own practice. 

It is natural (I would argue essential) that our practices change over time. As a PYP teacher, reflecting on teaching and learning is an integral part of the planning process, seeking to find ways to better facilitate student learning. As we attempt new approaches or concentrating on improving a particular aspect of our teaching, we often let go of practices that have become routine. But just because something has become routine doesn't necessarily mean it is an ineffective practice.

While reading Inquiry as a stance I found myself thinking, 'Oh, yeah - I used to do that' and wondering why I stopped. The best part about becoming more aware of what I am actually doing, or not doing, is that I can make small changes very quickly. I have found when I purposefully make such changes I am much more focused on the result or impact of the change and thus in a better position to reflect on my own practice. 

Reading this article reminded me of the importance of allowing time for learners to build on their conceptual understanding ~ not rushing to 'unpack a central idea' or make connections to the 'transdisciplinary theme'. While tuning in to our most recent unit of inquiry, I made sure we had opportunities to explore the concepts before making any connections to the theme, and all of this well before sharing the central idea. The students were so engaged and the connections they made to the unit once introduced were so strong, that the invitation to inquiry was a natural next step. 

Student created movie trailer exploring understanding of concept causation. Click here to see others.

Reflection is an essential practice for effective teaching and learning and we must make time for it. Unfortunately, this critical practice is often forgotten, or left until the end of a unit ~ a way to 'wrap-up' a planner. On-going reflection, focused and purposeful is a habit I must develop. I want my next 'Oh, yeah' moment to be 'Ah - that's why I do this!'

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Managing Time ~ Realistically

The business of reflection in determining the true good cannot be done once and for all... It needs to be done, and done over and over and over again, in terms of the conditions of concrete situations as they arise. In short, the need for reflection and insight is perpetually recurring. 
~John Dewey
I must preface this post with an apology for taking so long to write - I cannot actually believe that my last entry was at the beginning of October! It is not fair to say I've been busy - every teacher I know is exceedingly busy and yet many of them manage to write articulate, thought-provoking and at times, inspirational pieces regularly in their blogs. So, what happened? More importantly, how shall I remedy this?

In an attempt to 'work smarter' I am trying to bring the different aspects of my current context together. I cannot add the continual update of my class blog to this endeavor (which is a labour of love that I will always find time to maintain), but I can aim to focus my professional activities; a bid to stop spreading myself too thin and to participate more actively in my professional learning network.

What am I involved in? 
One of the most time consuming activities educators face is keeping up with professional reading. There are just so many fantastic books and articles ~ and I love to read! What I found difficult was remembering where all of the great ideas were coming from - Was it in this article? That book? So, I began a professional reading journal that would help me to remember the key points and my thoughts about the reading. A helpful idea for me, but another time consuming task that did not lend itself to sharing and learning from others' thoughts about the material.

As a PYP teacher and workshop leader, I am also continually reflecting on my practice and thinking of ways to capture what inquiry based teaching and learning looks like in the classroom (my students are the most wonderful participants in this undertaking!) The creation of videos and reflective journals again takes time and while I was documenting what I might be doing, it didn't really help me to expand on this. What are other teachers doing? How are they approaching inquiry in their classes? How can we share these experiences?

Finally, I've decided to participate in a course with colleagues and work toward a Certificate in Educational Technology. Another amazing learning opportunity ~ being able to share and explore with colleagues, thinking critically about the ways in which we integrate technology in our classrooms and develop digital literacies - highly engaging conversations. Again, incredibly time consuming, but more importantly - how can we share the conversations with a wider network? Learn from the collective wisdom of our shared learning communities?

Bringing it Together ~ a potential solution
Professional reading, personal practice and coursework - how to align these practices and bring them together? And then it hit me ~ through my blog of course! I sometimes can't believe how hard it is to see the easiest of solutions. Why have I been separating all of my professional work, creating separate writing tasks, when I have a blog? This is even more embarrassing as I am an advocate of blogging; often talking about the value of this practice both for teachers and for students? And so, taking a moment to reflect on my practice (ironic isn't it!) I am now 're-inspired' to continue with my blog.

Next post ~ soon!