Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Beginnings in 3D Printing

This year I have been fortunate to spend time with +Rolland Chidiac-WCDSB at different points of his journey incorporating 3D printing into his grade 4 classroom. A few ah-ha's for me include the role of discovery, tangibles as gateways to student learning and improvement, and the inevitability of failure (and how we use it to feed-forward).

This opportunity to learn, discuss, ideate, and share has been especially benefical as I am being provided with a 3D printer in my classroom next year as part of a reasearch study on spatial reasoning. One of my goals is to explore how mathematical concepts (eg. scale) and the design process can be intertwined to improve students' spatial reasoning skills. I also hope to discover ways to incorporate design thinking into other subject areas (with students leading the way I imagine).

The chance to get started with 3D printing came before I knew it.

As a final culminating activity in history, students were challenged to synthesize their learning from the time period explored in any manner they choose. Ideas included creating virtual timelines, counterfactual videos, and news broadcasts. A pair of students thought that they might like to create a monument commemortaing the War of 1812. This intrigued me and I thought it was a great opportunity to give TinkerCad a try. The two boys were more than willing to experiment!

Below is a screenshot of their TinkerCad design.

The gates on each side represent the countries and the chain represents an unbreakable bond. I noticed the depth of thought as the students worked away on their design. Each element carefully considered and adjustments were made throughout.

The students were quite satisfied with their design remamining on TinkerCad (which highlighted for me that the ability to print was not necessarily needed required). They projected their design on the whiteboard and shared their ideas and design with their classmates.

To their surprise, I asked +Rolland Chidiac-WCDSB if he would print the design for them. I was able to download the .stl file and send it to him (woot woot)!! To my knowledge, he needed to make a few adjustments to their design so it would print properly (and in a reasonable timeframe). Aspects I need to learn more about next year.

A few days later it arrived in the courier!

In one of his previous posts, Rolland stated something that really stood out for me.
"THAT is where the rubber meets the road."

It's the THINKING behind the artifacts that is truly powerful. All made possible by giving students opportunities to design and create in ways that bring meaning to their thinking.

Back to my 'ah-ha's:

The role of discovery: Rolland didn't know all the answers (or all the questions for that matter) when he started with 3D printing. He discovered alongside his students. This is empowering and motivating for all students.

Tangibles as gateways to student learning and improvement:
Who doesn't like to see their ideas come to life? Rolland shared many instances where the tangible object facilitated learning. An example of this was the characters they created as part of storytelling. He noticed what a difference it made having the 3D printed objects on their desks during the writing process. This was evident with my students as well. When I showed the students the printed monument, their faces lit up. I could see the pride and excitement in their eyes.

The inevitability of failure (and how we use it to feed-forward):
Rolland's blog on failures was my very favourite. Things don't always go according to plan. Sometimes we end up with just a mess of plastic. We need to adjust and move on. One of the students who designed the monument stated that he was disappointed that the gates did not fit perfectly into the arch. He had included small slits in the arch that were suppose to hold the gates in place. His slits were not quite big enough, so without careful balancing, the gates fell over. He went over to his laptop and changed it on his design. Awesome!

A big thanks to Rolland for his willingness to share and discuss!
Looking forward to collaborating on design projects in the future!

Friday, May 13, 2016

Algebra, Worms, and an Open Mind

- Empathy, Kindness, & Learning in a Connected World - 

I have to start with being totally honest - the most incredible learning opportunity that I am about to describe occurred out of sheer coincidence and an open mind. It was not pre-planned or anticipated (quite the opposite in fact).

Colliding Facts:
- On Twitter a few weeks ago I came across a math video for teaching students about collecting like terms in algebra that was rather 'on point' (as my students would say) by an Aussie educator named  @JoelBSperanza. We have watched a few of his instructional videos since, as his manner of getting at the big mathematical ideas resonates with us (plus he has an awesome accent)! 

- After a hectic lunch hour helping with a popcorn fundraiser, I realized I had not added the math extension problem for the afternoon on our slide deck (or even selected it for that matter). I chose the problem in haste based on the fact it required an organized solution, linked with patterning, and was about worms and I thought the title "Worm Problem" sounded pretty neat (get it - Word Problem?). Out of pure necessity I tweeted a picture of the question as our class twitter feed appears on our D2L space (embedded widget). No time to type it out. So as I supported some students with other areas of focus (consolidated practice around volume and surface area), others worked away on our "Worm Problem". 

So where do these two facts collide? When students were sharing their solutions, one group wondered if there might be a way to solve it algebraically. The thinking began (I knew it was not linear so this would be a difficult feet). Then students asked in jest, "maybe the video guy can help us?!" GENIUS! 

So right away I went to the computer and tweeted @JoelBSperanza (super pumped that the students even considered the possibility of using social media - even if they were kidding at first -  and the fact that they cared so much). 

What happened next was, in my opinion, edu-magic!

Yes ... Joel took the time to not only reply to us, but also create a 10 minute video explaining the problem, validating students' current solutions, and extending the learning to algebra. I was in total awe last night with the realization that this kind educator took the time to chat with me about my class, and prepare this video for us - just because he can and he cares. What a lesson in the possibilities of social media to connect and empower.

I could hardly sleep last night thinking about having the video up for the students in the morning. The look on their faces was priceless! What a way to start a day!

So what are the lessons here?

- Social media has the ability to make the world a more connected place. Modelling this for students is vital.
- As an educator, you don't need to know all the answers (how possibly could you?). It's about opening up the walls of the classroom and connecting (social media extends this to a much larger community). You just have to be willing to embrace a little of the unknown and throw caution to the wind sometimes!
-  There are remarkable people out there (like my new friend @JoelBSperanza) who are willing to go the extra mile for the sake of student learning. That is something to be treasured and celebrated.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

LEARNING FOR LIFE ... less constraints, more choice?

It's a snow/ice day so I thought I'd take this opportunity to blog a little. With my 2016 resolution to read more, I find I have been writing less...

In my recent Twitter Feed I came across this video from @HuffPostEdu

The Future Project Asks NYC Students What They Really Think of...
These students brilliantly explain to The Future Project what's wrong with the school system.
Posted by HuffPost Education on Monday, March 21, 2016

In it, students are asked what they think about the current model of school and what might a future school look like. Their responses are illuminating. A few thoughts/questions that stuck with me ...

What does it look like when students are learning for life?
How and why are we losing students in our current model?

I have come face to face with these questions this year. Finding the balance between giving choice and flexibility in learning and being accountable to the vast curriculum has been a struggle at times.

I have tried to negotiate this with the help of the great resource I read this past summer. Click here for my book review of Comprehension and Collaboration: Inquiry Circles in Action by Harvey and Daniels.

In various content areas, I have used the structure and routines outlined in this text to guide students through content area inquiries (sometimes referred to as curricular inquiries) stemming from the big ideas.

Using the same inquiry organizer and success criteria has been helpful as it guides students through the process and provides a digital space for collaboration and feedback.

An example of this is a recent history inquiry on the War of 1812. After about a week of introductory learning (developing a general understanding about the causes, perspectives, significant events, and consequences) students brainstormed lingering wonderings about the war.
What were they still curious about? How could they dig a little deeper?

Click here to see the template we used, very much adapted from Harvey and Daniels.

The final phase of inquiry is going public. A chance for students to share their learning in a creative way. In terms of more traditional research projects, I believe this is the aspect that makes the greatest difference in terms of student engagement. It creates a sense of purpose and urgency for what they are doing.

Here are just a few ways my students chose to go public with their War of 1812 inquiries...
- virtual timeline using Prezi
- Screencasts using TechSmith Snagit
- iMovies
- podcasts
- simulated battles using video games with running commentary

Needless to say, I was quite astounded. I just needed to step back and get out of their way ... a lesson learned time and time again!

So now what? 

Enter GENIUS HOUR! An undertaking I have wanted to initiate all year. After discussions with colleagues, curating resources, and seeing first hand how self-directed inquiries could propel learning,
I could hold back no longer!

Using the same general template we have been using for curricular inquiries, I have open the doors wide open. The possibilities endless. To spark students' curiosity and introduce genius hour I used a collection of videos and resources (all an aspect of the IMMERSE phase).

Here are a few of my favourites:
Vsauce videos - What is the most dangerous place on earth?
Moonshot Thinking - What is possible when we open our minds to new ideas? Why is this critical for thinking/Learning?
Videos for GENIUS HOUR curated by @JoyKirr

Students brainstormed topics/questions/wonderings about the world they live in and their place in it. Ideas such as the role of social media in communication, virtual reality, ethics in bio-engineering, space exploration have emerged as well as questions such as 'why do we get butterflies when we are nervous?'

Students are viewing and reading to learn more about their topics (investigate phase) and have expressed the importance of not having specific due dates as it will dampen their ability to truly explore. This is an area we will negotiate together (need to 'go public' at some point). They are provided with about 80 minutes of uninterrupted time each week for Genius Hour and many extend this learning at home as well.

I promise to blog again once students begin to move to the Coalese and Go Public phases.

Now back to the original questions elicited from the video:
What does it look like when students are learning for life?

I'm wondering if concepts and frameworks true to Genius Hour might help develop the type of learning environment these students are speaking about.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Chromebooks in the Classroom: Enter the KW Record!

To day we had quite the experience in Room 207 - a reporter and a photographer from the KW Record came to visit our classroom to learn about how we use Chromebooks. I was delighted when asked by senior admin to be a part of this article. I am proud to showcase the amazing learning taking place by so many students within WCDSB, and knew it would be a positive experience for the students and a way to connect beyond the walls of our classroom. I am making a conscious effort to check my own insecurities (the little voice that says Why me?) and think Why NOT me? and more importantly Why NOT my students? Saying YES to these experiences and opportunities might be a little uncomfortable, but it is when in these states that growth happens! I need to be reminded of this not just for myself, but also for my students.

Before he arrived, I wanted the students to have a chance to reflect, so quite simply I asked ...
"In what ways do we use Chromebooks to support our learning?" 

I was quite amazed with what they came up with in less than 5 minutes! We were able to sort all our ideas into five main applications: research, practice, feedback, going public, and connecting.

It was obvious from our conversations that the students do see these devices as tools that very much impact when, why, and how they learn.

When the reporter, Jeff Outhit, entered our class he spent a few minutes talking with me about the learning environment and gathering an overall understanding of the capabilities of the Chromebook in the classroom. More importantly, he was looking for the voice of the students and spent almost an hour in conversation with various groups of students. I sat back with pride as they shared their stories, their learning journeys... their engagement was evident.

Please click here to view the RW Record article!

Saturday, February 13, 2016


Over the past few weeks, we have been reading excerpts from Neil Pasricha's 1000 Awesome Things book and blog. I have challenged my students to notice elements in their own life that bring them happiness and blog about them. Of course, I thought it was only fair that I do the same. See my blog post below ....

The quiet tapping of keyboard keys, the flipping of pages, the gentle hum of students deep in discussion. As a teacher, there is nothing more AWESOME than witnessing learning in action. The moments when you can almost see the gears turning and light bulbs flickering. Oh how I wish I could bottle up these moments.
Over the past few weeks I have been in awe of the learning happening all around me. Your willingness to embrace a growth mindset, collaborate with classmates, and experiment with new ways to show your learning has truly been remarkable. I'm not sure what has led to this heightened level of engagement, perhaps a byproduct of the learning space we have created together? Or maybe it's always been there I just needed to look up, and get out of the way. As you have worked on your inquiries about the War of 1812, your Scratch projects, your discussions on math and literacy and life, you have done so with great purpose and zeal. I am impressed and inspired by you daily.

You have taught me that learning needs space to breathe.
You have taught me that often your best teachers are your classmates.
You have taught me that letting go allows for the greatest of returns.

So where does this come from?

First I must explain a few of our experiences since the New Year. It has been such a whirlwind that I confess that my blogging has slipped.
- We have spent considerable time considering our goals (individual and as a class)
- We have read about inspiring people with inspiring ideas
- We had a visit from Google Pioneers Expedition Program (bring on the Cardboard ladies and gentlemen)
- We have created our own stories in Scratch
- We have tried and failed and tried again on our Spiral Math journey
- We have prayed
- We built shelters in the wilderness
- We have made connections with the past and today
The most explicit example I can describe is the students' inquiries on the War of 1812. After some knowledge building as a class, students considered their own lingering wonderings and recorded them on sticky notes. Then we began sorting them to develop action teams. Afterwards, I really wished we had completed them on a Padlet board, as gathering a group of Gr 7s around a piece of chart paper is a little cumbersome. Students began conducting their own research, organized and synthesized their learning on gDocs, and shared their learning in the most incredible ways. I could not have envisioned what unfolded. All the planning in the world would not have allowed for the outcomes reached by this open-ended inquiry. Students created skits, Prezi timelines, iMovies, representative video games with voice overs, Scratch scenes, news broadcasts.  The depth and breadth of representations was incredible.

So my challenge to you, fellow educators, is to do as Elsa said in Frozen and 'Let it Go'. Let the learning be free. Step back and be a guide, be a mentor, be a witness, but do not take the lead. You will be amazed at what unfolds. It is AWESOME!

Saturday, January 2, 2016

New Years Resolutions 2016

A big thank you to +Sylvia Duckworth for her inspiring infographic!
2 things you do well and will continue to do:
-  Connecting with other educators both face-to-face and digitally has become a fundamental part of my self-directed PD and is something I have come to value deeply. I feel I am in a constant state of improvement as an educator because of all the others who propel me forward. Just last month I spent an evening at the new Google office in Kitchener connecting with other passionate educators. I was inspired! We talked about Fed Ex days, use of inquiry in math throughout all grade levels, the need to facilitate the type of learning that will be relevant for students in their lifetime (this is so unpredictable)! We played with coding programs, we were enamored by the physical space and how this facilitated our collaboration (how might we create similar spaces in more traditional schools?). Being a connected educator ... this is on my list of things to continue to do!

-  Embrace change (and be okay with setback).  This is one I explored more deeply in my last post about the best things I did in 2015. It has taken some work but I have come to see the value in trying things outside of your comfort zone (even when sometimes they don't go as planned). In 2016 I will continue to make mistakes and model this mindset for my students.

0 Something you want to stop doing:
-   This is going to be a hard one. I am going to STOP letting time and curriculum constraints alter what I know is best for learning. I recently watch this TED talk by Will Richardson called "The Surprising Truth About Learning in Schools". It is well worth a watch. It explores the disconnect between what we BELIEVE and what we PRACTICE. I will keep in the forefront of my mind the following question stated by Richardson, "What are the conditions required to help kids learn in a 'sticky' way?".

1 person you want to improve your relationship with:
-    My dad. My dad has early onset Alzheimer's disease. My family and I have been dealing with this for a few years now. I spend a lot of time thinking about how this affects me, how my mom is handing it (she is the most empathetic and giving person I know and her patience and love for my dad is awe inspiring). My goal is to spend more time thinking about him and how I can help him transition through the stages in a kind and dignified manner. My relationship with him is changing all the time and I am slowly coming to terms with what our relationship looks like and how I can help build him up. I can spend time with him in ways that are most comfortable to him, I can affirm him through my words and actions. Slowing down with him, alongside him, is something I need to get better at.

6 things you will do this year to step outside of your comfort zone:
-   I will offer more time for self-directed learning in my classroom. Genius Hour is something I read a lot about last summer and began planning for, but haven't put into practice yet. That is about to change! Stay tuned!
-   Computer Science: I plan to sharpen my own skills in this area inspired by my students.
-   Spend time being creative! Take on art project, (re)learn to knit, invest time in personal hobbies. Giving to myself will allow me to have more to give to others.
-   Consider my leadership skills as I shadow administrators and consultants in the coming months
-   I will read more often. Books! Lots of books of all varieties. I spend a great deal of time reading posts and twitter feeds and my goal for 2016 is to disconnect from technology more often and make time for reading for pleasure.
-   Embrace opportunities for public speaking ... this is a goal I started in 2014 and one I need to continue to work on. Realize I have something to say and not shy away from saying it!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

5 Best Things I Have Done This Year

Inspired by a recent tweet and blog post by +Jonathan So .


This year has marked many first for me, as I have moved from teaching mostly in the primary division to intermediate. With this change, has come tremendous personal growth. Every day is a new adventure! My students have come to recognize this as well - to expect the unexpected! Just last week we engaged in lip sync battles, created our own games in scratch, learned about the importance of giving credit to authors in digital and print texts, and debated the use of the carrot vs stick approach in history (with props). I will admit that the sheer amount of content to be covered overwhelms me at times, but I remind myself that substance and deep learning far outweighs "covering" the curriculum. Looking back over the past few months, here are the things I have come to value the most.

My Top 5:
1. Creating our learning space together
At the very beginning of the year, our physical classroom was a blank slate. We created our space together. I will admit that letting go of this control was a little scary at first - an organized and appealing classroom is important to me as I feel this influences the tone of the space. What I can speak to now, is how creating the physical space together has linked with the learning space. Students are responsible to and for what happens in the room. They have pride in our space and in each other. This links quite well with the Capacity Building Series: The Third Teacher article in which the environment is known as the third teacher in the room. The learning environment we have created reflects the values WE hold dear. Co-creating a value system in a classroom and continually reflecting upon this helps navigate any obstacles that we face.

2. I've made a lot of mistakes (and I'm okay with it)
Some lessons absolutely flop. It happens. That "hook" I was so excited about, sometimes doesn't grab the attention that I expect. I don't have all the answers. I am upfront about this. I don't apologize for it. I suggest ways we can find the answers together. I ask them for their honest feedback on learning activities and assignments. At the beginning, this was quite foreign to them and they were unsure how to respond. I told them it wouldn't hurt my feelings if they didn't think the activity met their needs- that offering (and excepting) constructive criticism is important for all of us. I vividly remember a math lesson earlier in the year where I was unsure of the accurate response and provided them with misleading information. I went to see my math guru down the hall and discovered the information that I should have shared. The next period I apologized and shared with them my mistake. This moment led to a power shift in our class - putting my pride aside was the best thing I could have done.

3.  Descriptive feedback (haven't totally thrown out the grades but see the benefits)
Does this count? This is a phrase that I am so tired of hearing. It disheartens me that by grade 7 students have learned how to 'do school'. They have perfected the art of doing exactly what it is that they think the teacher wants. This drives me crazy. It is hard to undo. Instead of viewing school as a place to master the art of learning, it is viewed by many as something to get through. I have tried to make small shifts in practice to shift this mindset away from the 'factory' model of schooling. Providing more feedback and less grades is part of that. Giving opportunities for students to provide feedback as reviewers and revise their own work is also something we are working on. Structuring supports for primary students became second nature to me, and determining supports for intermediate students is something I continue to learn about. More than anything I want students to feel their learning is relevant and timely. Maybe then, 'does it count?' will turn to 'what's next?'

4. Coding
I wish I had taken a picture last week of six of my students sitting side by side creating their own games in scratch. Keep in mind this was during lunch hour the day before Christmas holidays (wanting desperately to work on their creations). They were examining each others creations, sharing tips, making lots of mistakes and learning from them instantaneously. To apply understanding of the Cartesian plane, I used a fantastic slide deck from the  code.org- CS in Algebra resource. I created a scratch game where Santa slid down a chimney and was pretty impressed by my creation. Enter savvy and curious grade 7 students - they took this to a whole new level and the games they created blew me away. All I had to do was get out of the way. This is so true of coding. Students are ready, willing, and oh so capable to undertake coding projects. The links with the curriculum are quite endless - mathematics, literacy, even health and  phys ed (unplugged activities are awesome)!
In the last 6 weeks we have begun the CS First Storytelling course, experimented with Hour of Code activities, and coached grade 2 students with block coding.

5. Blogging
Blogging has become an essential part of my professional practice - it provides an outlet for me to express my thinking about teaching practices, curate resources, annotate notes from conferences and working groups, and add to my professional portfolio. I wanted the same for my students. I choose Kidblog for the security and ease of sharing and commenting between peers. I think next year I will try Blogger as the opinions are far greater. Students are able to embed media within their posts which they are really enjoying. Their voice is often palpable. What I have come to value the most is the authentic audience blogging brings. When we discuss purpose and audience for various writing forms, we can discuss it within our blogs and share examples immediately. Here is just a taste from a student's recent book review.

It's a start .... I have felt the joy of embracing change and experienced triumphs and failures in teaching a new grade level. I look forward to continuing this journey in the new year with new goals on the horizon!