Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Box of Possibilities

Just over a week ago, my classroom's 3D printer arrived. It was a Friday, and as eager as I was to check it out myself, I wanted to share the experience with my students. So there, on a large rectangular table, sat the box ...

I took a picture of it and posted it to our instagram feed (@weberswonders7) to instill a little curiosity. 

On Monday morning, the classroom was a buzz of excitement. We had a class discussion about what we believed to be in the box and what might be possible with this new learning tool. Students recorded their thinking on sticky notes and attached them to the (still closed) box. We have been talking about the design process and students made connections with the importance of getting inspiration from the world around them. 
This sticky notes was my favourite! 

The following day we opened the box and created a list of questions and wonderings about the M3D printer.

Initial Questions:
How do we take care of it?
How do we put the ink in it?
How long does it take to print something?
What kind of things can it print?
Does it need to be cleaned?
How can we connect it with our learning?
How does it work?
What are the parts called?
How do we make designs?
How long can it last?
How big of an object can it print?
Can you print with different colours of ink?

From there we opened the user manual and read through it as a class, highlighting important information as we went. I noticed that a number of students jotted down the dimensions shown below and began talking with their peers about concepts of measurement and scale. 

Stay tuned for our first design project!

Friday, August 12, 2016

Reflections on Teaching and Travel in China

As part of my experience teaching and travelling in China, I was asked to respond to a few questions upon my return. Here are my thoughts ...

As a professional educator, what did you learn through this experience?

  • Prior to departing, the STEM team got together frequently to plan and organize our activities. This solidified for me the importance of collaborative planning.  Preparing for the unknown brought a whole new challenge, but I enjoyed thinking through possibilities and discussing them with colleagues. This continued when we arrived in China and we spent time gathering together in our hotel rooms, discussing how our lessons unfolded and making modifications as needed to deliver the most relevant and engaging lessons for our students. I think building collaborative cultures like we developed over the course of our planning and implementation for SFLS is something we could work on in our own schools. These are often done formally within divisions, but more informal conversations are essential to the process. This includes co-planning but also debriefing after learning activities to reflect, make adjustments, and improve.
  • Appreciating the lived experiences of students. Arriving in a foreign country and standing before 35 unfamiliar students, spending some time getting to know the students and their lived experiences was of the utmost importance. In the limited time we had with each group, developing relationships with each student was a real challenge, however beginning to understand their lived experience was important for me. This was heightened when I had the opportunity to visit students’ homes and connect with families.
  • In terms of my own professional learning, curating resources and developing resources led to a more complete understanding of design thinking and it’s importance to teaching STEM.  The process can be stated in many ways. We used the terms ask, imagine, plan, create, and improve. For many of the students, the importance of pushing boundaries, making mistakes, and learning to move forward was challenging. I think the same could be said for our own students and I plan to incorporate many of the same design challenges into my teaching next year.
  • Link between the physical space and learning. Overall, the physical features of the campus really direct one’s attention to their focus - excellence in education and learning - from the statues of famous thinkers that line the pathways to the quotations throughout their interior spaces. I am considering how I can bring some of these aspects into my own classroom next year. In the same light, I noted the students’ reactions to their desks being arranged in groups. They are used to a row arrangement, with little collaboration and it definitely took time for them to get used to more collaborative classroom structures and routines.
  • After class one day, we had a meeting with science and math teachers from SFLS. They had many questions about the structure of schooling in Canada and the United States including subjects taught and formal assessments. I described to them how, as a Grade 7 teacher, I teach all classes but French and Music. This surprised them greatly. I explained how this allows me to integrate subject areas into inquiry based learning projects. They asked about the use of internet in the research process and how students can just look up answers. I stated that if they can find the answer on the internet perhaps we are not asking the right question. This led to a meaningful discussion on assessment practices and inquiry in learning. While I believe we can learn a lot from their model in regards to stamina and work ethic, I think the idea of student directed learning is something that might move their current model forward. This leads to a more collaborative model of education  with greater emphasis on the process learning. As always, balance is key!
  • The world is a small place filled with wonderful people! Students are students. Teachers are teachers. Parents are parents. Students test boundaries, ask questions, engage in the learning process in varied ways. They need to be challenged and are sometimes challenging. They have unique and beautiful gifts and talents and need opportunities to share their voices. Teachers come with their own set of skills and content knowledge expertise. Together teachers are stronger and more effective. Parents want the best for their children and send us the best they have. We can’t forget this!

What were the most important aspects of this experience that impacted on your world view?

  • I was struck by the many dichotomies I noticed in China. It seems like a country in great transition. As an example, on the way home from school one day, we stopped by the mall. It looked much like malls at home, including a Nike and an Adidas store. Afterwards, Gloria, Cathy and I found a little market in an alleyway that we thought we should experience. I was struck by the dichotomy of the two shopping venues. An American upscale mall juxtaposed with the outdoor market with people napping in chairs outside their stalls. The alley was filled with sights and sounds so different from those we see in North America.  It was one of those moments where I thought, where am I? This is what it is to experience life. The world is so much more than the bubble we live in.

  • Competitive edge and worth ethic. As noted in my journal, I was surprised at how the students were placed in classes according to ability level (from C1 - C6 with the students with the highest test results in C1). This is quite different from our model where we seem to shelter students from any sort of ranking. While I think this adds a great deal of stress and pressure to the Chinese students, I wonder if we are doing our own students a disservice by negating pressures as they will be competing in the global community. This competition also leads to unbelievable stamina and work ethic in the Chinese students. During break time and transitions, many students pull out their workbooks to get a jump start on homework and extra practice. Without complaint or prodding, they get out their books and practice.
  • Lost in translation! Overall, we were able to communicate rather effectively despite the language barrier. The use of devices helped with word translation and I noted how technology has greatly helped to bridge this gap. There were a number of times, however,  where the language barrier proved difficult. All the hand gestures in the world could not help us order a meal at the mall for instance (or let alone find the restaurant) and slow and simple speech could not help us order 3 bags of ice to a hotel room. This added a great comic twist to our adventures, but also opened my eyes to the importance of communication in our daily lives.
  • I found it very humbling to be an educator in China. Education in general is highly valued in their culture and I often felt we were placed on a pedestal as Foreign language teachers. On our first Friday, we were unexpectedly asked to teach lessons for grade 6 students who were considering SFLS for grade 7. The chance to learn from a Foreign English teacher, even for 40 minutes, a huge honour. Outside the gates of the school, a huge gathering of parents waited anxiously. All there to see the school, meet teachers from the program, and assess its merits.
  • On kindness and graciousness. Yes - the streets are unbelievable and I faced many close calls simply crossing the road. Traffic rules are more guidelines and figuring out the ebb and flow of the varied traffic from scooters to watermelon trucks to buses an unimaginable feat. Lines and congestion evident in many tourist attractions with hoards of people around every corner. Children with slits in their pants going to the washroom on the pavement. Yet, I noticed that many of the people in China took time to be courteous and helpful. When I attended dinner with a family, I was treated like royalty with platters of food and drink awaiting me. On a city bus ride to the famous Jade store, a stranger looked at our destination and helped us determine our stop. I wondered how often people back home would take this time to help a foreigner with kindness and without judgement.
  • Food and community. I so appreciated the style of eating in China. It was an event and a chance to build community. Eating around a round table, using chopsticks to share dishes, enjoying each others’ company. Yes the food was sometimes out of my comfort zone, but I went in with an open mind and thoroughly enjoyed the experience of meals.

For more details on this experience, check out my daily journal reflections:

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.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

GAFE Summit 2016 ... My Notes


Jaime Casap
- education disrupts poverty
- proximity to books as indicator
- the world at your fingertips

Why is learning different today?
- We know a lot about what makes good learning ... it's scale that's the problem
- Technology has wrapped itself around the core of our lives
Therefore, How kids think about learning is different than the way we think about learning. We need to adapt!
- What are the critical skills that kids need to have?
Problem Solving, Team-work, Communication, Critical Thinking, Creativity

Not what do you want to be when you grow up, but what problems to do you want to solve?

Iteration - don't teach success and failure BUT iteration (No end point)

There is a comfort in collaboration. My part is the part of a greater sum.
If not at school, then where??

Converting information into intelligence ...

What we need is consistent iteration and innovation. There is no end point!

Session 1:
Creating Innovative Learning Spaces
Erika Armstrong
- Provoking learning with objects (eg. robotics, rocks ... inspire curiosity)
- Don't need a class set of anything... it's about variety

Session 2: App Making For All

Slide Deck
How can we change the pipeline to encourage more participation from females?

8 bits in a bite

Session 3: Pop Themes
Sandra Chow
- Understand your students pop culture to build rapport
- Iron Chef (Jon Carippo)
- Ted Talk
- The Voice Poetry Slam

TED-Ed Clubs
- ideas worth spreading
- link with 20% time
- connect with other TEDEd clubs
- also create TEDEd ads (consolidate ideas)
- narrow focus ... Ask So What?
- presentation guidebook with 13 lessons 


Crafty text app
Google tone


If you could glimpse a moment in your life 5 years from now, would you? 

Great time to be a knowledge seeker!
Hack the classroom!!

Change is the one thing we can expect. And it's hard.

Living in BETA: launch early & iterate 

Stuck on escalator video ... Lol
Refresh - literally and figuratively 

Fail quickly so you can iterate and try again. Live in a sandbox. 

Giants. Wizards. Elves. - play!

Choose to have a future focused lens. 

Ask different questions - that's when kids will surprise us.

Marshmallow challenge - design challenge
TED talk
Learning is a design challenge.
What problems do you want to solve?
- communication, problem solving
- showyourwork - password

Google Forms to Collaborate and Map It!

OMG!! My Maps - create your own maps
* History - interactive ongoing maps
* Math - Measurement area and perimeter (use line to create boundary)

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!