Monday, 11 February 2013

A Week of Firsts!


  I have come to a realization recently. Stepping out and trying new things is fabulous. Yes, it's scary, yes, it's messy and yes, it takes time. But it is definitely worth it. On a similar note, I am often asked how did that happen? How did you manage that? Why do you have that? and my simple answer is, "I asked." I have always operated from the premise that if you don't ask, you don't get and they can only say, "No."

I want to share my 3 firsts for this week.

      I recently joined a fabulous group of educators from all over the world in The Global Classroom Project and I also joined a  Mystery Skype group. Through connections in both groups and by reading many of the members' blog posts, I became aware of Jean Pennycook, an American scientist who studies Adelie Penguins in Antarctica. She had participated in a Skype call with a class in the United States. I wondered, Can I make this happen for my students? I inquired about how to get in contact with her  and then I wrote her a brief letter last Tuesday explaining to her that my class was attempting to Skype with someone on every continent. We had never dreamed that we could make contact with someone on Antarctica! I also explained that my class was learning through an inquiry model in Science and several of my students were curious about Plants in Arctic climates. To my surprise, Jean answer my email on Wednesday! She was more than willing to share her passion for penguins and the Antarctic with my students but she was leaving Antarctica on Monday, February 11th to return  to her home in California. I quickly dropped everything that we had planned for Thursday morning and let her know that we would be thrilled to learn from her. 
     There was great excitement in our classroom on Thursday morning as I announced that FSA's were cancelled and that I had a BIG surprise for everyone! Students were speechless when I told them what we were about to do. All the students immediately grabbed their devices and began researching Jean, Penguins and Antarctica.

A video of Jean working in Antarctica

  Students began researching and sharing with each other as well as, recording all of their questions, some on paper in their Wonder Journals and other on the iPad Notepad. They created A LOT of questions and Wonderings! We invited our little buddies in K/1 because we knew that they had just participated in a Penguin study with their teacher, Ms Connelly. Our call lasted about 45 minutes, with Jean answering every single question from both classes.

 We discovered that:

          Jean has not seen the sunset since she arrives in October. It is summer so the sun never sets.

        They can't use water in Antarctica because they don't want to contaminate the pure    Antarctic ecosystem. You can't bathe or wash your hair!

        There is no fresh food.

        All supplies for a year are brought in one shipment.

        All waste is removed, including human waste.

        There are only 2 "real" Antarctic penguins, Adelie and Emperor.

Here is the link to our Animoto movie called:

Learning from Jean Pennycook in Antarctica!

How do you use technology to flatten the walls of your classroom?

My second first for this week was EdCamp at Johnston Heights Secondary.

   As one of the teachers participating in the Green Timber's Elementary Innovative Designs in Learning grant, I was asked to attend the IDL Phase 2 EdCamp. Although I had never attended an EdCamp, I was familiar with the the way it is laid out and how it works. The best part of the  experience was having the opportunity to meet up with many of the people I had met at the Digital Learning Dinner Series and on Twitter. I had a chance to have meaningful conversations with Diana Williams(@teacherdiana1) about Passion based Learning and Going Global. Diana and I instantly seemed to click. I felt like I was finally chatting with someone that taught my grade level and that finally understood what I was trying to do with my students. She didn't look at me like I was crazy or give me a blank, "I don't get it." stare.  We discussed EdCamp sessions and planned to attend ConnectEd in Calgary together.
   One of the best parts of EdCamp was meeting in small groups but one of the biggest challenges of EdCamp was meeting in small groups. It was challenging because there was no "leader". It was awkward at first but after introducing ourselves I inquired if anyone had tried Passion-Based Learning/Genius Hour in their own classrooms or school. There were very few participants that were using the Genius Hour concept but many had come to find answers to their questions. This was challenging. I am very uncomfortable talking in front of people that I don't know but this time I felt different, and I was able to share some of what I had been doing in my classroom. I began Genius Hour at the beginning of this year with my Grade 3/4 class and I have found it to be an amazing time of learning, sharing and inquiry! There were many questions around where to begin,  PLO's, accountability and reporting. I was honest and mentioned that I was comfortable using this time for students to do personal projects as it honoured them and honoured their passions. Also, many PLO's are covered: critical thinking, problem solving, working with others, self-assessment, creativity and developing presentation skills. I came away from the session feeling invigorated and energized!

    We met as a large group in the cafeteria for a break and then it was off to session 2, Flattening Classroom Walls. I choose this session because I have participated in a few global projects this year and wanted to make more connections. This group was much smaller and most of the participants chatted in small groups. The best part of this session was when a participant inquired if anyone new of an Aboriginal class in another part of Canada that wanted to share their culture with her grade 4 class. It was the response of the group that was fabulous. Everyone started sharing Twitter connections, tweeting out the request and accessing their PLN and family to assist this participant. I thought this was so cool because I'm pretty sure that 3 years ago none of us would have had the power to help out!

The EdCamp experience was positive and the energy in the building was tangible. I am looking forward to my next EdCamp !

 Used with permission from K. Vensodale

Are you comfortable speaking in front of your peers?

My third first was co-moderating a Twitter chat. 

     This was the most stressful of the firsts this week! After joining The Global Classroom Project I received an e mail from Michael Graffin(@mgraffin) looking for volunteers to moderate the February Twitter chat, Knock Those Classroom Walls Down. The topic was Blogging as a tool for connecting and sharing global inquiries with a global audience. I investigated a bit further and found the the time for Saturday's chat would allow me to help out. I have had several interactions on Twitter and on Skype with members of the project and all of them have been supportive and friendly. I hummed and hawed for a few hours and then...JUMPED! I contacted Michael and told him I could help out but that I had never moderated before!! He was very understanding and worked to find a co-moderator that could help me out. I must say I was relieved! 
     There were many participants from all over the world, Canada, New Zealand, the United States, Australia, and Nepal. Everyone was sharing and learning about Blogging as a tool for connecting with others. I was very thankful for the guidelines Michael sent me about how to host a chat! Once the chat began I didn't feel so nervous, as the participants were learners just like me. I welcomed participants as they joined us, retweeted comments made and posted the guiding questions  for the discussion.The hour flew by!  Through this experience I was able to make new connections and most importantly, gain confidence in myself. Although I do JUMP into new ideas quite readily I have an innate fear of letting people down, and of disappointing them so I haven't been comfortable taking on any district/global leadership roles but, this was a very positive experience for me. I would definitely volunteer again! It has given me the courage to expand my comfort zone as a learner and a leader.

The Global Classroom Project

How do you overcome your fears?

Sunday, 3 February 2013

A little guilt and a lot of gifts!

     Don't you just hate guilt? Whenever I think of writing a post I manage to find other things to do, much like writing report cards. But over the past few days I have begun to feel the desire to share, to record my reflections and to say "thank you".

     As I  reflect on my year to date, one thing is abundantly clear, this year is a gift. One of those years that come along every once in awhile that reaffirm your beliefs and make you feel really, really good about teaching.

      Last year was spent finding my new teaching self. I was discovering so many new ways of doing business and letting go of so many of my practices that I felt like I was running a marathon all year!! I was experimenting with technology, finding how it was going was going to "fit" into my classroom and questioning the very core of my teaching practice. I began to question all of the things I had always done. I had a more teacher centered classroom, and I was "teaching" many things that I didn't value in order to mesh with others in my school. Things like handwriting and spelling and whole class novel studies.Although I had worked hard to become familiar with best practice expectations I wasn't satisfied. I used a manipulative based Numeracy program and taught explicitly through Writing programs and loved the clear way to teach meta-cognitive strategies in Reading that Adrienne Gear so thoroughly laid out. But something was missing. I believe what was missing was keeping all of my decisions student centered. While last year was hectic and crazy, this year is busy but calm. I feel confident that the decisions I make are made with the students at the center, with their best interested in mind and I no longer seek the approval of others within my school. It's no longer about me or what is best for me but rather, it is about my students, I am there for them. To guide them, to encourage them, to foster a love of learning, to not give answers but encourage inquiry, to mentor them in all that we do and to share with them my passion for learning and teaching.

     I believe that I have been given several gifts this year:

*The first gift was an opportunity to loop 14 of my grade 3's into grade 4. They are an exceptionally eager, passionate and "wonder"filled class. Any teacher would be blessed to work with them.

 *My second gift is the friends and mentors that I have made both within my district, through the Innovative Designs in Learning grant, the inspiring technology dinner series and Movers and Shakers Inquiry days, and abroad, through global projects, such as Flat Class, Projects by Jen, Mystery Skypers, The Travelling Rhino Project, Global Read Aloud, Genius Hour and of course through Twitter.

*My third gift was the unwavering support of my administration, who is always willing to find the ways and means to make most of my technology dreams come true!

     However, the gift that has made the greatest impact on my ability to provide an inquiry based curriculum to my students is the support I received from the Educational Services Department in Surrey. They were able to make my dreams of an inquiry based, technology driven classroom come true. I will be forever grateful for their belief in my ideas and the unparalleled opportunity that was given to my students through their generosity.

I am blessed. I can't imagine teaching any other way! It feels right, my students love coming to school, I love going to my classroom, I love inquiring about new ways to meet their needs and I love being inspired by their passion.
If you are interested in checking out some of things we've been up to please click here to go to our class blog.

Recording questions!


Mystery Skyping!

                                                                                                Discovering through Wonderopolis!

Books and iPads together!

                                                                              Providing visual aids to non-English speaking students.

Our principal has attended all of our Skype sessions!