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?


  1. Wow Robyn, what an amazing week!

    I teared up when I read the first part about the penguins...I can just imagine how excited the children were! I felt excited and I wasn't even there!

    And then reading about your experiences with EdCamp and the twitter chat...what a fabulous week! You are such an amazing educator...your students are so lucky to have you and to have all of the experiences/learning opportunities you offer them!

    Love it.

    1. Thanks for the positive feedback, Gallit! It is because of meeting folks like you that I have been able to try new things!

  2. What a great week Robyn. I'm pretty sure you, like so many of us in the district (me included) have had a year and a half of great weeks. There is inspiration all around us.

    I love your motto that the worst thing that can happen if you ask is they say no. I LOVE that and I try to use it in my day to day life too.

    Keep up the amazing learning. While I agree it's totally scary to jump out of your comfort zone it's also extremely exhilarating too.

    I love sharing our journeys together.

    1. Thanks so much, Karen! I do love the exhilaration!

  3. I love your enthusiasm! You are experiencing the same exhilaration I felt last year when I started Skyping and making global connections. You have taken the plunge and you will never teach the same again!

    1. Thanks very much Louise. I am having so much fun!

  4. Great post - you are doing an amazing job and showing all the readers what CAN be done with technology

    1. Thanks so much for the positive feedback! I am looking forward to sharing and learning with you.

  5. Hi Robyn! I absolutely love your blog! It is beautiful and so full of incredible examples of how you teach and learn with your students. The animoto video of your Antartica Skype call was fantastic digital storytelling, wow! It was great to get a glimpse inside your classroom. I am so thankful that we have met this year and I also enjoyed connecting with you at EdCamp. I have finally found a kindred spirit who gets it! Not only is ConnecED Canada going to be a lot of learning and growing, it's going to be a lot of fun and friendship-I can hardly wait!

    I wanted to say a big "thank-you" for everything that you have shared with me-our first mysteryskype with your class was the best possible way to get my feet wet. Because of your gentle push, I am ready to jump in!

    All the best,

    1. Thanks so much Diana. Writing is not something that comes easily for me and I am in awe of the work that you do on your blog. I am thrilled to have met you and am blessed to call you friend.
      Who knew the power of a cupcake?