Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Don't Talk to Strangers - You Might Learn Something

Don’t Talk to Strangers – You Might Learn Something

My teaching experience, up to now, has all been in middle school. Starting next week though, I’ll be teaching in the Primary grades for the first time. I spent some time this summer on Pinterest, Twitter and various blogs & websites trying to prepare myself for my new role. The last time I was in a grade 2 classroom was 13 years ago as a parent volunteer, before I became a teacher myself. That was a long time ago, and I don’t just want to survive this year, I want it to be incredible. I’ve learned so much from so many people and I’m grateful.

One person in particular went above and beyond when it came to sharing insights, resources and strategies. I met Jonathan So on Twitter @mrsoclassroom and saw some great lessons and on his blog mrsoclassroom.blogspot.ca and after answering a lot of my questions, he invited me to visit his class. Luckily, his school follows a balanced-year calendar so my vacation time coincided with his class being in school. I jumped at the chance, and this morning I got to see a glimpse of what grade 2 is all about.

I witnessed some powerful teaching and learning in Mr. So’s classroom. Seeing the relationships and routines that have been established, watching an excellent math lesson and hearing the students clearly explain their thinking, having the chance to watch students work in collaborative groups and listen to their rich math conversations as they solved a problem related to the lesson, asking Jonathan questions and talking to the students was an incredible opportunity. I learned a lot from Jonathan, and I learned a lot from his students. I now have a better understanding of the different pace in a primary classroom and of the way that students this age think and interact.

I left Mr. So’s classroom with a bounce in my step and a renewed sense of #PLNpower

Talking to strangers has taught me a lot about teaching and learning. There are many generous people online and in our schools – talk to them, ask them questions, visit their classrooms, invite them into yours and they won’t be strangers anymore.

@mrsoclassroom used this great hashtag today, use it to Tweet about your experiences with  #openingtheclassroomdoors




Saturday, 24 August 2013

Learning Something New

This morning I read Jacklyn Truscello’s first blog post which she was inspired to write after the #TLDWPeel Conference. In it, she gives a great overview of the two days and leaves us with a reminder to have fun with all of the new things that we are going to be learning as we strive to remain literate in the 21st century.

When I read Jacklyn’s blog I agreed with her about keeping the learning fun. But all day it kept popping into my head and I decided that everything about learning is not fun.

This March, I had the opportunity to participate in a glass blowing workshop with my Visual Arts AQ class.

It was scary.


I was intimidated by the furnace of flames, afraid of getting burned (or is it burnt?). I wouldn’t normally share such an awful picture of myself, but the underarm sweat pits are a good indicator of how scary this experience was. (Tip: wear dark colours to hide sweat pits if you ever go glassblowing)

Handling molten glass for the first time WAS NOT FUN while I was doing it.

I couldn’t help but realize that the feelings I was having were probably the same feelings that some kids have in Phys. Ed. or Math or even at recess. I was afraid of making a mistake, afraid that I would look stupid, afraid that my paper weight wouldn't turn out right, afraid that I’d get hurt. None of this was fun. Logically, I knew that besides actual physical harm, it didn’t really matter if my piece was ugly or broken or if I looked like a sweat-pitted scaredy-cat. But fear isn't always logical.

It wasn’t until Tanya Korostil, our incredible AQ Instructor, handed out our finished pieces a week later that I felt any sense of fun, in fact at that point I would have said that the whole experience was exhilaratingly fun. You can tell that I was excited and what I was thinking by the hashtags I included in my Tweet that day ( #teachersRlearners2 and #Imadethis)

It is ok to be afraid. It is normal to be afraid. It is good and maybe even necessary for teachers to be afraid when pushing themselves to learn new things because when we are students ourselves we can truly empathize with students, our teaching is better and our classrooms are safer places to learn.

Learning to scuba dive, having children, going to university for the first time at age 35, becoming a teacher – not necessarily all fun, all the time – lots of scary parts, but amazing opportunities for learning that were worth enduring the fear. Film and editing videos wasn’t all fun for me or for my students but we learned valuable lessons on perseverance and collaboration.

So now, I’m going to change my original agreement with keeping learning fun. Instead, I’m going to say that we should expect fear when we are learning something new and that we should push through the fear so that later, we can experience feelings of accomplishment, fulfillment, and joy. We can also expect that learning will be hard at times. But when the work is important to us and we can see the value in it, we don’t mind doing the hard work.

Learning to ride a bike isn’t fun if you fall off and give up. The fun part comes once you’ve learned to ride the bike and you get to see everything from a new vantage point.
We shouldn't be too hard on ourselves while we are learning because there will be fear and hard work but most times the results are worth it.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

George Couros - The Epitome of 21st Century Educational Leadership

Day 2 of Peel District School Board’s Teaching and Learning in a Digital World today was incredible.

I’ve followed George Couros’s blog (I get it delivered to my email address so I get it instantly) and have followed him on Twitter @gcouros for a little while now and have learned so much from him through those venues. Today, as they keynote speaker at #TLDW, I learned even more.

@gcouros and @Hmason36 at #TLDWPeel 08/22/2013

I figured George would be a great keynote speaker and he delivered BIG TIME!

He had us laughing, he got us dancing, and he inspired us to the point of tears a few times too.

George Couros is a thought-leader in education and through his blogs and Tweets I got the sense that he would be down to earth and likeable, in addition to being an innovator. In person, he is that and more.

In the title of this post I say that George is the epitome of 21st Century Educational Leadership because he is an inspiring leader, he has great vision, he is genuine, caring, down to earth, he speaks from the heart, communicates clearly, is willing to be vulnerable, is in this for all of the right reasons and he is sincere in his desire to help others. George is trying to help us build relationships and our PLNs, to utilize technology to our advantage, to stay literate and relevant, to inspire our students and to make our classrooms and our own lives richer.  Isn’t that what we all want in a leader? In a teacher? In ourselves as leaders and teachers?
Were you inspired today? Don't let that inspiration be wasted - take action. What is the one thing that you can do today to move yourself from your own point A to point B?
I would love to hear about what you are doing with the inspiration that George and Ruben instilled during these two incredible days. If you weren't at the conference - no problem - you can find inspiration everywhere! Just do one thing  today to move yourself forward, one step at a time. #keeplearning

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Twitter Power

The first day of Peel District School Board’s Teaching and Learning in a Digital World Conference (#TLDWPeel) was amazing! Day 1’s keynote speaker, Ruben Puentedura, is an incredible thinker, speaker and teacher so if you ever get the chance to see him or hear him speak – do it! I could not do justice with a summary here so please go to his website, Google him, or watch videos of him on YouTube if you can’t see him in person.

I mention him though, because it was while listening to Ruben this morning that I paraphrased one of the ideas in this Tweet:


You can see that there were a couple of favorites and 7 retweets – which is kind of cool, but more importantly, I got replies which sparked conversations and deeper thinking.

The comments on my Tweet today pushed me to ask a lot of questions. Why exactly did I Tweet that? Should I have added quotations marks because this wasn’t my idea? Am I ‘using’ Twitter correctly? Why did I keep my student blogs private? Why didn’t I open them up so that they could have a global audience? Why aren’t I promoting my blog? Why don’t I write a post daily instead of weekly?

Brian Woodland is right – it is mostly a matter of time. Plus there is some risk-aversion as well. However, if you read the other comments you’ll find that many people think that blogs are a great tool.

Ruben is right though. My tweets & my blog are a way to share information, express my thoughts and reflect BUT when I get feedback like I did today, it isn’t just a thought that floats into cyberspace – it becomes a conversation and a push to think. #loveit!

I can’t wait for Day 2 of the #TLDWPeel Conference tomorrow. George Couros is the keynote speaker and he is the main reason I wanted to attend in the first place!


Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Kidding Around by Sue Stephenson

I’ve spent the last few days happily immersed in SueStephenson’s book Kidding Around: Connecting Kids to Happiness, Laughter and Humour. Before reading this book I would have said ‘of course happiness is important’ and ‘of course laughter makes people feel better’, but the book took me on a delightful journey and answered WHY this is true and HOW we can get more in our lives.

Yesterday morning, my son called groggily from his bedroom “Are you ok Mom?” He thought there was something wrong with me; I was laughing so hard while watching one of the videos mentioned in the book that I had woken him up. I was laughing so hard that I could barely answer his question. For several hours after, I had random bursts of laughter that felt silly and wonderful.

The book contains humour and research-based evidence that explain why happiness, laughter and humour are important AND contains activities that will help you incorporate more happiness and laughter into your own life and into the lives of your family, friends and students.

In addition, Stephenson includes lists of resources such as books, apps, dvds and games as well as websites, like the one that made me laugh so hard. This book won’t make it onto my book shelf; it will stay on my desk so that I can refer to it often.

Friday, 9 August 2013

My Plan for Integrating Read Alouds

If you aren’t already sold on the importance of a daily Read Aloud in classrooms for all ages, just Google it and you’ll find solid evidence to support that reading aloud doesn’t just model fluent reading but also builds community, expands vocabulary, exposes students to texts they wouldn’t read on their own, leads to critical thinking, discussion, and more.

The Story of Ferdinand.jpg
Last year when covering a class and meeting a group of grade 8’s for the first time I showed them the picture book The Story of Ferdinand that I was going to read. There were groans, looks of “does she think we’re babies?” but I continued because I’ve experienced the phenomenon before. After the last page they burst into applause! They were smiling, it sparked their thinking, they discussed the book and how it related to their lives and the world, they asked questions, they argued their points using evidence from the text.  They thanked me and told me that they couldn’t remember the last time someone read aloud to them and that they forgot how great it was. I had used the lesson and the book before with another class so it was ready to go. With a good plan and a well-chosen picture book, novel, or nonfiction text…

“Oh, the places you’ll go!”
Dr. Seuss

I’m planning on taking it a step further this year. I’m borrowing the idea of having a Guest Reader in my class each week. I’m inviting parents and relatives, community members such as police officers and fire fighters, school board personnel and I’m really excited to have other classrooms and students to be our Guest Readers. I’ve already got the thumbs up thanks to @PeelMzYou to have her students, who are older, Skype into our class this year! They will explain why they chose the book, read a short text or passage, and then take a few questions. It won’t be a huge time commitment but I’m betting there will be a huge impact for our class. We’ll have the opportunity to hear other voices and texts, to find out what books or songs or poems that they like, and to meet other people who love to read.
The Guest Reader program will link to a Gratitude initiative. Every day we’re going to think of something that we are grateful for, appreciate, or something that inspires us. We’ll talk about it, Tweet about it using #peelsmile, it will probably turn up in our blogs and we’ll grow in our positive outlook. We will definitely be grateful for our Guest Readers and the time and texts that they share with us.

I’m also going to tie this into our Visual Arts and Math programs. We’ll be making Thank You cards to explore a variety of art techniques, Elements & Principals of Design, the creative process, geometry, patterning, calculating costs, etc.). I’ve been painting some cards to use as examples. The one I goofed up on and made upside down, the one with the smudge due to too much ink on the Thank You stamp and some other ‘mistakes’ along with the 1 or 2 ‘good’ ones will be used as a starting point for co-constructing success criteria and as examples to borrow ideas from. Students always enjoy critiquing my work and offering suggestions for improvement and then find ways to make their own work better, more creative, more interesting than mine ever is. When I’m open to constructive criticism first, it helps others to be more open to peer-assessment, self-assessment, making mistakes and trying again. Maybe we will make videos so students can share their card-making techniques with others. These cards will be signed by everyone in the class and then given to all of the people we are thankful for, including our Guest Readers. We’ll give them in person or we’ll send them in the mail to show our appreciation.

Daily Read Alouds, Guest Readers, Gratitude and Visual Arts integration don’t have to take up a lot of time, but the time they take will be worth it. These ideas will evolve; I’d love to hear suggestions.

ROYGBIV colour lesson sample
(Stamp not clear -Thark you? smudges/finger print, blue and indigo not distinct/large enough, not painted all the way to the edges on the right side, BUT a fun process mixing colours using only 3 primary colours and oddly, still kind of cute. Students can learn from my mistakes and notice that quality and care is a goal when making something and then they can make some of their own mistakes - all while learning about colour theory and colour mixing.)

Friday, 2 August 2013

Show Them The Value

Less than a year ago this was my phone

My middle school students laughed when they saw it. My family told me that I 'should get with the times'. I had this phone for a lot of years and it served my purposes well. I used it for emergencies and for texting the whereabouts and pick up times for my kids. It only ever rang a handful of times, usually in the middle of a staff meeting or other inappropriate time, and when it rang it either scared the wits out of me or I didn't hear it because it was in the bottom of my purse in another room.

Last fall, the phone rang while I was in my Visual Arts AQ (inappropriate timing) and it was my amazing husband ready to do the grocery shopping if I'd text him the list. Well ketchup NEVER comes up on T9 word!

This was when I saw the value of a QWERTY keyboard, a data plan and a new phone. It wasn't the cost, or the fear of learning the ins and outs of a new phone (if you ever see me roller blading you'll know I'm not afraid to try new things or to look unskilled), and it wasn't that I didn't want to 'get with the times' - I just didn't see value in it until then. I'm not the kind of person who has to have the latest thing just because it is the latest thing - I have to see the value in it (my 23 year old daughter still brings up the fact that she was the 'only' kid in grade 2 without a Tamagachi).

Technology was already integrated into my personal life and my teaching life - when it was valuable. My grade 7 class wrote better and thought more critically when they used kidblog for assignments, they learned to persist despite frustration when they made instructional videos for YouTube, and they were willing to carefully edit and revise their writing and perfect their illustrations for their dual-language digital picture books. They were engaged in their learning because they saw value in these assignments - not just because they were 'using' technology.

I see the value of my new phone, especially because it is easier for me to connect, to communicate, to collaborate, and to quench my curiosity whenever it is convenient for me. Another great tool that helps me do all these things is Twitter. Connecting with an amazing group of educators who teach me what it is that I don't know, urge me to question and to think in new ways, and show me the value of so many tools/ideas/strategies/resources etc.

 A question that often comes up on Twitter is 'how can we get more educators to connect, to collaborate, to integrate technology effectively, and get into the 21st century?' My answer is - show them the value in it.

Giving someone an iphone or ipad and telling them they should get on Twitter isn't going to do it - unless they do it to impress you because you are the boss. But we don't want them just to 'do it' we want them to like it, to get excited about it, to learn and share about it.

 I can blog, Tweet, or send emails to share my excitement about how my phone, Twitter, or ipad has value - but I think it is important to remember that people who aren't already virtually 'connected' value in-person connections.

 Sharing and showing in-person will help us meet them where they are at that moment.

Recently, a teacher who has taught me so much about teaching was showing me pictures of her beautiful garden on her new phone. She mentioned that while she loved the pictures she was upset that she had no way to show them to her sister who lives in another province. The smile on her face, the gleam in her eye and her "that is so cool, I didn't know I could do that!" when she learned how to email a photo on her phone was wonderful. This in-person connection diminished her fears and opened her up to possibilities.

If we want more educators to get connected and to integrate technology we have to meet them where they are and show them the value in change. Educators have to know how to use technology before they'll ever be able to integrate it into their lessons. And just like middle school students, educators have to see the value in something before they will open up to learning and trying new things.

Invite people into your classroom and visit theirs. Share your latest valuable find in the staffroom. Be open to learning about the needs and fears of others and help them. Eventually these in-person connections might lead them to open up and see the value in virtual connections, in collaborating and creating a PLN, and in becoming aware that we don't know what we don't know and that is a wonderful thing because it means we get to learn something new.