20/20 Reflections on TEDxWestVancouverEd

I couldn’t find time to write this before the summer and, although the event happened over two months ago, I can’t shake the desire to share a few things from that day. Certain things have stayed with me so clearly. I’m curious to explore blogging from this long-term memory perspective as there seems to be an unusual tension between the strong urge to write about a fantastic experience and the perception that, because that learning experience occurred so long ago, that it’s too late to write about it. Think of the relevance to teaching and learning in that statement. Guess I have another blog post to add to the list…

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I have to congratulate the organizers of TEDxWestVancouverED for creating a wonderful day of professional development. While it was my first TED experience of any kind, other than watching the videos online, of course, I can appreciate the organization that goes into an event like that and I think they did a great job. I was most impressed at how the topics, ideas and questions raised during each speaker’s talk throughout the day seemed to scaffold into each other as the day progressed. It proved to be a masterful organization of sessions that led to a powerful but seamless learning experience.

Secondly, I LOVED hearing the speakers. I have wanted to hear Dean Shareski in person for years! He did not disappoint. My visual notes on his talk are here. AND I was lucky enough to get to meet him! Not surprising that one of my most lasting memories from that day was being a part of one of his famous jumping photos with all the amazing (and fun!) people I met from #SD36learns. No doubt in my mind that fun = lasting memories. Who wouldn’t want to add that equation into a learning environment?

Saying that all the speakers were wonderful is an understatement. Chris Kennedy, also a speaker that day, lists links to many of the speakers in his own TEDxWestVanED post if you’d like to see for yourself.

Another person I’ve wanted to meet for years was Shelley Wright. I think there are many parallels between our experiences as educators and I admire, and am inspired by, her passion, her bravery and her steadfast belief and trust in her students.

Aside from the speakers and all that I learned from them, the other big takeaway for me was meeting and talking with people in general. The opportunity to say hello to the speakers was made possible due to the fact that it was a smaller event.

I have to say, meeting all the enthusiastic people from #sd36learns was another highlight of my day. Not only did I do my practicum in Surrey, but I was also attached to a Surrey cohort for my graduate diploma coursework that led to everything I do online and with technology. Because of those reasons, I feel a certain attachment to the district and I’m thrilled to see the progress the district is making. No doubt this is due to the amazing educators working there and it was a pleasure to finally meet so many pln members face to face that day! The bonus for me was hanging out with Iram Khan, a pln member who turned out to be an old friend of my first brother. Reminiscing and comparing stories made lunch extra special for me!

Finally, I have to mention my visual notes. I was extremely frustrated that I couldn’t connect to the wifi at all that day. Neither my phone, nor my laptop, would connect. Luckily, I had a notebook and my pencil case with me so I decided to take ‘visual notes’ instead of tweeting during the talks. I’ve defaulted to this visual form of note-taking, or doodling, all my life and its interesting to see it becoming a more popular way to record and share notes.

The ‘stop’ moment for me occurred after I posted photos of my doodles as a Flickr set that night. The impact and re-sharing of my visual doodles online seemed much, much higher than the impact and re-sharing of professional tweeting I’ve done at events in the past. There were almost 200 views of my Flickr set within 24 hours of posting the photos. Would a set of my tweets get that many intentional views? Probably not. What is it about visual notes that increases engagement? I have many thoughts and questions on this, all stemming from my interest in visual literacy and my MEd research.

So, not only is hindsight 20/20, it also appears to allow for added reflection and gives ideas the time needed to expand.

 

Photo of TEDx sign and screen by me

Curious brain, a set of inquiry questions and my first TEDx coming up

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post on the Elementary Connected Classrooms (ECC) blog about how a student prompted me to think. It was a full-on, stop in my tracks, instantly-forgot-everything-else-I-was-thinking-about moment and one of the coolest side effects of it was that the student who caused me to stop and think watched me process through the whole thing. He absolutely knew that he was the reason for making his teacher start a learning project. His ownership of the whole thing is pretty amazing.

As the questions are closely related to the upcoming TEDxWestVancouverED (more coming on this later in the post), I wanted to share the questions that I typed out as Evander watched my curious brain think the questions through. Here they are:

  1. How do other teachers ‘teach’ inquiry-based learning?
  2. Are there any good articles, books, blogs, etc. on inquiry that I can read and share with my ECC colleagues?
  3. Are there any good examples of students’ inquiry projects online that I can share with my colleagues and students?
  4. How can I capture the amazing learning my students have done through their inquiry projects to show other students in upcoming years?
  5. What are the strengths of the ECC inquiry project?
  6. What are the aspects of the ECC inquiry project that we can improve upon?
  7. What are my colleagues doing that is working really well?
  8. How can I make the ECC inquiry project even better?
  9. How can I better communicate to parents how this project works and what it’s all about?
  10. What other ways can I narrow this topic to learn more?
I think I’m going to start a google doc with this right now so that I can actually start working through it. I can see now that a number of the questions are very similar and I’m already wondering how deep I can go on this professional learning project.
A good sign of how excited I am to learn about this is that I’ve already started gathering resources. The ECC team is going to read Learning in Depth together, book club style, and have, I’m sure, some great conversations starting in the late summer on that book.
The most exciting part of all this for me, at the moment, is that this weekend I am lucky to be attending TEDxWestVancouverEd and several of the speakers and attendees have been working with inquiry in the classroom for a few years. I cannot wait to meet these wonderful people that, up until this point, have been virtual colleagues, people I learn from online but have not yet been able to talk with face to face. I’m also very interested to finally see, and hopefully meet, Dean Shareski. I’ve been reading his blog and enjoying his tweets for years and I can’t wait to see him start off the day on Saturday.

 

Inquiring about Inquiry-Based Learning to Straighten out the Path

This post is years overdue. Literally. I think it’s like a dam ready to burst in my head and I’m guessing it will be a learning experience to even just write it out. Writing about it will be therapeutic, at the very least, and, at the other extreme, this post could quite possibly cause a snowball effect – I’m almost hoping for that to be honest. Interesting, too, that I’m finally deciding to post it now, especially if you read my last post or have followed my thoughts in various online spaces over the years.

For three years, the Elementary Connected Classrooms (ECC) project has run a year long, collaborative inquiry project. At my first planning meeting, as a brand new, member of the ECC, I was handed the article, ‘Learning in Depth: Students as Experts’ written by Kieran Egan. This article was the first piece I’d ever read on Egan’s take on inquiry-based learning. While I had constantly enjoyed project-based learning before reading that article, and I had read An Imaginative Approach to Teaching, another of Egan’s popular works, my practice since reading that article has not been the same.

The ECC team read through and discussed how we could integrate the whole idea of an inquiry project into our collaborative learning space. We decided to devote each Friday’s video conferencing lesson to the inquiry project. We would take turns planning lessons and being the lead teacher, which meant that every three weeks each of us would be responsible to teach the next lesson in the unit. Student choice was built in as a crucial ingredient and we quickly realized the the context of the inquiry project would also be a great way to teach students a variety of other skills such as how to effectively search for information online and how to evaluate websites. We also recognized we could merge curricular content from Social Studies, English Language Arts, Science and more to create a truly cross-curricular learning opportunity full of multiple ways for students to connect ideas and experience deep learning.

One area that still proves to be a challenge is explaining how this all works to parents. They want to know how it’s marked (it isn’t – weekly assignments based on the task at hand, e.g. can you find a primary and secondary source of information and explain the differences between the two?, are marked, but the overall project is not), what subject this fits into (a whole bunch depending on the topic the student chooses and the way in which they decide to learn about their topic) and where this ‘curriculum’ comes from (the provincial Integrated Resource Packages and each individual student). It’s great to have all the questions and communication lines opening between home and school and it sure keeps me on my toes as far as being able to articulate exactly what we are doing, how it all comes together as the year goes along and why we are doing it.

A quick and accessible document created to help parents understand what the inquiry project is all about can be found here. It needs to be updated as the project has evolved each year based on the students but that document has proven to be an invaluable starting point for planning purposes as well as communicating with others. Thanks to my colleague, Brooke Haller, for giving me permission to share that as she’s the one who originally wrote it up.

One tricky aspect to all this is that the inquiry project never looks the same two years in a row; it doesn’t even look the same from student to student within one lesson, not to mention from week to week and class to class. Inquiry is a path of learning that leads into the unknown every, single time. It can be really challenging to lead thirty students down thirty completely separate learning paths, and it’s about as non-traditional as any method I’ve explored as a teacher, but it is amazing when the learning starts to deepen and kids start getting super excited about what they’re learning. It’s the palpable positivity of the learning process during inquiry working time and the pride and ownership that students show once they get rolling along that makes it a tangible, worthwhile project to embark upon.

There’s much more writing to come on this. I needed to start somewhere, but I’m thinking I need to stop somewhere too, for now, at least. If you have any experience teaching from an inquiry-based point of view, I’d love to hear from you. Or, send this along to anyone you think may have some thoughts to contribute. I’m officially embarking on my inquiry about inquiry-based learning, something I unofficially started three years ago when I read that first article. The fact that it’s taken me three years to get to this point and actually write about it attests to the messiness of my own learning process here. I’m hoping that the writing will straighten out my path, just a little bit.

Cross posted on The Elementary Connected Classrooms Blog here.

Imagery – Night Falls 3 by thebmag and Nature Trail #4 by Chalkie_CC, both accessed on April 15, 2013 from Flickr.com and used with Creative Commons permissions.

The Calm After the Storm, or Complete Life Slowdown

I usually take a long time between posts. I am a mother of two extremely active boys (active as in their energy levels – not active as in over-enrolled in too many activities – good to distinguish between those two), I’m a teacher who’s never figured out how to do the job efficiently and I always seem to have some added bits to my job that I like to include as a growing professional but that do take up some of my time. Aside from that I have my private life, something I rarely write about on here, which needs time as well for running, reading, napping, among other things. I have a full life and I’m grateful for it, but I’ve had to shift gears recently and before I get back to blogging solely about work, I need to transition my mindset with this post. So, while I usually have lots going on that gets in the way of blogging, this past three months or so of quiet in this space reflects the overall quiet in my life for a  very different reason.

The simple reason for the downshift is that I’m sick. I’ve been very sick since December, but was getting sick from last August on. It’s a recurrence of a simple but all-encompassing condition that has led to a huge simplification in my life. Am I taking medication? Yes. Is it working? Sort of. Will I get better? Yes. That last question and answer are the only two that really matter and once I figured that out I was able to relax and be thankful that it is the type of illness that can be treated either through medication, a procedure or surgery. Until I’m better, I just need to relax and chill out and let a bunch of things go. Not easy for a person like me. I don’t do “sit and relax and do nothing” very well.

I was a bit startled, in the midst of being sick and still at the mopey, panicky stage about not being able to function at my usual 110%, to read a couple of posts by others who were going through rough times too. And not just any others, but people I look up to in the education world. First, after being forced to cancel my registration at a conference I’d been looking forward to attending, I read George Couros’ post I’m Tired. George wrote that post while at that same conference that I was supposed to be at.

When I get tired, or rundown, or sick like I am now, I always think ‘why can’t I be like ____? They can go, go, go, go, go and accomplish all sorts of things and never get tired or sick. Why can’t I do that?’ and George is one of those people that I watch and think that about. His post made me realize that maybe even those super-productive and mega-successful people out there that I watch and try to learn from aren’t quite as perfectly indestructible as I think they are.

Soon after reading that post, I saw a tweet about Shelley Wright’s post I struggle: lessons I’ve learned from being an inquiry teacher. Shelley is another one of those productive, ‘how does she do all that’ people that I watch and learn from. To read about her struggles, in connection to George’s post, stopped me and made me think. Not only do those super-achievers crash and burn once in awhile, they also experience the same (in Shelley’s posts on inquiry – exactly the same) challenges that I try to ignore and work through. And when I ignore and plow headlong with positive determination through day after day of tough, hard emotional and physical work, it takes it’s toll. I’m not indestructible, nobody is, and while I realize that at some level, it’s not getting through that stubborn, ambitious, must-keep-going, thick head of mine, hence illness that will last for at least 3-9 more months.

Two connected posts, at a time when I needed to realize that it was time to stop and just ‘be’ for awhile and let my body and mind have some time to heal, were enough. I found a way and stepped back at work. I stepped way back at home. At first I thought I just needed physical rest, but after two months of that not working I discovered that it was holistic – mind and body. Not only a quiet, rested body, but a calm, relaxed mind – that final piece in place was the magical ingredient.

Letting go in total has finally allowed my system to start recovering. I’m sleeping 12-14 hours a day. I’m still taking the medication. I still have to pace both my body and my mind. But I do, after months of wondering what I was going to do with my ailing body and scattered mind, feel some hope. I’ve found, at last, a sense of calm that things are going to be okay.

I may have little to no cognitive clarity or anything resembling mental acuity but those who know and care about me are patient and seem to be enjoying, for the most part, my scatter-brained, laid-back, who-cares, attitude towards life these days. Thank goodness I’ve been teaching for 17 years and still love it, as that experience and love for what I do makes it possible for me to continue to work, something, up until last week, that I wasn’t sure I’d be doing after Spring Break. And thank goodness for a supportive, if small, network of family and friends who love me and are helping to pick up all the slack I’m just happily leaving behind me.

So with that, I’m hoping that now I can move along and start getting things back to normal, professionally and personally. I’m thinking this is now the calm after the storm. Hopefully it doesn’t take me another three months to post, but if it does, I would wish that it’s because my life is back to normal and not because of a health-enforced, complete life slowdown.

Imagery: Morups Tange by sramses177 and storm a brewin’ by Steve took it, both accessed March 22, 2013 from Flickr.com

Reflections on New Leadership Roles

Way back in September, I posted about my new leadership roles this year. A couple of weeks ago, Aviva Dunsiger posted this comment about my last post:

I found this to be a really interesting post! I love what you’re doing now in terms of leadership, and it’s definitely clear that you have a lot to share. I’m curious though: now that you’ve begun these leadership roles, what do you think of them? What other leadership opportunities do you want to explore? I’d love to hear more.

Aviva

Life, as usual, took precedence over my free time to do things like blog, but I did promise Aviva that I’d think on her questions and post a reply! So Aviva, here goes…

Role #1: Lead Teacher of the Elementary Connected Classrooms Project

I think of this role as my first taste of administration. I’m in charge of the team (our Elementary Connected Classrooms (ECC) blog with tons of info here!), in charge of the budget, responsible for running our various meetings, and I’m the one reaching out to other teachers for the expansion of the project into communities in our school district. I’ve also been responsible for submitting proposals to present at conferences. I lead the ECC team and feel more responsible for the overall success of this project since becoming the lead. There is a great deal of paperwork and added responsibilities that I had never dreamed of before entering into the role. I am very thankful that Brooke, the former lead and still a close colleague of mine, has been a mentor to me as I continue to learn this role.

One aspect of the role that has been great professional development, a real eye-opener, as well as just plain enjoyable, is the seat on the District Student Achievement Team (DSAT). This group, led by the superintendent Teresa Downs, is made up of the eleven project leaders in the district. All are full time principals or part-time/full-time upper admin in the district; I am the only full time teacher. We meet once a month, participate in a book club (we’re reading Karen Hume’s Tuned Out – a book right up my alley!) and participate in a certain level of decision making concerning student achievement. It’s a day I look forward to and the experience offers a nice insight into many aspects of the profession that I wouldn’t otherwise be privy to. I feel fortunate to be included as a member of this group and do what I can to learn from it and contribute as well.

Role #2: Mentoring a Teacher Candidate

This role has been a real mind-shift for me. I’ve had to let somebody else teach in my classroom!!! That is a tough thing to do, and strange, and difficult to get used to for me as I LOVE to teach my students. That said, my teacher candidate is wonderful and what I miss out on teaching is made up for in a new type of learning. I’m forced to articulate clearly the most essential elements when answering her question or making an observation. How do you simplify 17+ years of experience into a few sentences or a discussion or written observations? It’s challenging me to be concise and be aware of my pedagogy in almost abstract terms ( I’m thinking abstract as in the visual arts in which an idea or image is reduced to it’s most simple/basic form).

Aside from the personal shifts in mindset, I’m also gaining insight from a new educator’s fresh perspective, I’m watching new lessons unfold before my eyes as she teaches and I’m enjoying the chance to work one on one with students while she takes the lead. Being able to work with small groups and spend time with individual students is a luxury with a large, complex group such as the one I have this year and I’m looking forward to that for the next three months. Finally, being around a new almost-teacher like Tracy is a motivating and inspiring experience. She loves working with kids, she is full of fresh enthusiasm and she and I share many similar perspectives on how to work with children in a school each day.

One last, interesting note is that I’m a local who grew up and graduated in this small town, only to return to teach and now mentor another local (Tracy) who also grew up and graduated in this small town, only to return to be a student teacher here. I think that’s a pretty unique situation to be involved in!

New roles to explore

As far as new roles, I’m not sure on that yet. I’ve always thought that after my children grew up, graduated from high school and left home that I would want to go into administration. These new leadership roles have given me more insight into that possibility. I’ve also found that I don’t like being out of my classroom, although I do enjoy the DSAT meeting days and the opportunity to collaborate with others. It’s a tension I’m guessing that many administrators have dealt with and I know for certain now that I want to teach for a long time to come still.

I’m sure that if I wanted to move into administration that that route would be open for me, if not now, then at some time in the near future with a bit of ambition on my part, but I’m even more sure that, at this point, I want to teach and walk into that room and work with those amazing, brilliant, energetic, bursting-with-potential kids each day. I’m teaching my dream job and happy to be here for awhile. The leadership roles are pushing my thinking, making me, I think, a better educator to those kids and for that, I am extremely grateful and thankful.

Well Aviva, I hope that answers your questions. Thanks for pushing me to think this through. I am also grateful and thankful to you 🙂

New, official leadership roles for the first time

For the first time in my teaching career, I am officially in a leadership position! I’ve always thought I’d work towards that eventually, but also have always said no, or shied away from working towards that type of position. I have had many reasons – children at home, Masters studies to complete, the desire to focus only on the act of teaching – and yet this year, for the first time, I find myself in not one, but two, leadership roles. I’m finding priorities are shifting and I have a few new things to focus on in relation to the number one priority of my students.

First Role: Connected Classrooms Coordinator/Lead Teacher

In June, Brooke, my amazing colleague and then lead Connected Classroom teacher made a parallel move within the district to become the lead Connected 8 teacher. That move resulted in a leadership shift in the Elementary Connected Classrooms with me becoming the new lead! I met with Brooke in mid-August to learn about my new role and was excited to see all that I would be responsible for. It’s a definite change in mindset and now I have a real reason to start learning about leadership. It’s something I’ve always thought I’d eventually turn towards at some point in my career and this is a great way to ease into it a little more gently. Interesting how personal relevancy can so profoundly change one’s perspective.

Second Role: Mentoring a Teacher Candidate (Student Teacher)

On the first day of school this year, for the first time in 16 years of teaching, I’ll have a student teacher (or, as she is called through her university, a teacher candidate). Although she doesn’t actually start her practicum until Tuesday, she and I have been working together all summer via texting, email, twitter, several sessions at the school and one evening tea in my kitchen. There is so much more to being a teacher than showing up at school. To me, and to many, it is a lifestyle, and that, I think, is one thing that I want to share with her. It’s a lifestyle that I love (most of the time!) and I want her to understand so much more than the curricular learning outcomes and strategies to use for teaching place value.

One bonus for me is that I feel motivated and excited already. I’m already benefitting from the opportunity to be a teacher mentor. She keeps thanking me for taking the time to involve her and communicate with her, but I keep thinking that I need to thank her for the injection of added interest and excitement she’s bringing to my practice. I think she is going to be a great teacher, and I’m excited to help her along and watch her take these last final steps into the profession.

Where do I start?

Leadership is one of those words that’s everywhere. I always paid attention, but always felt that it didn’t really apply to me. We all, however, can be leaders and I understand how I fit inside that definition, but personally it felt as if the real leaders were the administrators, upper district administrators and others in that type of position. Suddenly, I fit under my own umbrella and a whole new tangent of research, learning, reading, people and possibilities are meaningful. There is a lot that I want to learn, but with time becoming scarce as school goes back in next week, I need to choose my first few steps carefully.

So, books to read, blogs to find, tweeps to follow and a long talk with my dad (a high school administrator for 30 years and the president of a large teachers association for a few years too) to help me get going! What do you think? Any ideas on where I should start?

 

Imagery by Plug Us In and used with permission from Flickr.

Questions

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I’m supposed to be preparing to travel, but my head is spinning with thoughts and ideas. Where did the school year go? How am I going to fit in all the things I had planned with the time that’s left? Have I missed any important lessons, lessons not in the curriculum that my students needed, need, to know? I guess the thoughts and ideas are really questions.

At one point in the year, my admin started a meeting by asking the staff to describe their mindset in one word. My word was ‘questioning’. Since the masters coursework last year, that’s my mindset. It’s kind of driving me a bit crazy because I constantly question, think, think from a different direction, add another layer to my thinking or the issue at hand, etc., etc., etc. I do this to all conversations and thoughts. As I do that, I continue to learn how the coursework last year impacted me on a professional and personal level.

I still can’t quite wrap my head around the way the that year has changed me. I thought I’d go to SFU, learn some things about teaching, work that learning into my teaching practice and that would be that. But I’m still processing my learning, and as I process I’m discovering that this new mindset is more a mindset of change and questioning rather than a new static level of teaching practice.

So, instead of getting ready for my trip, my mind spins with questions. Instead of joining in on conversations in the staffroom, I sit and listen and wonder, sometimes, if I can actually say what’s on my mind. Instead of going to work each day and leaving happily tired, I leave with questions and wonderings that go unanswered. It’s unsettling, scattered and uncomfortable.

I guess I’m still getting used to the new outlook, mindset, and way of thinking. I wonder how long it will take to get used to…

Impact of the elementary connected classrooms on student engagement

This writing is cross-posted at the Elementary Connected Classrooms Project. It is focused on topics related to our work on the Growing Innovations grant project and my second contribution to our collaborative ECC blog. In less than one month, all the groups involved in Growing Innovations are attending an event showcasing each project. The following post is a response to one of the final questions we are to answer as the project timelines come to a close.
 

How has Connected Classrooms impacted student engagement in the classroom?

 

Starting with today

I looked through the doorway during a lesson this morning, peeking out to see what the group of students outside was doing. I could see what looked like a huddle of nine boys, all squeezing in around the one student holding the camera. They were watching the playback of a video clip they had just filmed. As I watched, the Aboriginal Student Support Worker supervising students working outside caught my eye. She smiled and said “they’re sure having fun!” As she spoke, the group suddenly broke apart, smiles on every face. They started running toward the classroom, having completed their video clip, ready to upload it to a netbook. Each student looked energized, happy, and motivated. They were fully engaged in their learning.

To put this in context, we started a multimedia unit last week in the Connected Classrooms. Today I introduced software for creating and editing videos. After a 15 minute lesson introducing the learning intentions, software and a quick review of royalty-free audio sites from the week before, I set students free to explore, create and direct their own learning.

That was when the learning started to get messy.

By messy, I mean that some students immediately went over to grab a camera and start filming video clips. One group of students began taking photos for a stop motion animation film. Several students opened up the royalty-free music sites from the week before and started downloading audio. Many students decided to try out the software for themselves and started creating a slideshow right away.

There were students working alone, lost in their own world of multimedia exploration, other students worked with a partner and learned from each other as they went along, and still other students working in small groups. Students were inside, outside, in the back room, out in the hallway and working in the room next door.

I could barely finish up with one student before another came up with an urgent question – How do I upload the video onto my flashdrive? How do I download this song? Where are all the cameras because we need one? – and on and on and on. The students wanted to know, needed to know, the answers so they could get on with creating their multimedia pieces. No hesitation to ask questions from this group.

And that was just the students in my classroom at Cayoosh. Watching the screen from time to time, I could see most of the students in Ashcroft and Lytton at their computers, but I wondered how many of my other students in those places were off with cameras and ideas during the connection. I also wondered if there were any questions from those students afar, but, thankfully, as both of my Connected Classroom colleagues are extremely tech-savvy when it comes to multimedia, I was confident that they were able to answer all questions at their sites.

It was a great class and the learning only stopped because lunch arrived. Students didn’t want to stop. They procrastinated when it came time to finish up – just let me download this one last song, I just need to get the photos off the camera, I want to show my friend the video I made – please Ms G? When I turned the microphone on to finish up the connected lesson with all three sites, I felt as if I was interrupting all the students. The Ashcroft and Lytton students seemed completely engaged as well. The chorus of “Goodbye!” was quieter than usual, and my guess is that students were so into the multimedia activities that our closing farewell faded in importance, a rare and unusual occurrence.

How has connected classrooms impacted student engagement?

Which brings me back to the original question: how has connected classrooms impacted student engagement in my classroom? Even reflecting solely on today’s lesson, there are so many ways to answer this question. There are the obvious answers based on the latest research focused on student engagement in schools. During the connected lesson, students were focused and on task.  They wanted to keep going and didn’t want to stop and disengage from their activities. They took the initiative to ask questions and move beyond the walls of the classroom to get the photos or video footage they needed. They were animated, energetic and brought that ‘edge of chaos’ feeling to the learning environment that seems productive and alive.

Multimedia

Going beyond a quick study of student cues, I would argue that learning in an environment in which multimedia and new technologies are simply embedded into everyday activities is highly engaging for students. Our students have a variety of multimedia equipment available to learn with and from. The students constantly engage with multimedia content; showing them how to create multimedia themselves is of interest to them. They want to learn it. It is relevant to their lives. And in the Connected Classrooms, with resources and people to help, students couldn’t wait to get started on multimedia creations all their own.

Digital teachers

I think that our role as ‘digital teachers’, an idea I developed during my Masters coursework, is also one aspect of the connected classrooms that impacts student engagement overall, and certainly within multimedia unit lessons like the one today. As connected classroom teachers, we create at least one multimedia project per month. The monthly news is created and shared from each site at the end of the month. While students help with this process by recording special events in photographs and video each month, the task of creating and editing the video falls to the teachers. We take this role seriously, showing students responsible, appropriate and safe ways to create and share content online.

Teacher engagement

Another way in which Connected Classrooms impacts student engagement is through teacher engagement. All three of us have choice as to what we teach. I still remember the shock I felt when my administrator asked me what I wanted to teach on my days as the lead teacher. Not surprisingly, we each teach an area that is highly interesting to us. Brooke’s passion for environmental stewardship comes through loud and clear during her Tuesday lessons on current events. Aislinn’s love of children’s literature is obvious not only in her Reading Power lesson activities, but also in her always new and interesting book choices. I love photography and multimedia and I know that my excitement passes along to the students during my Thursday lessons. Our authentic engagement with the topics we teach is obvious; the students get to learn from not one, but three people excited to share about a topic both personally and professionally important to them.

To finish

Student engagement is a tricky topic and the Connected Classroom is an extremely rich and complex learning environment so I’m quite certain I have not in any way adequately answered the Growing Innovation question, but hopefully my thoughts prompted by one lesson have at least made sense and perhaps inspired some new thinking along the way.

Back to an impossible task

I haven’t sat down to write about the ECC since last summer. At that time, I was at the end of my thesis, obsessed with trying to sort and articulate my learning from an indescribably amazing MEd year. One of the struggles I experienced at the time was trying to simplify the Connected Classrooms. At the time I remember thinking that the more I learned about the ECC, the larger it became in my mind and that no amount of thinking or learning or discussing or writing could ever justify, simplify or capture all that the ECC really is because it is such a rich, complicated, wonderful learning and teaching environment.

I’m supposed to be writing a post for the ECC blog, yet, as I sit, all topics I had brainstormed that stare at me from my pages of notes seem to swell, and the familiar outward swirling of this topic seems to appear in my mind. I feel very much still within the final processing stages of learning from my Masters year and I realize that I’ll have to reconcile within my mind to isolate one little snippet to write about today. Now, to grab that one little piece before it gets picked up in the gigantic vortex of thought…

The reason for all of this is the Growing Innovations Grant. Last year, Brooke, an ECC colleague, and Brenna, a Connected 8 teacher, started the grant application process and, long story short, our application was successful and we received the grant. With that came responsibilities, including the creation of, and regular contributions to, an ECC blog. At our most recent ECC collaboration day, we decided that one blog post per month until the spring would be a good way to move forward and make progress towards our project goals listed in the grant application.

Now, while I was excited that we’d be collaboratively blogging about the ECC, I was even more excited when I learned that we could use some of our grant money for release time to actually do the thinking, writing and posting. I love to write, and find writing for professional purposes very valuable, but if you read my blog, you’ll know that, lately anyway, I rarely post. Priorities being what they are, I just don’t have the time to spend writing at my computer a few times a week. Give me a choice between playing Battleship with my child or writing a blog post in that last 30 minutes of free time after dinner is done, dishes are washed and the laundry is on, etc., etc., I’ll choose Battleship every time.

Fortunately, the luxury of time has been afforded to me in small parcels over the next few months. I’m excited to write. But, at the same time, it’s interesting that while I am supposed to be thinking about writing on the ECC, instead I end up on a tangent about the situation of writing itself.

Writing about the ECC again will be both challenging and extremely valuable. It’s a great opportunity to continue the learning that I started in my MEd year of research and, without the extra push of the ECC blog and release time, I probably wouldn’t have the time to do it, not to mention the challenges I still experience trying to wrestle one manageable piece to tame into being my topic.

Enough thinking, I’d best get started…

Thinking back on the first month, looking forward to challenges ahead

I’m thinking back today, in order to better think ahead.

The first month of school is already done. It went by in a blur. One of the things I love about teaching is that the days never drag. The classroom is never boring to me. I love the energy, the fast pace, and being in the presence of children and learning every day. That fast pace was certainly evident last month! The year ahead became more clear as well.

I have a challenging assignment this year. I thought last year was tough with a new job, the Connected Classrooms to learn about and my Masters degree to finish. One thing I quickly realized during the first month of school was how challenging this year’s group really is. If I want to teach them all, make sure they each get the individual attention they deserve so that no one falls through the cracks, if I really want to teach them, I’ve got my work cut out for me. I almost feel like last year was a warm up, and I did a good job, so this year the universe has decided to throw a new challenge at me and see how I do with this one.

 

To be productive, here are the successes of last month and a few things I need to be mindful of as the year progresses.

Positives:

  1. Overall, an active group! Another 2:1 ratio for boys to girls, and they are very active, fit, energetic, athletic kids in general. The top three students in the Terry Fox Run last week were all from my class. Needless to say, there can be no PE or DPA times missed! I think students perform better with an injection of physical activity into the school day. I know it takes time, but it’s time well spent.
  2. Diversity is going to be our overarching theme this year. Without going into details, I have several students who live life with extra challenges each day. I want to somehow turn the diversity of our classroom community into our strength. I plan on highlighting everyone’s strengths and talking about ways to compensate and live with the struggles. I want to emphasize the humanity in each person in the room. I hope to build tolerance, acceptance, understanding and strength. No small feat, but I see it in my mind and feel strongly that it’s the right thing to do.
  3. I have a lot of support. My admin is aware of the challenges this group brings, so my class is a priority for extra support this year. I’ve attended two meetings focused on how best to meet student needs and ensure their success with this class composition. Meetings with parents are upcoming. I have at least one other adult in my room throughout the day, and, during numeracy and literacy blocks, I have two extra people in to help out. I am very grateful for this support and I plan to work with parents and families as much as possible this year.
  4. I’m loving (and the students are too!) the new methods I’m using for teaching math. Thank you Dan Meyer. I watched the TEDx talk of his entitled ‘Math Curriculum Makeover‘ and it crystallized all the concerns I had from teaching math last year. If you haven’t watched it, and you teach math, take the twelve minutes. Absolutely worth it!
  5. I was able to achieve a nice balance in my life during the transition from summer break into the school year start up. I’m going to need energy for the students, but also for my own children at home, and I am aware of the fact that I’m still recuperating from the Masters coursework last year. I’ve been able to establish a nice balance between looking after myself, being a (I hope) good parent, and working hard to be a good teacher.

Things to be mindful of as the year goes along:

  1. Stay positive! I found myself sliding into a state of worry last month. Yes, it’s a challenging group. But I can handle it. I haven’t been able to figure out exactly why I’m sliding into a ‘down’ mindset, but I think part of it is that I miss the enthusiastic, intense infusion of positive energy that I experienced working with my MEd cohort every other weekend last year. I miss those people and the way that they inspired me each week. I get to see them all this Friday (so excited!) and I’m going to have to find a way to keep in touch from afar. Thank goodness for Twitter and email!
  2. Connected to this purposeful striving to maintain a positive mindset is my own professional development. I need to use pro-d in a positive way this year. I have several conferences that I’m looking forward to, partly because of the great learning I expect to experience, but also because of the passionate educators I know I will meet. I need to look for those opportunities to engage with others in an upbeat, uplifting way. Thank goodness for social media and my PLN!
  3. I need to figure out a good system for assessment. I’m thinking of splitting the class into groups and observing/paying extra attention to/talking with/taking notes on one group each day. I usually don’t do my assessments in such a structured way, but with this group, I think I may need to.
  4. I’m still settling and I need time to think. I’ve never liked quiet. I grew up in a noisy household and I used to be the type of person who would turn on the radio and the tv if I was home alone. Not any more. Now, I seek quiet and time to think. I’m guessing that I need this time to let my thoughts continue to settle from all the learning of the last year. It’s as if I need processing time. I’ve only just figured this out in the last week, so now that I now, I’ll be seeking quiet spaces for contemplation and time to let my mind wander, process and settle.
I could keep going, but that seems manageable for now and I’m hoping to revisit this at the end of next month. It’s all part of the purposeful mindset that I seem to have now that the Masters degree is done. It still feels a little unsettling, but the new awareness is worth being pushed beyond my comfort zone. And I’m sure, eventually, at some point, I’ll figure it out. With a little help from my friends, colleagues, students, family, keyboard and pen, no doubt!
Imagery Wither on the Vine by dianecordell from Flickr.com and used under creative commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)