Saturday, January 29, 2011

Don't be Pointless

I invited a good friend into my classroom the other day. My father-in-law has always told me to surround myself with people that could do my job or better. Wendy James could definitely do my job and do it well. It is such a pleasure to have the opportunity to have so much collaboration in the Saskatoon Public School Division.

I had asked her out to help me with raising the bar for my kids writing. In all of their writing, we are aiming at developing:

  • higher order thinking
  • creativity
  • choice
  • writing mechanics

In our blogging we modify our writing checklist (I don't want to grade their blogs) every two months. I have included out February checklist below.

□ don’t be pointless
□ best effort
□ evidence of pre-planning- web, outline
□ higher order “verbs
□ evidence of reading/jot notes- use word for first copy
□ 200 words minimum
□ visual
□ topic and concluding sentence

Wendy engaged them in activities which really stretched them to think about how to bring their thinking and writing alive. She really helped me in my journey to provide engaging and relevant thinking and writing activities.

You will notice that on our checklist the first item is "don't be pointless". I love this idea and will use it as a framework for all of their work (and mine) in class. Let me try to explain. We are going on a "how people worship tour" this month. We are visiting a Hindu Temple, a Mosque and a Synagogue. Among other things, we are creating a venn diagram (gliffy) comparing the three worldviews and doing a writing assignment about them. Bernajean Porter would be rolling her eyes at me with the word about.

I am quite proud of the fact that I asked the kids if this assignment was higher order or lower order, they knew it was low. I asked them if it was deep learning or superficial, they knew it was superficial. Thinking or consuming, they knew it was consuming. Fine. Wendy helped me to get further.

The writing assignment was to use google squared to create a comparison chart of the three religions. The students had to find out five things about each and organize this into three paragraphs. We discussed in class that this was not deep thinking and it was primarily research. The point for me was that I wanted them to know somethings about each prior to the trip. We knew this wasn't a great thinking activity although the venn diagram was better.

The writing had a point for me as a teacher. What Wendy's activity addressed was that if the kids just write about the founder, the country of origin and the main idea, the activity from their perspective is POINTLESS! Their writing is pointless if they have not been asked to have a point!

So we asked them to take an interesting fact and take a stand on it. An example would be that one of the main ideas of Judaism is the coming of the Messiah. Another is that Hinduism is one of the the oldest religions and that it is one of the most inclusive ones. It would not be hard for many students to explore their thoughts on these, to make a point, to choose an argumentative style, to back up their arguments with facts and criteria.

In this way, student writing will reflect their thinking, not just about something. How often can we expect students to write in an engaged and meaningful way if what we ask them to do is pointless?!

Speeding with Dan Meyer

Dan Meyer has posted an "old" math video (new to me) that I find irresistable. Try it out on your kids. Remember, the point is to get them to ask and frame the question(s), the method of measurement and the solution. As Conrad Wolfram has said, "Let them struggle and give them some technique".

iPad - No Timer from Dan Meyer on Vimeo.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Digital Storytelling planning guide

I just spent a while planning a digital story telling/immigration/critical thinking unit. I love to do this kind of stuff! My class has been producing digital products for a few years now. I have been trying to achieve the perfect, yet elusive critical thinking product/project for about the same time. I have put my planning template on a wiki for the world to see ( I like to share!). It is included below, check it out and see what you think. Comments are welcome.

It is important for you to know that our school board has been working with Bernajean Porter on higher order thinking (HEAT) and digital story telling. Many of the links are to her digitales page. She has been an inspiration for my work in or class.

1. Introduce topic: “immigration”
Mosques in Alta.
Pier 21

Generate 10 questions

2. Show example digital story telling
View examples

3. Brainstorm components of good digital story telling
Prioritized list
(written list)
Elements of a good digital story

10 components

4. Choose assessment rubric for final product, including written and digital
Cogenerate rubric

5. Brainstorm questions on topic

20 questions minimum (written)

6. Narrow questions to critical question(s)
“Who should we let immigrate to Canada?”
(modern vs. historical)
List 3 critical questions

Critical questions (written)
· Divergent
· Authentic
· Relevant
· Higher order verbs link

7. Web of what we need to know

5 primary questions min.

8. Outline of written product
· Introduction
· Body
· Answering critical question
Critical Question
· Introd.
· 5 paragr.
· Answer CC

Minimum 7 paragraph outline

9. Jot notes, categorized

Jots, own words, categorized, 5-10 bits/category

10. References
List ref.

Five sources

11. First draft
Writing using outline

7 paragraphs, see writing rubric link

12. Editing
Edit 1st draft with classmate/teach.

Evidence of editing, significant improvement

13. Final draft
Time permitting

14. Story board

10 pages

15. Collect media
· Video
· Pictures
· Music
See copyright friendly links
· Images
· Music

16. Digital product
· Photostory
· Onetruemedia
· Other

See co-generated assessment rubric link

Gary Stager: TED talk Tuesdays

Gary Stager has posted 5 favorite TED talk videos to his blog in response to Will Richardson's twitter request for his families TED talk Tuesdays. They are worth checking out. I'm going to try the same thing with our three boys. I think I'll start with these! Thanks Gary and Will.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Winter Camp for 25 years

I am going to treat myself to a pat on the back for 20 years at Brightwater Science and Environmental Center, the first week of January, every year! The Saskatoon Board of Education has provided the camp for our use in cooperation with the Salvation Army for 20 years. The SPSD provides facilitators over the years (Louise Jones, Marcia Klein then Teri Clarke) and many experts in their fields to teach kids. We go there for 3 days every year and brave the cold and snow! Two years out of 20 there has not been snow in January, most years it is about -15-20 degrees.

I love the opportunities camps present to kids. Our school is all about building (learning) relationships between parents, guardians, staff and students. A better opportunity cannot be had for building trusting and deep relationships. Learning about science and the environment happens easily and learning beyond the classroom extends back into the classroom.

Another integral component of Brightwater Science and Environmental Center is it's spiritual component. The camp itself is a Salvation Army camp and hosts many groups for which prayer is an important part. We are blessed to have had a First Nations knowledge keeper or an elder to come and speak to us at nearly all of our camps. I really feel this is the foundation of the camp. It is not often enough that we realize and celebrate that we are spiritual people and that we are connected to the land.

Eating together for three days is one of the best things for me. The great conversations we have with kids and parents benefit our school, our volunteers, our teachers, our community and our young people. This year we had the chef of the Bessborough Hotel as our main cook!

19 years ago I took one Miss Kelly Gibson to camp as part of a grade 6 group. We slept in quinzees and had the usual fun and learning. I see her from time to time. She has the same smile and enthusiasm that she had as a 12 year old. She asked me if I had gone to camp. I told her about it and asked about her upcoming winter camp. From one perspective, I contributed in some small way to her being such a great teacher and giving her kids great camping experiences. I am proud of what I provide for my kids and parents with 20+ years of camping.

Largely, the gift has always been Kelly's to give. I love camping with kids. All Kelly has to do is give me the gift of her enthusiasm, her smile and her heart for the outdoors and learning and I will camp with kids forever. Thanks Kelly Gibson and many more for your great gifts to me over the years.

Fans of November Learning

For those of you who like to follow November learning (who wouldn't?), there is an excellent resource for you. Watch the video below to see how to do it.

Search November Learning Resources Using Diigo from November Learning on Vimeo.

I found great resources including a talk by Michael Wesch from the BLC10 (Building Learning Communities). Michael Wesch is our keynote for the IT Summit 2011 in Saskatoon May 9 and 10th at the Radisson Hotel. I have included his keynote from the BLC10.

BLC10 Keynote - Wesch from November Learning on Vimeo.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

"Anything Worth Doing is Worth Doing Badly"

You might wonder if the title of this post is a sign that I am going to write about the importance of failure in learning and innovation. I guess it is in a way. I was inspired by Shelley Wright's most recent post called "Blogging is the New Persuasive Essay". She is obviously an established teacher of writing and she talks about how her kids don't write very effective persuasive essays. She goes on to say how blogging is possibly a much easier and effective way for young writers to write persuasively. Blogging is simple, not bound by the conventions of traditional essay writing and has the possibility of reaching a far greater audience.

The reason I am so encouraged by this is that my class is blogging and I am at times discouraged by their progress. Our aim is to be persuasive and to use higher order thinking in our blogging. At times I am discouraged by the quality, frequency and progress of some of the students. Often I am happy and proud of what we have accomplished and at others I am not.

Shelly talks about how long it takes her kids to write well persuasively, how much they need to learn. I know I need to be patient with this work and that if I stick with it, they will evolve as effective and interesting bloggers/writers.

When I look at student posts and essays from now on I will need to remember her quote from her blog, "anything worth doing is worth doing badly"! Thanks Shelley for the words of encouragement!

Will Richardson's Hiatus

Will Richardson is back from his Christmas hiatus. I have missed his posts. Welcome back Will. His latest offering is called "The Choices We Make". I love this kind of thing coming from one of my on-line mentors. Please read his short post for his feelings on the time he/we spend on social networking for educational and other reasons.

He gives good advice, or a good warning that we need balance in our lives. He refers to spending hours each day checking twitter. (he mentions using the program proxy to list only the tweets including a link) On-line collaboration is great for educational reasons and it fills a social need as well. More importantly, all of us need to be "in the room" for our families and our students and colleagues. Stephen Valentine's post entitled "9 Reasons to Stop Reading This Post" was also about the need to save emotional capital for the really important things about being an educator.

If on-line collaboration uses up our emotional capital, we need to reassess it's importance in our lives. For the time being my on-line PLN works for me, I will need to keep it in check.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Best Present Ever

Two of my colleagues got an iPad for Christmas and I will have to ask them to give me a demo. I am sure they are cool and one day I will break down and consider getting one. Maybe I'll wait until the next generation?

My gift for Christmas was a Sony reader. I wasn't sure if I wanted it or not. I used to read a book a week and could hardly the library was one of my favorite places in the world. Recently, I have gotten away from reading for many reasons. I seem to do more reading of short duration. Twitter, blogs, on-line news and articles. I have even been wondering if I am capable of reading a novel anymore since all of my recent efforts have been twitter-like.

Years ago I discovered the secret to reading in my opinion. I don't read books anymore that do not come highly recommended. Reading a bad book is a sure way to take the pleasure out of it for me. I would read the bad book right through and then wouldn't have much motivation for reading for weeks after. If I only read what others had thought worth the read, my chance of getting a great book increased.

Now that I have the reader, I can choose from any number of great books, most of which have reviews on-line. Our public library has a great selection of all types of books to download for free! If I choose one and don't like it, not only does it cost me nothing, but I don't even have to go back to the library to find another. I can also take notes and refer to them later when I am sharing something from the book with colleagues or friends. It is so convenient that I have read three books in the 2 weeks since I got it.

In case you are wondering, my recent reads are:

  1. "Pride and Prejudice"- Jane Austin
  2. "Honeymoon in Tehran"- (AzadehMoaveni)
  3. "Intensity"- (Dean Koontz)
I already have "Blink" (Malcolm Gladwell) lined up to read next. A great gift for the readers in your household!


I was sitting in a PD session with Bernajean Porter on Fri. and was thinking about how fortunate I am to have been a part of this professional learning. She has taught us about essential questions (rigor, heat, authenticity, how to cultivate knowledge producers, essential questions, higher order thinking transformative use of technology and much more) and digital products/multi-media (brainstorming, storyboarding, voice-overs, the writing process, the seven steps for producing digital products and much more).

She has a blog which contains much of what one needs to know to produce great digital products. I am so happy to have a better framework for digital products in my room and can hardly wait to share it with my students and colleagues. I am so proud of our board, the Saskatoon Board of Education, for having spent the time and money on such a worthy project. It is an honor to be a pilot school with so many other skilled teachers from other schools. I am looking forward to the next step in the process.

It is an exciting time to be a teacher. There is so much to learn about new technology and the power it has to transform the classroom. If I may use Joe Bower's short hand, Bernajean is all about:

good pedagogy + effective technology = good teaching

There are definitely times when I feel uncomfortable with access to such great information, tools and resources. I remember when I started my journey to transform my classroom. I had read enough, taught enough, talked enough. I had come to a time in my career when I knew I couldn't teach the same way again. I had to transform my class into the 21st century. I am making great progress and proud of what I have accomplished. There are reasons for me to be uncomfortable. Substantive change is not always easy and not always smooth. I feel uncomfortable when:
  1. My great ideas don't always result in great classroom practice.
  2. Extensive reading and networking reveal to me that others seem to be farther long than me.
  3. I write about change, I claim to know something about it, yet I am not there yet in my own classroom.
  4. I feel like no matter how hard I work I am not keeping up rapid advances in technology. There are so many tools that I am unaware of or have never used.
Primarily, I am pumped about the possibilities for deep learning in all of our classrooms. Learning that is beyond what we ever imagined possible. Being uncomfortable is a small price to pay. I know too much to stay the same.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

11 Math resources to try in 2011, Richard Byrne

I have just read the post "11 Math resources to try in 2011" on Richard Byrne's blog "Free Technology for Teachers".

I looked at all of the links provided and there are a few that stood out. The best one was math live from Learn Alberta. It has excellent teaching videos that would make a teacher at the front of the room quite redundant. This site is well worth visiting and using although falls far short of the kinds of changes Dan Meyer and Conrad Wolfram are promoting. Both talk about not paving the way for students to solve unrealistic, un-complex problems. Wolfram talks about letting kids struggle and then giving them some technique to solve the problems. This Learn Alberta site would be great to use after you have let them struggle a little bit.

Conceptuamath is a manipulative math tool (mainly fractions) that is not unlike Illuminations and the National Library of Virtual Manipulatives. These kinds of programs are fun but also fall far short of real change in higher order thinking and creativity in the classroom.
My delicious account contains more links of similar programs.

Plus magazine is an incredible resource for finding ways to apply math to the real world. there are many articles ranging from the importance of measurement error in building construction to the science of a tennis racket. I would definitely check this out for ideas to make math come alive in your room. The one problem it may have is that it is quite complicated math and written at a high reading level. Perhaps this magazine is better for the higher grades and for professional reading.

I am left feeling even more resolved to change the way math is learned in my classroom. Computation and teaching of technique need to take a back seat to creativity and divergent thinking. I'll let you know how it's going.

Jeff Bulas: 10 Reasons your blog gets no traffic

I just read Jeff Bulas' post "10 Reasons Your Blog Gets No Traffic". Bulas gives good advice and I am writing this mainly to direct you to his blog.

As many have said, writing a blog is great for personal reasons beyond building a network. I would do this if next to no one read it. Notice I said next to no one. Blogging for a teacher is a wonderful way to reflect and to chart your learning as a professional. I especially like it because I have documented reading and learning that I can go back to at any time. Of course, I can also refer colleagues to my posts if they are open to it as well.

In short, I love that it is about ideas. The big ideas that make schools great places. I love the day to day work of a teacher and also grappling with ideas for change.

A large network of readers would be great. From Jeff's post, I think I do a number of things well in terms of building my network. I know I have a young blog and am willing to be patient. I post frequently and enjoy doing so. I am building a following of twitter users, yet I have only just entered the world of twitter. I am focused on educational change and yet am branching out into how students learn math. I am proud of my content.

Of the things I could do form his list to expand my network are:
  1. to improve my headlines
  2. look at optimizing people's ability to search for my blog
  3. distribute my content on other social media platforms like facebook
  4. engage others more often by writing comments and direct messages on twitter
Finally, Jeff says that believing in miracles is a reason that your blog doesn't get enough traffic. I definitely am patient and don't believe I will ever have the followers Will Richardson has. I do, however, believe in the day to day miracles that happen in schools when we build relationship with students and community. I also believe in the miracle of schools changing the way students learn by professional collaboration through social networking.

Enjoy the new year.

9. You are not engaging with others

10. You believe in miracles

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Ladder, Coffee and License Plate Math

We are all fortunate to be able to use Dan Meyer's ideas for teaching of math. He has posts on safe ladders, coffee and license plates. I have cut and pasted his photos. See his posts for further discussion .

I look forward to using the ladder photo in my class. I will get the students to come up with standards for safe dimensions of ladders, including height, width span and the relation between them.

I am looking forward to seeing where this photo leads us. I hope it will lead us to a discussion of probability and organized lists.

This was taken from a coffee shop. I can hardly wait to use it. Dan includes a chart showing unit prices which reveal inaccuracies/untruths in the poster.

Have fun using these. Thanks Dan for your work. Let me know if they work for you!

Super Book of Web Tools

Check out this great resource, "The Super Book of Web Tools". I spent a couple hours looking through it so that I can be current (as current as I can be?) on the cool tools out there. I summarized the links from the book on a wiki so that my students can see the "latest" available cool tools and also that my staff will have an easy and quick way to see some great options for their classrooms. (I also have another wiki page of web 2.0 tools that my kids use as a resource) What a great idea, congratulations on the great resource and, most of all, thank-you for sharing!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Jonathan Martin's favorite blogs

I came upon a post, Jonathan Martin's favorite blogs. It is so fantastic that I could spend all day following and reading the links. If you are looking for people to connect with and to read regularly I would suggest you have a look at his list. He has done a ton of work compiling it.

It is very encouraging to me that so many people are writing about schools. So much great information is available that one could never keep up with it. There are times when I feel like there is too much out there and I should quit trying. When that happens I remind myself to be patient and acknowledge progress I have made.

Here is what I do:
  1. read- get on the learning bandwagon, continue developing my on-line PLC.
  2. plan- use the ideas I read about to plan what happens in my classroom. Start small, but start!
  3. act- change something! I notice that the more I change, the more I might need to change again.
  4. revise- some things may not work, give them some time, evaluate and try again.
  5. share- let others benefit from what I have tried, share my successes and failures.
I considered putting all of the blogs that Martin lists on my google reader subscription. I decided that would be too much for me. I did spend a lot of time reading them. One did stand out for me. It was Stephen Valentine's post entitled "9 Reasons to Stop Reading This Post" on the blog "Refreshing Wednesday". He gives nine good reasons for getting away from blog reading and writing. Taken directly from his post, they are:

1. You could be walking around your school instead, paying attention to those corners of the school where you rarely (if ever) go.

2. You could be having a conversation with a student you have never met.

3. You could be picking up the phone to call a student's parent -- preparing to share some good news.

4. You could be writing someone a thank-you note.

5. You could be reviewing your calendar to make sure that at least some of your upcoming "events" revolve exclusively around your family. (Not school)

6. You could be sending flowers to someone you love but maybe haven't loved well lately.

7. You could be sending an email to a colleague at another school to set up a lunch meeting.

8. You could be having a cup of coffee with a friend at your school.

9. You could be reaching out to a former student because you heard he / she was in some kind of trouble.

Thanks for the reminder Stephen, although schools need to change and we need to work hard at it, teaching will always be primarily about relationship and belonging. Good luck and have a great new year!

When Failure is a Success

I was tweeted this post on failure by a good friend. This post is written by a chap named Khatzumoto who appears to be blogging about learning Japanese.

The friend who referred me to his post is quite an inspiration to me. He has a full time job yet volunteers in my classroom 3 full days a week. He has a heart for kids and I feel like he is a true partner in trying to change the way schools and, in particular, my classroom works. From what I can tell, his experience at school was one where he was a talented, intelligent young person whose academic needs were not entirely met by the traditional school model. Any adult in my classroom can see that my vision for my class and reality don't always match up. I fail all the time.

Years ago, I decided that I had been a teacher long enough to know better than to run my classroom in the same way any longer. I had years of experience and knowledge to make it better. Since that time, I have continually tried to change the way learning happens in my class. Our board might call it "renewal". I have enjoyed the challenges and my students have benefited although I have not yet gotten it right. If I am ever unhappy about my classroom it is because it falls short of what it could/should be. I fail all the time.

People like my volunteer friend deserved better than what they got in traditional schooling as do my students. I may not be meeting my goals for changing my classroom, at least I'm trying. Not trying would be the true failure.

Khatzumoto quotes Michael Jordan, stating that massive failure is the key to success.

"I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."

I am not comparing myself to Michael Jordan, I am more like my friend who is volunteering in my classroom. We both think that the classroom can be a better place to learn and are willing to fail a lot along the way.