Making Meaning

Several years ago, Jo Boloar’s course ‘How to Learn Math’, included a video clip, of Sebastian Thrun speaking about his approach to problem solving and math. I felt a spark of recognition and a sighed with relief to hear him say that we should not move ahead with a problem until we understand it intuitively; that we need to take time to understand and internalize the meaning and context of the problem. Time to think and develop a meaningful context changes everything for learners. Problem solvers become more emotionally vested in a solution when they make connections and link concepts. Every teacher loves the ‘ah ha’ moment when a student thinks, ‘There is sense here!’ and learners who have time to explore, question, and play with the ideas, develop that intuition and agency over their own learning.

Peter Johnston in his excellent book: Choice Words, states:

“There are hidden costs in telling people things.  If a student can figure something out for him-or-herself, explicitly providing the information preempts the student’s opportunity to build a sense of agency and independence.” p.8

And this I love too: ” … most accomplished teachers do not spend a lot of time in telling mode.” p.8

And so, I work to cultivate courage and curiosity in my classroom. Courage to tackle something that is hard, knowing that it is OK to make a mistake, and the curiosity to question what we see and think as we work together. This means that I promote, model and identify those qualities for any challenge we face as learners in my classroom.

I highly recommend, Choice Words by Peter Johnson. I love this book! Can you tell? Perhaps it’s because these ideas fit with my own reflective personal style, but more than that, Peter Johnson excels at demonstrating the power of well chosen words.

There will be more posts to come on this engaging and thoughtful book.

Rainy Day Thoughts on Fenway and Hattie by Victoria J. Coe

One rainy Saturday in April, a day much like today, I read Fenway and Hattie by Victoria Coe in anticipation of the Global Read Aloud this fall. What a delightful, humorous tale told from a dog’s point of view.  Victoria Coe, you captured the mind of a puzzled dog in a way that made me chuckle!  I see and understand Fenway perfectly as he experiences the world.

As I read, I reflected on how to use this book in my program this fall. How could this book help students develop a deeper understanding of themselves, each other, and their world? What kinds of thinking skills could this book promote? What kinds of activities will deepen student’s growth as literate individuals?

Victoria Coe develops Fenway’s perspective delightfully and readers will respond with amusement. Children with pets, and especially those who have attempted to train a pet, will immediately make connections to familiar experiences. Owning a pet, training a pet, and understanding the behavior of beagles or terriers would enrich student’s understanding of the story. And so I am thinking of a visit to the SPCA, an animal care facility, or arranging a visit with dog trainer or a service dog. A Google Hangout with an animal expert would be perfect too. Listen to this quote from another book,  The Best Man by Richard Peck about Argus, a pet dog: “Argus was practically a four footed lesson plan. We were learning stuff this morning and that didn’t happen every day.”  A four footed learning experience sounds like fun!

Readers are compelled to understand Hattie’s actions through the mind of her pet. It becomes evident that there are different interpretations of an event when we learn about each character’s thoughts. Fenway seems to think that the backyard is a dog park with very few dogs. Certainly he deserves better.  Fenway amusingly describes what he sees, but his dog brain does not understand the meaning.  There are opportunities to visualize what is really happening. I am thinking… could we design a perfect dog park for Fenway?

Finally, there are parallel stories happening here.  In one, Fenway is learning about family routines and dog life, and in the second Hattie adjusting to a new neighborhood, new friends and trying to train her rambunctious, little puppy.  This second story is more subtle.  Fenway does not have complete comprehension of what is happening to Hattie, and his frustration and challenges seem overwhelming but a sensitive reader will see that Hattie is having her own struggles with the situation and readers will celebrate with Hattie when she finally gets Fenway to not only walk on the evil floor but also obey her and, Sit! Hattie is delighted and showers Fenway with kisses.  Fenway thinks…., “A deliciously happy moment that I hope will never end.” So true Fenway!  I felt the same way.

The story of Hattie’s growing confidence and sense of power in her world is one of the deeply satisfying messages of this book.  A great message for kids to hear. Fenway describes Hattie in the moment: “She puffs out her chest, and gazes into my eyes. Her expression is full of love. And power.” Oh Fenway you gave her that feeling! How well I remember my own 9 year old, owning the moment, as she trained her dog to obey – one of those small significant events that empowers kids to know that they too can have an impact on the world.

 

Finding the Best Blend for Learning (It’s not about the coffee.)

Will this bridge support 500 grams?

Last fall, at the BlendED and Online Symposium, one of our discussions centered on this question:  How do educators define blended learning? This is relavent question in education today, and one that is especially pertinent to me, because I teach students in both online and face to face settings. How is blended learning put into action in my classroom? Here’s the story of one day.

On this particular day the grade 3’s were excited to come together to take on a bridge building challenge.  Could they use the supplied materials and budget requirements to build a bridge that would support 500 grams and span a gap of 30 cm?

The day started off with an online meeting. Three students in distant locations, Mexico, Somalia, and Calgary met to discuss types of bridge construction, essential considerations for bridge building, and an examination of local bridge design. These students were given the challenge and agreed to meet with us later in the day to share their final bridge designs.

Shortly thereafter, other grade 3s arrived onsite to work together on the same challenge. Both groups knew they are working towards a common goal, in different locations. In an effort to promote collboration and aware that 8 year olds would want to take their own bridge home at the end of the day, I explained that everyone could discuss ideas and help each other, but would build their own bridge.

Each student received a budget of $100 dollars to purchase supplies needed for construction.  This added element in the design challenge defiantly preoccupied several students as they immediately set to work to determine just what they could buy and  how that would impact design.  A cubic centimeter of plasticine cost $1.00 and one student happily concluded that he could buy $79.00 worth. Others set to work building and decided to determine the cost as they went along.

Focused conversation, iterative planing and construction, successes, and problem solving filled our day. One student learned that hot glue, did not work well for joining plastic straws and plasticine, another discovered that plastic cups with a wide base were perfect for pillars. “Is it possible to build a bridge for vehicles and trains?” “What could I use to reinforce this weak spot?” “What is the best way to join these popsicle sticks for the purpose I have in mind?” Good questions filled the day.

Mid-afternoon we met with our other classmates via a Google Hangout projected on the interactive whiteboard. Everyone could see and with the benefit of a speaker system and microphone in our classroom each student could participate in the conversation.  Students were ready and eager to explain their design, discuss their process, and test their bridges.  Interest and excitement were high.

Connected Learners

Each student had been purposefully engaged in the building process and now they were genuinely interested to see and hear what others had done, and to learn more about the design process from others.

Now consider the ways students connected on this day: an online meeting via Blackboard Collaborate, face to face collaborative work, and a Google Hangout to conclude the day. Is this blended learning? Yes, it is, and not because of the technology we accessed or the face to face time we shared, although that may be part of the definition of blended learning. It’s because the needs of the learners were met in a variety of ways. Connected learning enabled students to problem solve, create, collaborate, and learn from each other. The best blend of learning opportunities is always in response to student needs.

How do you support learning in a blended environment?

 

 

 

 

Reading Life Part 1

Winter evenings…..time for reading….. and that Reading Challenge on Goodreads!  One year I reached a goal of 24 books, but last year, well, I did not even get close. To remedy this underachievement I set this year’s goal at a measly 15 books. Yes, I admit I did that. However I am on a roll this year.

A little over one month into the year I’m delighted to have read 5 books. Each one has taken me on a journey to another time and place.

The Naturalist by Alisssa York

The Naturalist by Alissa York, took me back first to Philadelphia 150 years ago, and then to Para, Brazil, and into the Amazon Jungle. It made me long to visit this green and living forest during a time when fewer people inhabited this space or traveled its winding rivers. Of the three main characters, Rachel is the true naturalist passionaltely observing the rivers, the forest, and the creatures that inhabit the land. Iris the artist, records the beauty and striking features of the creeping, crawling, hopping, flying and slithering life they discover. However it is Paul whose journey reveals and opens to him his early childhood in jungle before he was brought to America. Vivid pictures filled my mind as read this novel.

“Orange – a bed of it, a pool, hot as flame against the bone-white sand. It’s not until they are in the monetaria, yards from the shore, that its meaning becomes clear.  …….. Butterflies. Hundreds, thousands of them, packed tight, holding their bright wings erect. ……. The flock stays long enough for Iris to complete a handful of studies and one watercolor sketch. Lift off begins with a flicker. A ripple along the margins and the whole mass rises, peeling away from the beach.  Iris and Rachel stand to watch it float out over the river, where it unravels in a trailing cloud.”   Page 179 Chapter 24 

Raj by Gita Mehta

 

Raj, by Gita Mehta, was fittingly purchased in a cluttered bookstore in Jaipur, India. India had captured my imagination in every way. Who lived in the ornate rooms of the forts and palaces we explored? Who were the women hidden behind the purdah screens? My brain was abuzz with the mystery and mystique of ancient kingdoms in this exotic land. Raj, written from the perspective of Jaya Singh, born to the Maharajah of Balmer a fictional kingdom, gave me the insight I longed for.  Through Jaya’s life I learned about the wealth of royal India, the impact of colonialism, Indian soldiers fighting bravely as part of the British Empire, and the bitter struggle for independence.

So there you have it, the beginning of my 2017 Reading Challenge.

 

 

Reflections on, ‘Creating a Passionate Literacy Classroom’

Today I had the opportunity to hear Pernille Ripp, a Wisconsin 7th grade teacher, who started The Global Read Aloud in 2010.  Check her blog: Blogging Through the Fourth Dimension to learn more about her passion for students, learning and literacy. The session, Creating a Passionate Literacy Classroom, was organized by the Edmonton Regional Learning Consortium.

It was inspiring to hear Pernille speak and while I have lots to share and think about, for now, I want to identify some of the resource gems she provided in her presentation.

The Human Digital Library:   The website states: ‘The Digital Human Library (dHL) is a nonprofit organization that connects Canadian teachers and students with hundreds of organizations and experts around the world who are delivering interactive curriculum-based opportunities for learning using technology – for free.’  I like this, for free. Take note, dHL is spotlighting A Kid’s Guide to Canada ‘a national teacher-led initiative organized by elementary teachers from across the country.’ I’ve registered on this site and now I’m thinking about the ways my students will be involved.  If you are planning a project contact me, maybe we can share ideas.

Pernille spoke about the value of global projects as a way to create connections and promote empathy. Here is a link to a Padlet (online bulletin board) with a variety of global projects. Take a look, in what way might your students get involved? Padlet.com/P10/globalprojects.

As a book lover I was curious to hear about her favourite books.  Pernille shared a number of picture books, middle school books, and young adult books. Of course like all readers, she explained that her book lists are ever evolving, as you will see if you check her blog. Each book she described had appeal.  Here is a sample of a few that I appreciated because of the connections to history and social issues.

Picture Books:

When We Were Alone – David Alexander Robertson, an author from Manitoba, The story of a mother and her grandmother.  Sharing the memories of the native boarding school.

This House Once by Deborah Freedman out next week – different pieces of the house as the house is built is shows where all the parts came from.

Stepping Stones –  A Refugee Family’s Story by Margriet Ruurs and Nizar Badr Canadian Author in English and Arabic.

She challenged all of us:  How would you describe your reading/writing identity as a teacher?  Who are you as an adult reader? As an adult  writer?  And… Who are the literate role models for our students?

This was a keen reminder to me. While I occasionally share my own experiences as a writer with students, her questions prompted  me to try write more often, and to be that role model of writing that kids need to see.  And as for reading?  I am an avid reader and so I loved her advice, the best planning for instruction that a teacher can do, is read.

Question, Interest, Intention

Is it true that those who teach learn twice? If so teachers are the most fortunate of all.

My question for this year: “Is there a way I can shift more agency to the learner?” A question inspired by, Invent to Learn by Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary Stager.

My interest and goal: Strive to remain current with research about learning.  Apply this understanding to my work with young learners in my online and blended learning classroom.

My intention: Never confuse the pencil, the poet, or the poem. In other words integrate best practices for learning with technology in such a way that the technology becomes invisible, enabling both the learner and the learning to be the focus of all that happens.

Image: Unsplash.com

The Girl on the Bus

12967961_0e4a21df7f_mOnce upon a time a small girl sat on a city bus staring out the window. It was a regular day, cars and trucks drove alongside the bus, mothers with babies were out shopping for their families, and the sun shone down on it all.  The little girl looked out the bus window and felt sad. She thought to herself, “Everything in the world that we need to know has been discovered. There is nothing left to learn.” Such a sad thought for a young girl!  Well that little girl was me and I vividly remember the day and the feeling.

My thoughts may have been realistic about school and learning at that time in my young life. Then, we believed that education consisted of pouring knowledge into student’s heads to prepare them for the real world. A set amount of knowledge was all that was needed. No wonder my little girl self felt discouraged!

Preparing students for the real world was discussed during YouTube Live 1 as part of immooc .  It is safe to say that we are beginning to understand that preparing students for the real world means bringing the real world right into our classrooms.

The little girl I was, would be excited about the potential for change and innovation that we have in education today.  We understand so much more about how people learn; we have tools to create and to collaborate; and we are rethinking what ‘schooling’, means.

I’d deeply hopeful and enthusiastic about the new horizons that are opening up before us. I love the opportunities I have as a teacher to be a continual learner, explorer and risk taker. Last year my exploration led to teaching Scratch Coding to a group of grade 4, 5 and 6 students. This naturally evolved into developing a Maker Space in our school this year. This spring I was inspired by Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager’s book and two day session in Edmonton called  Invent to Learn and this fall I am anticipating great things from  blendED2016 as well as the community of learners who are part of immooc.

Thankfully the girl on the bus grew up to discover that there are always new things to learn. I can’t think of a more exciting time to be a teacher.

Travel Journal – Stories Everywhere

Every place has a story, sometimes the story is ancient and tied to the land.  When we arrived at our mountain mansion we knew little of the far reaching history of Tateyama and the mountain.

Omachi ShrineTuesday morning we stepped out the door, ready to explore, and our attention was captured by another beautiful shrine. Before us were towering ceders, serene green spaces, and dai-doro stone lanterns lining the path; it’s no wonder we are attracted to these spaces!

Next we came upon the Tateyama Toyama Museum. You may think we had our fill of places like this. Well almost, but we naively thought there was not much else to see in this location, so in we went.  This turned out to be a brilliant move because the museum gave us a framework for understanding more of what we saw the rest of this day and the next.

The first exhibits gave us the usual explanation of the geology of the area, showing how volcanoes occur, and telling that Tateyama is a volcanic mountain. It was after this, that things got interesting, and puzzling too.  We viewed displays with short captions in English and detailed explanations in Japanese. We tried to make sense of the exhibits that explained the faith that had grown and developed around this volcano, a Buddhist faith that included the concepts of heaven and hell. Both concepts were tied to the activity of the mountain, the beautiful green heights on one side of the valley and the sulphurous springs and odors so prominent on the other side.

One gratuitous photograph.*

One gratuitous photograph.*

This painting on silk, striking in its color and detail, is actually a frightening picture, showing people burning in flames trying to get away. And other people or beings in the sky above, whether they had escaped or were there to rescue the others I am not sure.

A carefully constructed diorama of the mountains, the valley, the shrines, and a beautiful red bridge caught our attention and next to it was a video showing a present day ceremony showing women sitting, listening meditativly to a priest performing ceremonies. Then the women dressed in white gowns, with their hands tied together were blindfolded, and walked together at a steady pace over a beautiful red bridge following priests or monks in deep blue gowns. The women were walking 3 by 3 on white cloths that guided them down the hill from the shrine over a red bridge. I found the imagery disturbing, mostly because the women were completely vulnerable and because of  my own lack of understanding about what all this meant.  (A Google search helped: Tateyama UNESCO Ceremony)

imageAfter the museum we continued walking down the forested road when unexpectedly we came upon the very red bridge we viewed in the video and in the diorama! “This is it, the red bridge!”, we exclaimed. All the places we had visited today helped us understand a little more of the faith expression that developed as a result of the volcano and the local religion. This beautiful bridge, over a deep gorge surrounded by green forest, was also part of the religious significance of this area. We were beginning to grasp the story around Mount Tateyama and the surrounding area. Little did we know there was more to discover the next day.

 

*Photography is not allowed in the museum, when I snapped this image I was told – no pictures! I offered to delete the photo but was told that I could keep it, soI felt free to share it here. 

 

 

Travel Journal – Mansion in the Mountains

Posting to Facebook to record events of our trip has its limitations. I have so many thoughts and reflections, more than would fit in a Facebook post. And I risk boring family and friends with events that may only be important to me.

We have been in Japan for one week traveling to Tokyo, Kyoto and Nara.  We have visited temples, shrines, and Japanese gardens.  However the August heat, amplified by pavement and buildings, is overwhelming. So yesterday we decided to head to the mountains.  This is certainly an advantage of having a JR Rail Pass, making impromptu decisions to travel. We took two trains – the Thunderbird (Yes, real name), and the Shinkensen to get to Toyama.

Previously we had looked for a hotel or AirBnB accommodation but did not have luck finding something suitable and in our price range, except for one post on AirBnB that looked like a hostel for 8 people in an out of the way place.  There are disadvantages to traveling with an open itinary and this can be one of them – finding suitable accommodation. To get to this particular spot we needed to take one more train from Toyama on a small railway the Chitetsu-Tateyama line to Chigaki Station, however the lodging was several kilometers from the station. We emailed the owner and he offered to pick us up! So we stopped in Toyma to get groceries… Buying grocieries in Japan when you are not a Japanese speaker is a challenge and it is fun!

image image

Success meant coming out of the store with 3 bags of grocieries, beer and a bottle of wine.

We were met at Chigaki station by Mitsuru who had 3 umbrellas in hand to save us from getting drenched as we loaded up his car with our luggage and groceries.

Mitsuru and his wife welcomed us warmly as they showed us around our ‘cabin’. The best part was that our son, Jonathan, used Google translate to communicate with him.  We chuckled and shared jokes. Now that we are out of the usual tourist spots Google Translate is just what we needed.

As we were getting settled, Mitsuru came by with spices, soya sauce for cooking and best of all, coffee beans which he ground on the spot for us using this coffee grinder.

Mitsuru grinding coffee beans for us.

Mitsuru grinding coffee beans for us.

Such kindness and consideration. We feel so very blessed by our experiences here.

Whenever we travel I have a mixture of eager anticipation and mild apprehension as we near our accommodation. After all, you never know if the lodging will meet your expectations. Well this time I am sure we have booked ourselves a mansion in the mountains.  It’s even more amazing to think that this is in Japan, a country of 127 million who live and work in compact spaces.

Mansion in the Japanese Mountains

Mansion in the Japanese Mountains

Summer Reading

 

Writing and reading on a summer afternoon.

Writing and reading on a summer afternoon.

As I sit reading and writing on a summer afternoon it’s hard to imagine a prettier spot to reflect on Donalyn Miller‘s two books: The Book Whisperer, and Reading in the Wild. Her clear message is that we go beyond teaching children how to read and comprehend; we are to create life long readers. And she asks the question:  What are the habits of life long readers?

Do you consider yourself a life long reader? Could you identify the reading habits you have developed that ‘fit’, with being a life long reader?

I had to think about this. What makes me a life long reader? My love of books was developed early in life, and I delight in the connections I make as I read, connections that enlarge my view of the world and give me a better understanding of my self, but how does this love of reading translate into guiding students to become life long readers?  What is it that life long readers do?

In Reading in the Wild Donalyn Miller identifies and explains how she promotes these 5 characteristics of life long readers.

Life long readers:

1. Dedicate time to read. –  I am thinking that I need to guide my students to develop reading stamina and learn to read for longer periods of time.  Can students add to their reading time in other ways?  Yes! Donalyn uses the term, reading on the edge, for those small blocks of time through the the day, waiting for an appointment, or riding on the bus when we can capture a few minutes of reading time. Of course, it is helpful to carry a book with you wherever you go in case you have just such a reading emergency. 

2. Self-select reading material. How true this is! Students are keen to read books they choose themselves.

3. Share books and reading with other readers. A classroom community of readers who share and talk about books, sounds inviting. I love talking about books with friends and colleagues and I know that my students would love this too.

4. Have reading plans. I have never thought about explicitly teaching this to students. I can see that this characteristic propels readers onward. The onus is on me to continually increase my knowledge of children’s literature so that I can inspire my students to anticipate the next book they might read. Fortunately this is something I love to do.

5. Show preferences for genres, authors, and topics. In my experience grade threes are beginning to develop preferences and often it is books that are part of a series. There is room to expand their horizons and show them the variety of reading options available.

And so I wondered…  How do I encourage these habits with 8 year olds who are just on the cusp of becoming established readers. And more importantly how do I promote these characteristics with online learners?

The answer just fell into my lap last spring!  Tune in to my next post to learn about my plan.