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.

 

Saturday Morning Reflections from Twitter

My colleagues often hear that one of my best sources for professional learning is Twitter. Well it’s true. Here are some Saturday morning reflections.

When I read this I had an ‘ah ha’ moment about where we have come from and where we are going in education and online learning. Here is a quote from this article, Constructionism vs. Instructionism.  The subject in the quote is mathematics but we could be talking about any subject, the point is the distinction between teaching and learning.

“What I was going to talk about if I had been there, is about how technology can change the way that children learn mathematics. I said how children can learn mathematics differently, not so much how we can teach mathematics differently. This is an important distinction.” Seymour Papert

I think this explains something that’s very helpful.

Many online programs were developed because technology enabled us to teach differently. The focus was on teachers doing things in new ways.  It was exciting and innovative. How do we put ‘curriculum’ online?  It is, was, a lot of work, there is no doubt about that. I recall reading news articles on how technology will change the way we teach.

As teachers we know that our work is really about student learning and we certainly have integrated many effective practices into online courses with that focus. Yet, I think we could reflect on the work we do and see where we got stuck on,  ‘technology changes how we teach’.  We need to ask ourselves have we taken full advantage of how technology changes how students learn?

Technology enables kids to learn differently and that’s the direction we need to go or educators will be left behind by students who are already learning in new ways. Take a look at this TEDxWestVancouverED talk.

There are several articles here  Constructionism vs. Instructionism. All well worth reading.  I also liked this”

So, in a way, the computer becomes invisible. The computer becomes just an instrument. I said if you asked that child making the picture, “What are you doing?” she would have said, “Making a picture, making a bird.” It’s interesting to compare this — imagine going to a poet and saying, “What are you doing?” You’d be very surprised if the poet said, “I’m using a pencil”. The poet would have said, “I’m writing a poem,” or, maybe, “Just leave me alone, I’m busy.” Of course the poet was using a pencil, but that’s not worth mentioning, and the same should be true of computers.” Seymour Papert

That Moment

Jo Boaler’s course titled: How to Learn Math,  inspired me as a math teacher and learner.  This course challenged me to think of ways to include  Number Talks as part of my online course for grade three students.  One way I have done this, is by developing Three Act Math lessons* in the form of videos to promote discussion between my students and their parents.  As I developed these math conversations in my online course, parents have shared the joys and challenges of participating in this new way of thinking.

Yet I wanted to do more. I wanted to get kids talking and showing what they could do with mathematical ideas, and I wanted kids to see and respond to the thinking of their peers.

There’s even more.  I feel strongly about the power of writing and drawing, as a way to explain math thinking, and so I have students use math journals. However enabling students to respond meaningfully in a math journal is a challenge. Students struggle to reveal understanding when writing skills limit the explanation of their math thinking.

 

Student created math videos is an option I’ve long considered.  And so I started to explore options for easy screen screencasting tools for kids.  I started asking students to recored their math thinking using one of three iPad applications:

  1. ScreenChomp
  2. ShowMe
  3. Explain Everything

My students also have the option of using the video recording tool in Moodle, the Learning Management System I use.  Moodle has a video recording plugin called, PoodLL, (Ha ha of course, you say, what better name could there be?) Happily all of these tools were easy to teach my students to use.

I started by creating my own math video as a model for students.  I used ScreenChomp. Mine, was not polished production but a recording of my thinking and drawing.  My purpose was to get students to focus on the math, and enjoy using new tools. We started with the the following math journal questions from our unit of study at the time:

How can you multiply two numbers?

When so you multiply?

How does an array show multiplication?

Do you ever have that moment when you see or experience something and your skin just tingles with excitement? Well that was my experience as I started viewing the videos my students created.  Not only were they revealing their thinking, the whole process of creating a video powerfully strengthened their learning.  It was evident that creating a math video required my students to communicate mathematical ideas as they explained and supported their reasoning.

As we’ve progressed my students are contributing to a bank of wonderful student explanations of math concepts.  Which in turn, is becoming a rich resource for learning.  I am beginning to think of new and creative ways to use these same videos to develop more math conversations. That’s more to tell in a future post.

Let me know what you have tried to do with students screen casting.

*For many of these ideas I am  indebted to Graham Fletcher who shares 3 act math resources. Find him here: Twitter: @gfletchy  and here: 3-Acts Lessons.