Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Journey Begins

I formally introduced my students to GAFE today. They know about the Chromebooks in our classroom and for the last week they have been staring at the charging cart and approaching it as if it holds magical powers. Having experienced and seen the great things that happened last school year, I can't blame them.

They have been asking me everyday if today is the day that they will get their hands on a Chromebook. I am very pleased that they are eager and ready to jump in. They are great models for my colleagues who are still holding back. I am excited about their enthusiasm but I can't let that get me carried away. They require some basic instruction and time to practice in order to be competent and comfortable with what they know.

Today they practised logging in, opening the Chrome browser, doing quick and easy searches using the omnibox, closing tabs/windows, logging off, and then repeating that entire process all over again. I enjoyed watching them practice what I taught them. I collected a lot of data about who was comfortable using the technology, who required enrichment that would provide them with healthy challenges, and who required support to work through the basics that I provided them with.

The next steps will include teaching them how to access and navigate our D2L site. Last year we were 2:1 but this year we will be 1:1. We are still waiting to receive the Chromebooks that will bring us to a 1:1 ratio. Until they arrive the students will work 2:1 which I believe is a great way to start as they support each other as they experiment and play with the technology.

Stay tuned and journey with us as we grow into dynamic and empowered learners!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

"Boom! That just happened" - My Experience at the Google Teacher Academy

David Theriault, one of our many amazing lead learners.
Photo courtesy of Brian Briggs.
My time at the Google Teacher Academy in Mountain View (#gtamtv) was nothing short of amazing. The learning, the people, the food, and the Google campus all contributed to a unique experience that I will not soon forget. Two days of PD went by quick, but the fun isn't over yet. In fact, it has just begun.

Having read about the amazing professional learning I would be part of at the GTA, I thought that I was mentally prepared for the barrage of innovation that I would be immersed in. I am happy to report that 1) it didn't disappoint, and 2) I was still overwhelmed (in a good way) with the learning sessions that were planned for us. 

Without further ado, here are the top ten things that I heard several times, in one form or another, and seem to have "stuck" with me:

1) Challenges can be daunting so it is important to find something that I can connect to within a challenge, something that I am passionate about, and start from that point by taking a risk. 
2) My learning/work space, and that of my students and colleagues is important and requires as much consideration as all of the other things that are considered when working on solving problems.

A panoramic view of Google HQ
3) I need to continue to lead by sharing how I am innovating and the good, bad, and ugly parts that go with it. Show people the beginning, middle, and end of a learning process and the incredible outcomes that can be achieved by stepping out of the 'comfort zone'.

4) Creative leaders find others like themselves, are engaging, and work on sustaining the energy needed to learn. Creative leaders work hard to provide resources and support to sustain the community that they are working with. 

A photo of "Stan", the T-Rex on Campus.
There are flamingoes all over him...Google encourages its employees to have FUN at work. 
5) I need to do what I can to help establish/foster a culture of innovation and a growth mindset - one that focuses on building capacity by iteration (initial learning, improving learning, and trying again until a desired outcome is reached).

6) Get inside other peoples spheres - see things from their perspective and then support them as they start small and establish a growth mindset.

Lunch at one of the campus cafeterias - the food was fresh, flavouful, and unique. 

7) Engage students, empower them, and then ask them to take responsibility for supplementing their education outside of the four walls of the classroom.

8) We live in an interactive world where anyone can acquire knowledge/information - increase focus on higher order skills - for myself, my students, and my colleagues. Technology is not the be all and end all to learning - it exists to influence and augment learning.

Google looks like this all over the place.
9) Perfection is not always required: try something, see what worked and what didn’t work, then adjust based on new learning. It’s a nice learning cycle that ensures action rather than worrying about being perfect.

10) Don't forget about the power of relationships. Rapport and trust can take a team far when working on daunting tasks. People who trust each other are more likely to share their wonderful ideas and take risks!

I noted above that the professional learning was amazing, so how do I describe the people I met and worked with? Amazing times 10! Everyone, including our lead learners and organizers, were kind, passionate, and motivational. Before our arrival, +David Theriault (one of our lead learners and the one who referred to the Canadians as #Maplesyrupedu) suggested to us that we meet and speak with as many people as possible during our time in Mountain View. Boy oh boy, was he right. I took his words to heart and took every opportunity to introduce myself to whoever crossed my path. Everyone else took him seriously as well, as I observed people connecting with others and experienced being approached by many members of the cohort. I am grateful for the ‘risk’ they took in seeking me out and look forward to the collegiality and growth that will most certainly come from the connections that were created at the GTA. I am inspired and honoured to be part of this group of educators.

After reading many of his blog posts and tweets, I finally got to meet David Theriault.
JR Ginex-Orinion (standing) and Jon Corripo (red shirt)
leading us through the "Are You a Google Iron Chef?" session. 

The Teacher Academy wasn't all about work, there was a lot of play as well. We certainly had fun throughout our two days together. There were lots of laughs as we worked together and learned about each other. 

The slide in the main entrance foyer!

One of the many Google bikes around the Mountain View campus. Employees are dropped off on campus and then hop on a bike and get to their particular building/work area. 
Michelle Armstrong and I grabbing a snack from one of the many Micro Kitchens before heading to our next session. Michelle is also CANADIAN!
With a little bit of free time at lunch we decided to have a seat in one of the many outside areas set up for reflection and or collaboration.
Canadian Google Certified Teachers, Mountain View 2014.
Google Teacher Academy, Mountain View, 2014 Cohort. 

With over 70 people in the room, I never felt disconnected from the other participants - it felt tight knit and intimate. Not sure what the secret is, but they should bottle it and sell it.
Speaking of tight knit, in walks +Jaime Casap to sit down and chat with the group. I wasn't going to pass up the opportunity to speak to him and get a photo. 
When I found out that I was going to be a participant at the GTA I blogged about it. I commented in a tweet that getting into GTA would be like winning a golden ticket to Willie Wonka's Chocolate Factory. When they finally let me into the "Factory" I made sure to say hello to +Danny Silva, aka Willie Wonka!

Meeting everyone at GTA was special, but meeting Danny Silva, the Director of the Google Teacher Academy was out of this world. 

As I wrap up this post about my experience at the Google Teacher Academy I can't help but reflect on the family that I am now a part of. As a Google Certified Teacher I am recognized as an 
  • Educator with a passion to use innovative technology to improve teaching and learning.
  • A leader with a desire to empower others in my local community and beyond.
  • An ambassador for change, life-long learning, collaboration, equity, and innovation.
My hope is that I will continue the tradition of being open to and supportive of the people who seek me out, just like the GCT's that I have, and continue, to seek out with questions and ideas. I also hope that the people who come into contact with me don't get too upset when they find out that I will be learning as much, or more, from them as they will be from me. 

It's official, certificate, pin, and photo.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Google Teacher Academy

GTA logo created by David Saunders, member of the GTA MTV 2014 cohort.

Wednesday May 21, 2014 - 5:09pm - the day and time that I found out that I was selected to participate in the Google Teacher Academy in Mountain View, California.

It is Tuesday June 3, 2014 and I am just feeling able to put into words the feelings that came over me when I got the news. The Google Teacher Academy (GTA) is a PD experience designed for educators from around the globe to learn how to get the most from innovative technologies.

I have always been interested in technology and in integrating technology into my classroom. It has benefited my learning greatly. Having reaped the benefits of the use of technology to benefit my acquisition/demonstration of knowledge, it is quite natural for me to want to use it with my students to benefit their achievement and success. My experiences and passion for using technology innovatively to engage my students and meet their learning needs has brought me to this point and I couldn't be more pleased.

On May 21st, the day we would be notified if we would be one of the lucky one to be selected, I tweeted to the following:

The excitement was palpable. I wanted to be accepted, but I also knew that I was up against stiff competition. People were sharing their videos and they were GOOD. I'm talking about solid messages regarding innovation and skill. I also watched some of the videos from past GTA applications and quickly realized that some of them are simply amazing. I had doubts, trust me. I also had hope. I also learned a lot about my practice and my philosophy on innovation, teaching, and learning. My tweet when I learned I was selected to attend GTA MTV 2014:

I have been an awesome journey with Chromebooks and Google Apps for Education. I have immersed myself fully and have met great people along the way who share the same passion and perspective about teaching and learning. Via social media, I connected with Google Certified Teachers (educators who have attended a Google Teacher Academy) and sought their advice and counsel about my work and my application to the GTA. I can't say enough about how helpful and supportive they have been. A couple of them know me from face to face PD that I have attended along the way but 98% of them I have never met. This fact did not stop them from acting as critical colleagues. They provided me with insight and opinion about my thinking process and approach.

I look forward to this learning experience and can't wait to share my learning with my regional community. The GCT's I have communicated with have set the bar high and I am up for the challenge of meeting, exceeding, and helping to establish new standards.

Here is the video I created - it is about the journey my students and I have been on. Did I mention that all of it was done using my iPhone? Photos, video, audio, all done on my smart phone.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Using Google Apps to Make Interactive Stories

At this point in the school year my students are quite comfortable with GAFE and are doing a lot on their own time outside of school. In class they are working on meeting learning goals that we have established which means that they are not as "free" to experiment as they wish. As we near the end of the school I want them to continue to stay engaged and focused. One of the culminating tasks that I would like my students to engage in involves creating interactive choose your own adventure stories. This activity would allow my students to incorporate many of the Language literacy skills (reading, writing, media, oral) they have learned this school year as well as the technological skills they have gained & refined, particularly their knowledge around GAFE. I mentioned this to them yesterday and, no word of a lie, they began salivating at the idea! I had to tell them to 'hold their horses' so I could gather some knowledge around this type of work.

By no means is this activity MY idea. I became aware of this innovative activity from +Sylvia Duckworth. Sylvia has experience doing this type of activity with her students and has presented on this topic. She blogged about this and explained how she was inspired by Jonathan Wylie when she read his blog post on the topic.**

Thanks to Sylvia and Jonathan, I have a great starting point where I can read more about the technical aspects of this type of activity so I can support my students. We will establish our learning goal and success criteria so that we know where we are going on our learning journey. With the goal and criteria in place the students will have a focus and context as they create, communicate, and collaborate in order to be successful in meeting their academic goal. All this while having fun and learning how to use technology that provides them with many opportunities that wouldn't normally be available to them.

I look forward to sharing our learning with you in future posts. Stay tuned for what I imagine are going to be some pretty awesome products created by my students! Until then, check out the quick interactive story that I created. 

** This is why it is so important for educators to share what they are doing. Sometimes we feel like no one cares, no one wants to hear about the engaging and innovative work that we are doing. This is not the case. Sharing helps build capacity and provided people with ideas that they can then experience and build on and then share. It is an amazing cycle that benefits everyone. **

June 10 - Update

We recently created our Learning Goal (LG) and Success Criteria (SC) for our interactive stories. Our goal is to create a fictional 'choose your own adventure' story using Google Presentation. Our success criteria involves 1) using our graphic organizer map to create several story lines, 2) explaining (to the teacher and the class) how we came up with our story, 3) identifying the different parts of our story (beginning, middle, end, characters, setting, etc), and 4) using the vocabulary we learned during the creation of our story (e.g. character, setting, plot, etc) as we share our ideas/thoughts.

Here is the graphic organizer map my students and I co-created to help us create our stories:

Together, we came up with ground rules to assist us in being successful in creating our stories. It was their idea to have something to lead them through their FIRST story. They tell me that after they have successfully met the requirements for this activity, they can then create more complicated stories. I agree with them - to a certain degree. Students that require support to meet the standard we set will receive it and students that require enrichment will get that as well. This is a great start and they directed it. 

As a way to organize their stories, they are using recipe cards set up similarly to the organizer you see above so that they don't get confused. Currently, I find myself suggesting that they simplify the stories that they are sharing with me. They are excited and have some great and creative ideas, but I am advising them to hold back in a way, in order to ensure that they don't bite off more than they can chew. In my next update, I hope to have some samples of their stories to share with you and provide you with some more information about how this activity is playing out.

June 25 - Update

Friday, May 16, 2014

The use of Google Drawing to Reserach, Organize, & Present Learning in Social Studies

In Social Studies my students are learning about the Desert, Rain Forest, Mountain, and Arctic regions. We just finished learning about the Desert region and I would like to share what we did and the great learning that took place.

We started off by talking about what we think we know about the desert. The students had a lot to say about the following: lack of water, not much vegetation, lots of sad! After a brief discussion I showed them a brief "Wonder World of Science" video to provide them with some basic information about the desert region. Their task after watching the video was to show what they know by recalling information from the video, searching for information off of the Internet, and adding visuals to support the text that would be included in their organizer.

Together, we created an organizer in Google Drawing:

We chose Google Drawing because it is a nice blank slate to work with where the students have access to the built in research tool and drawing and text tools. This is simply a starting point for the students. It provides them with some structure, but they are free to manipulate the organizer to fit with their intentions.

In my opinion, the Google Drawing app doesn't seem to be utilized as much as it could/should be. +Jennifer Magiera, a leader with respect to innovative use of technology in schools and redefining the (digital) classroom, wrote about "3 Google Apps that Deserve more Love" and Google Drawing is the first one she mentions. If Jennifer Magiera agrees with me, that I must be on to something.

Here are some samples of student work:

This one is not complete...but they are working on it (note that they added a new category at the bottom):

The next step is sharing their work with their classmates (quick presentation) and then moving on to the next region of study.

The engagement and discussion I observed as the students worked on learning about the desert and demonstrating their learning was/is astonishing. They use Chromebooks to access GAFE and resources on Internet to support their learning and demonstration of learning. They do their work with purpose and know that they are responsible for explaining their thinking and the processes they followed to achieve their goal. They use each other as resources to navigate the technology and the information they come across. It is truly a pleasure to be with them on this learning journey.

Blended Learning in Social Studies

In Social Studies we are learning about People and Environments: Global Communities. With our learning goal and success criteria established, the students know what they are working towards and what they need to do along the way to be successful.

We started our learning with a diagnostic activity where the students were told a story about a friend of mine who is Florida. With the cold weather we are experiencing in Kitchener, I made sure to mention that my friend is wearing shorts and that he is participating in activities that we are not able to comfortably do here at the moment. After our story the students were provided with an opportunity to express what they think they know about Florida (prior knowledge) using a RAN chart.

The students really liked doing this activity and many of them provided some fun and interesting information about what they think they know about Florida. Also, the information they provided gave me insight into what they think they know about people’s way of life (e.g. shelter, climate, food, clothing, [animals, and  interesting facts]) in Florida and what they are interested in learning about. With this information I now have a better idea of what the students think they know specifically and generally. For the most part their specific information seems to be accurate but their general knowledge is not accurate. I now have a better direction on what they need to learn in order to identify features of communities around the world and describe how people live and meet their needs.
[May 7 am]

To provide them with some foundational knowledge about the earth we talked about how it is made up of continents and countries. The students used an on-line interactive activity to help them with this content (ELO1300170 in the OERB).

With new and fresh knowledge about the make up of the earth the next task involved "bringing them home" by having the use Google Maps to explore where we live and provide them with the opportunity to zoom in and out to gain a perspective of where we are relative to other communities around the globe. The students enjoyed this and were blown away by the magnitude of the earth and the ability to zoom in and out using the technology we have in the classroom.

The students were explicitly taught the cardinal directions and engaged in some fun activities that gave them opportunities to apply what they had learned. The liked using a compass and had some fun reading maps and creating some too.

We are now at the point where the students will gain a detailed understanding of four specific regions on the Earth (desert, rain forest, arctic, and mountain regions). As they explore these regions, one at a time, they will have the opportunity to use the Google Drawing app as a graphic organizer to gather information about the region we are working on  using the research tool built into the app which will prove beneficial to their learning as they search out information and photos to support their understanding. 

My next blog post will be about the use of Google Drawing to help them with their learning about the desert region....stay tuned!
[May 15 full]