Sunday, March 26, 2017

Mobile Devices in our Classrooms

I recently posted a photo on Twitter showing 4 mobile devices on desks in my classroom during lunch hour recess.

Here is the Tweet:

There were some tweets that went back and forth about this photo but one of them really got me thinking. One of my colleagues, +Marybeth Backewich, asked what I use to create such a culture in my classroom. Here is a snapshot of our interaction:


Thanks to Mary Beth (and the power of having a professional learning network on Twitter) I have spent time reflecting on her question. So, let me tell you what has happened in our classroom community to have led to me tweeting that photo. 

The sight of the mobile devices on the desks while the kids were outside playing caught my eye as I was leaving the classroom to go and do about a hundred other things before the students came back in. Before I explain why this caught my attention, let me provide some context. There has been some talk lately about schools banning mobile devices and there has been an ongoing discussion about allowing them into classrooms. Distinctions have even been made about the use of mobile devices in elementary vs secondary school. I teach grade 4/5 so my perspective is an elementary school one and this is important to note because I am not familiar with the dynamics that might be involved at the secondary level. 

Back to the photo. When I saw the phones on the desks, a few things struck me. First, I realized that the devices were left out in the open and not locked up in my file cabinet. In our class, the norm is that they get locked up when there is no one in the room. It is my way of doing my best to protect the technology when I (we) are not in the classroom to supervise. Since all the students were out for recess and I was leaving the room, this caught my attention. No one had asked me to open the file cabinet to store their device.

Second, the sight of these devices laying out on the desks with the pencil cases, papers, and other items we use daily reminded me that these devices are now as common as the other tools we use for our learning and demonstration of learning. Theses devices (that happen to be iPhones and an iPod Touch - but there are also iPads and other devices) are tools that the students will use from time to time to find information, make connections, apply skills/knowledge, and or use for leisure. 

Third, the culture in our class has allowed this. It is the norm to have the devices at school, laying around all over the classroom. It is no longer an 'event' to have them here, it is part of our 'routine'. The students have agreed to a set of expectations that were co-created by them. In collaboration with me, we have created a culture where electronics, such as mobile devices, are permitted in our class community. 

Fourth, I was reminded that my students aren't 'sneaking' the devices around (e.g. outside) to text their friends and check their social media apps because they know what to do with the devices at school and are focused on other things - like having fun outside! One of my sayings is that there is a time and place for everything. My students get that outdoor recess is not the time or the place to be using their mobile devices. There are times when the students ask if they can text/message their parents with quick questions and/or confirmations about things that will be happening outside of school. I think this is great! I appreciate that they check in with me and think before they act. Because of the culture that has been established in our classroom, this is another example of how the devices are part of our learning and communication tools when they are at school. 

There are times when I ask students to text/message other students who are away (e.g. sick at home) to see if they are available/able to learn with us, in real time. It shows them that I trust them, that I truly want to engage all of the students, and that there are lots of ways to enter into a learning situation. We have the technology to do things in new and improved ways, so why are we holding back? Why aren't we taking the time to go through the 'rough patches' that lead us to situations like the photo I have posted above? We need to start looking at all of this and begin to discuss the barriers that are in the way and how we can move forward in ways that will benefit the students by teaching them what they need to know to be responsible life long learners who will be good role models for the people that follow them. 

My mobile device is always around. I use it to capture photos, videos, and audio. I use it to access twitter to share our learning. I use it to access my Google Drive where I have things I want to share with my students, or where they have shared something with me. I model the use of my device with respect to the the context I am in - I am at work so I use it in a way that is appropriate for work. I talk to my students about this. I tell them that I too have access to text messages, email, and other social media platforms that I use for pleasure but that it is neither the time nor the place to be accessing those things. That is stuff that I do when it is appropriate to do so.

Last but not least, I want to note that this photo doesn't show the heartache and learning that we have had to endure to get to this level. It was rough when I first started allowing the devices into the classroom. It felt like the Wild West! We still have bad days (improper use of the technology within the 'school' context) but they are few and far in between. There has been a lot of modelling, class meetings, individual discussions, and discipline. Please don't think that the current culture in our classroom simply appeared. There were (and sometimes still are) days where I think that this inclusion will never work but there are days I feel this way about a lot of things, not just the inclusion of mobile devices in the classroom. The image below is something that I discovered serendipitously as I have been contemplating this blog post. 

Image result for great image of inclusion and integration using dots
Visual from
It is not to say that I (we) never exclude, segregate, and/or integrate our mobile devices. There is a time and place for everything, but generally speaking we are running with inclusion when it comes to our devices. 

What do you think? Please feel free to comment below. 

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Leveraging YouTube

Our class has been using YouTube to record messages using Google Hangouts on Air (GHO). Our messages have been created for other classes. We have found that creating video messages for others is a great way to engage them and to have them learn about, and take the risk, to create a video response. We feel as though we have the perfect set up for our class. Our computer, camera, and microphone are always ready to be used - we can create a video or respond to one in just minute.

Using GHO to connect classrooms and kids is one more way to teach students (and teachers)
  • how to leverage digital technology tools to create, collaborate, and communicate;
  • about digital citizenship, responsibility, accountability, and privacy;
  • how to model responsible risk taking and invite others to try something new/different.
We will continue to connect with other learners to share our learning and encourage them to do the same!

Here are some videos that have come our way based on our initial messages:

A recent message we made to our friends and people we hope will become our friends:

With a few more months left in the school year, we look forward to connecting with more people to benefit our learning and growth.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

New Fluencies

Over the past few days, there have been a few blog posts I have read and some interactions I have had that have really got me thinking about my learning and growth as an educator.

These readings and discussions have me thinking about the exploration and discovery that my students and I are on this school year. We have been part of this really cool cycle where we find ourselves scared to death to try something new, jumping in and trying it anyway, adjusting our course to try to stay on a reasonable path, becoming skilled at it, bumping things up to enhance our skill(s), and then starting all over again with something new we want to try and being totally scared to attempt it. It's funny because we have experienced the cycle enough times to know what will most likely happen, but we still go through the parts of the process with the fear and excitement as if it was the first time we had ever experienced said fear and excitement.

A good example would be our work with 3D printing. We have had success and failure but have enough experience with the technology to know how to leverage it to get what we need to assist our learning and/or demonstration of learning. Another example would be our podcasts where we share our learning by recording the audio and  then listening to it so we can think about our thinking.

We keep trying new things - figuring them out - and then working at them in order to feel comfortable with our practice. We are working toward being fluent in the things we are doing in order to make them more automatic and part of our everyday learning. 

Below is a podcast that was recorded today. It was initiated by two of my students who really wanted to talk about their thinking. They went off (together) after recording this and listened to it several times (via personal mobile devices). I am certain they will listen to it again tomorrow as they engage in the activity that will help them demonstrate their understanding. 

This is where we are at right now. Each day provides us (the students and myself) with new opportunities to practice what we are fluent at/with and to enter the fluency cycle to learn something new. 

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Secret to Success: Learn it from a Grade 5 Student

The video above was posted yesterday. The individual in the video is a student in my class. We were wrapping up gym class and he asked if he could shoot some hoops. As I was putting away some of the equipment we were using he asked me if we could make a deal. I said sure. He said, "if I make a shot from half court, can I get something?". I responded by saying, "sure, the whole class can have an extra 10 minutes of activity time but you can only have one shot". 

As I put the equipment away he took a couple of shots and when I was done with the equipment I told him he could take a "practice shot". By this point he has probably taken 3 half court shots. When it was time for him to make his official attempt, I pulled out my iPhone to record his shot. Well, what do you know, he sank the shot! The class erupted in happiness and we were all feeling really good about what just happened. It was pretty cool to see it live and he felt like a million bucks.

Later in the day I tweeted the video out. I got a response from one of my colleagues about the video (thanks +Michael Leonard). His son had asked him how many attempts he made before sinking the basket. 

Great question. It reminded me to think about everything we don't see when something awesome like this happens. I thought about this student and what I know about him and his love for basketball. I thought about his story and what he has had to do to be able to successfully make that shot. I then tweeted about that.

In order for him to sink that shot he would need to practice, a lot. He would need to learn to deal with missing, a lot. We can call that failure.

He would need keep trying after failing. We can call that resilience.

He would need to stay positive, and have a growth mindset.

He would need to learn to adjust his shot based on his last shot. We can call that iteration.

He would need to have some hope, faith, and some success every now and again so that he would be motivated to keep working at it.

He would need to start small by shooting hoops from close range and backing up step by step to continue to challenge himself.

He would need to spend his time practicing and not doing other things. We can call that sacrifice.

He feels good about his abilities and is open to challenges. We can call that confidence.

He plays organized basketball, his parents support him by spending their time and money so he can play the game with others and learn from a coach. We can call that support. 

There is always a story to go along with the video. I know that this student loves basketball. He takes great pride in learning how to play and he challenges himself to become better everyday. He is passionate about, and loves, the game. It brings him joy and has allowed him to achieve a level of skill that gives him confidence.

We can learn a lot from people like this. The next time you see something awesome and are inspired by it, I encourage you to reach out and talk to the individual who is doing awesome things. Find out about what has led then to success. I have a feeling you will hear the same types of things that I have written about here.

The secret to success is really not a secret. Hard work, making mistakes, continued attempts, support, and a bit of luck will lead you to success. 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Learning continues as we CONNECT

Our connection with +Carlos Roque's class in Cambridge is taking off! Carlos' students have provided my students with two Math tasks that we have worked through. The activities that we are engaging in are exciting to the students and provides them with 'real life' reasons to "do" Math. It's interesting to hear them and watch them work on solving the patterning questions that have been shared with us via Google Drive.

Since the activities are being created by students for students, there seems to be a lot more engagement and 'pride' in creating and completing tasks. It's not all work though, there is some fun happening as well. Carlos' class sent us a Halloween message via YouTube - check it out:

Prior to this message by Carlos's students we had created two videos for them - answering the Math tasks that they had sent to us. Jeff represents our class in sharing our process/answer in the first video and Amanda represents our class in sharing our response in the second video. 

I'm sure you have noticed that I am not sharing the identity of the students in my class. For recorded videos that live on the Internet, my students and I have decided not to share their identity. However, that doesn't stop us from using our audio which the students are very excited about. It may lead to a few podcasts which are another way for us to connect with other classes and share our learning.

We recently created a Math activity for Mr. Roque's class via Google Docs. We shared the Doc with Mr. Roque and then made a short video about it:

We look forward to hearing back from our friends in Cambridge and can't wait for our next live meeting with them. It certainly is a valuable connection for the teachers and students involved. As we progress on our learning journey, Mr. Roque and I continue to learn how to leverage the tech tools involved in getting our classes together. As we are learning, so are our students - first hand and in real time. They know that the walls that surround our classrooms are simply physical barriers that protect us from the elements, not from learning with anyone in the world that has access to technology. Until our next post, get and/or stay connected!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Going with the Flow

My students and I arranged to connect with +Carlos Roque and his grade 5 students today. Last week Carlos and I connected via email about having a hangout between our classes. We talked about setting up the hardware component of the hangout (computer set up, etc) and what we would chat about during out hangout.

When the time came for us to connect, we found ourselves alone in the hangout. The students and I wondered what happened to the grade 5 class - did they have a technical issue? Did Carlos not get my email in time with the link to our hangout? Did something happen at their school that got in the way? We were unsure but as we talked about what we were thinking, we decided to make the best of our opportunity and record a message for the grade 5 students.

The students and I talked about what we should say in our recording, they quieted down, and I hit the "broadcast" button. We went live so I could record the hangout and then send the link to Carlos and his students. We took advantage of our situation and created content for our friends. Great learning came from the hangout that didn't happen. Check out our message to our Cambridge friends:

A few minutes after recording and sending this video to Carlos, we got a call from him and his students! We answered the call and connected!! It turns out that they had some technical issues. This was their first time in a hangout and they did a great job. As we spoke to the students and they spoke to us, I could hear Carlos in the background talking to his students about proper etiquette and supporting them throughout the experience. It was wonderful to see my colleague in action as he broke down the walls of his classroom and continued to teach his students how to do things right. 

It was great to connect the two classes (two of my current students know Mr. Roque and some of his students) and look forward to connecting again soon to do some Math together.  

Friday, October 7, 2016

Connecting with other Classrooms

This school year I am part of a core group of educators working to connect classrooms in order to improve teacher practise and student learning. The goal is to break down the classroom walls and use a variety of tools/techniques to bring teachers and students together to learn and share.

Over the past few years I have been fortunate enough to connect with other teachers using google hangouts and social media but it has never been as planned and strategic as it will be this year.

With these thoughts in my head I decided to email a couple of my colleagues to see if they wanted to connect today for a short time. One of the teachers is relatively new to the use of technology for things of this nature and the other is a seasoned veteran. They both agreed to connect via hangout as an "introduction" to this school year and for my class to share their learning in math at the current time.

The first hangout didn't go as planned. My colleague's camera didn't work, she didn't have a mic, and after few minutes my mic stopped working. Technology is great, isn't it? Thankfully, we used the chat feature to communicate with each other and I used my camera to show her class what we were talking about. 

This 'failure' was great for a couple of reasons. First, my colleague, her students, and my students got to see what things look like when things don't go right. This is an important experience as it provides an understanding of all the little things that need to come together to make something like this happen. My students saw me preparing for the hangout and they knew that I wasn't purposely trying to fail. Second, everyone involved got to see my reaction when things stopped working. I know that glitches like this happen from time to time  so it was important for me to remain calm and go with the flow as much as I can. Although things didn't go as planned, failure (issues that are unexpected) is part of the process. 

Having some fun and showing my students the options that Hangouts provide before connecting with another class.

The second hangout was a lot more successful than the first. For starters, I got myself a new mic to make sure that I would be heard on the other end. The teacher I connected with has experience with hangouts and has experienced difficulties along the way - between the two of us we could trouble shoot out way through a hangout to make sure it worked. 

With audio and video working on both ends, we talked about our learning in Math, with a focus on Math representations and 3D technology. It was neat to present our work (grade 4/5) to a grade 7 class. The hangout was about 5-10 minutes long and served its purpose. 

The students were pretty happy to have experienced seeing and speaking with people outside of our classroom. We are already looking forward to connecting with other classes in our system, and beyond, to share our learning and to experience the learning process with others.