Wednesday, September 23, 2015

I Like What I See

I dedicated some time today to "digital boot camp" - essentially allowing my students to become familiar with their logins and passwords. This time was also provided to them so that they could continue to discover and figure out the Chromebooks. Generally speaking, I'm noticing a huge difference between grade 2's and grade 4's with respect to the speed at which they can accomplish things and their trouble shooting ability. Coming to grade 4 from from grade 2, I think I am used to a slower process. My students this year are picking things up fast and quite engaged when given "boot camp" opportunities.

I introduced them to Google Drawings today. Drawings has proved to be a powerful app, allowing students to create things that they couldn't create without the technology. I was not disappointed. After a quick tutorial on the basics the students started experimenting and were off to the races. They even shared their work with me and began asking me to visit their work and comment. They were mesmerized by the fact that I could access their work instantly and display it on the interactive whiteboard. I have seen this amazement before and it always brings a smile to my face. It's like a whole new world has opened up to them!

After a bit of time on their own I started giving them specific tasks to accomplish. Some tasks were easier than others but a commonality that emerged was the fact that students assisted each other in getting the tasks done. I would assign it and then they would work on it - and help each other out as needed. This is a great sign, and something that I have seen before.

As the students become more familiar with the tools I will begin to assign tasks that go beyond the tools. I will move them away from tasks that revolve around the tool to tasks that involve design thinking, problem solving, and collaboration. They need to spend time 'playing' with the tools before they can push the tools to their limit as they create and work towards demonstrating their understanding around the learning they are engaged in.  

Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Start of our 3D Journey

Our 3D printer arrived shortly before the start of school. It felt like Christmas as I unboxed it and set it up. For the first few days of school the students and I would walk over to it and examine it. It was a period of investigation and wonder. We had a lot of questions (and we still do) and wanted to turn it on but we knew that we needed a good chunk of time to do this. With the hustle and bustle of start up, there were other more pressing matters to take care of first.

The time finally came at the end of the week. We powered up the printer and started our journey - to harness this amazing technology to assist us with our learning and achievement. As we followed the set up prompts we gained knowledge about the inner workings of the printer. We installed the plastic filament, extruder, and leveled the printing table. The time finally came for us to actually get the printer to create something. We learned that the printer had a few designs already loaded so we embarked on some test prints.

The first print we decided on was a nut and bolt. We wondered what it would look like and how the printer would produce such objects. We started the print and then went back to business in the classroom. Every now and then someone would go over to the printer, take a look, and report back. Near the end of the print job there were some issues. For one reason or another, the plastic would jam and I needed to remove the plastic from the extruder and then re-insert it. This happened several times during the day, which surprised me. Although I had read that this sort of thing happened, I didn't expect it to occur so quickly with a brand new (and expensive) machine.

Our first print completed! A nut and bolt:

As a group we decided to keep things going and decided to print a chain link:

Between recesses and lunch we had some time left in the day and the students decided to print a flexible bracelet:

You should have seen how interested the students were before we set up and turned the printer on. Now that they have seen the capability of the printer, they are very excited about the possibilities. Some next steps involve me learning more about the workings of this machine and introducing the students to design software so they can become familiar with that realm of 3D technology.

With such an eager group of students it is only a matter of time before they truly take advantage of the tools we have available to us in the classroom.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Endless Possibilities: 3D Printing Technology

One of the things I have been working on this summer involves reading about and connecting with people who have experience using 3D printing technology in schools. *My students and I will be on a wonderful journey this year to harness the power of 3D printing in the classroom to bring our ideas to life. My hope is that we will evolve as learners in a way that will allow us to transition our thoughts/ideas in a way that will facilitate the design and creation of tangible products that represent/demonstrate our learning.

The photo above is the printer that we are going to be working with in the classroom. Photo from

This is all new to me and that is why I am taking the time to educate myself as much as I can before I get my hands on the technology. Today I was part of a webinar put on by MakerBot, the company of the printer that we will have in our classroom.

The webinar "MakerBot in the Classroom", provided me with an opportunity to hear about the ways that the technology has been used in classrooms and provided 'grist for the mill' as I reflect on how it would be used in my classroom. The webinar started with some basics, including visuals, which is very important to me. I learn best when I can see examples of what a presenter is talking about.

The presenters talked about a 3D 'kit' which is essentially 3D printed items to be used as examples. I really liked this portion of the webinar because they had examples of designs that didn't quite print as expected due to extraneous factors. This piqued my interest because of the learning component. You design something but it doesn't print as perfectly as expected. Look it over and see where things didn't work out and then think about and create a solution - great iteration model - which is something I try and build into the culture of my classroom.

Information about different design software was also presented and examples of what software would work best in terms of meeting curriculum needs (e.g. art vs math). These are things I haven't even thought of so it was great to be exposed to it.

Overall, this was a great way to sink my teeth into the world of 3D printing with respect to the actual printer I will have in our classroom. I'm already looking forward to the reflection I will engage in after this blog post in order to formulate some questions to assist with my understanding.


* This project is being funded by the Ontario Ministry of Education - Teacher Learning and Leadership Program (TLLP).

Thursday, June 25, 2015

A Win Win Situation

With only a week and a half left in our school year, my students held a classroom meeting to tell me what they wanted to work on to end the school year. As you can imagine, I was scared and excited at the same as I really didn't know what they were going to propose.

Well, they said they wanted to use the Chromebooks to play games on the Internet. I immediately laughed out loud and then noticed that they weren't laughing. In fact, they were dead serious. One of them spoke up and said that they know that I wouldn't allow them to simply "play" so they wanted me to help them attach a writing task to it. They said that it wouldn't be wrong to play Internet games if they were learning something, especially in writing!!!! 

You have to know that this group included many reluctant writers at the start of the school year. They lacked confidence and were uninterested when it came to writing. So, the fact that they want to do some learning/work in writing in order to play some Internet games tells me that they have come a long way and are ready to be challenged when it comes to what they value.

How could I refuse?

We got to it straightaway by creating an anchor chart about 'how to write a journal entry'.

We talked about the requirements and then we created an organizer to help with the beginnings of our journal entries - a guide to help us, a rough draft.

Then we talked about the type of games that we might play. They told me about a race car game so we did a quick google search and found it. It's called Formula Racer. I played the game a couple of times to get the hang of it and then played it to gather information/experience for my journal entry. The students sat on the carpet and watched the interactive whiteboard as I modeled the what to do.

I then completed the rough draft organizer, made some edits/revisions (with their help), and then completed the polished copy. We thought it would be a good idea to add a visual so I grabbed a screen shot and inserted into my Google Doc.

This was such a fun experience! The students and I used our knowledge and experience around the writing process to create expectations for this activity and then scaffold the task in order to lead us to work that we would be proud to publish. Although this is all "my" work - it was part of the the gradual release of responsibility model that we have been using all year.

Now that the students were comfortable with the task, I set them free to research what game they wanted to use and provide them with support and guidance as they went through the process.

As usual, they rose to the occasion. For the past week and a half they have been feverishly working away - researching, writing, playing, editing, revising, and publishing.

Here is what the task looked like on paper - for this particular student it involved an organizer, one rough draft, and a good draft:

Once students had completed a draft considered to be publishable, they grabbed a a Chromebook or a Desktop computer and used Google Docs to create a clean copy with an image to be shared via Google Drive with their friends and family and to be published in our classroom for all visitors to see. Here we have a handful ready for the classroom wall:

Students who finished first were given the option to create another journal entry or assist their classmates by acting as coaches. No one created a second entry, they opted to act as experts and assist their friends with using Google Docs, taking screen shots and saving them to their Drives, and editing and revision. 

Once everyone had completed the task, we put our work up for all visitors to the classroom to see.

Don't tell them this....but in reality they spent 15% of their time "playing" and 85% of their time demonstrating their knowledge and understanding, communicating it to myself and their classmates, applying skills they have learned throughout the school year, and providing evidence of their thinking. I told my students today that the way this task came together and the effort and collaboration they demonstrated was the best gift they could possibly give me and that it is one that I will remember and refer to for a long time to come. 

What an amazing way to end the school year. Activities like this have helped my students develop into creative/innovative thinkers and technologically literate collaborators. They have had fun blending their learning and rising to the challenges that I have provided them with. 

The end of our journey together will come tomorrow. Although it will be sad to go our separate ways, I am filled with joy and excitement for what they have accomplished, for the amazing things they will do, and the unforeseen problems they will help to solve as capable members of our society. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

A Mixture of EdTech, GAFE, and Social Media can Produce Endless Possibilities

With the use of technology, social media, and a willingness to take risks, teaching and learning can have some real depth and allow for some amazing things to happen. In March I connected with +Cassie Hawrysh, a professional athlete who has dedicated her life to racing skeleton with the Canadian national team. What started with a few tweets has turned into wonderful learning opportunities for my students and myself. 

Meet Cassie:

Connecting with Cassie started as a way to engage the students in Social Studies, particularly communities around the world. As a professional athlete, Cassie has traveled all over the world. She has first hand experience of the things we would be talking about in class with respect to communities around the world (e.g. food, clothing, shelter, transportation, leisure). It didn't hurt that she was a skeleton racer - a tidbit that fascinated the students and "hooked" them in. They think what she does is cool, and I can't blame them!

Before inviting Cassie into our classroom for a Google Hangout we used Google Maps Engine to search out and see all the places where Cassie has competed. When I say search and see, I mean type in the location and then zoom in and out to get a micro and macro view of the area. Using Google Street View we had access to panoramic views from positions along many streets in the areas we were looking at. Using the technology to control our exploration around the world proved to be a great learning experience for the students. Not only did they learn to use the technology, they learned about some places that they would not normally have the opportunity to discover. This activity also allowed the students to compare and contrast where Cassie had been to a map we created earlier in the school year about where our families originated from. 

maps engine.PNG

Aside from the learning that was happening in Social Studies, we took time to come up with questions that we could provide Cassie with for our first Hangout. We used Google Documents to record our questions and then shared the Doc we created with Cassie. This provided her with access to our questions and allowed anyone with the link to make comments and/or changes to the document in real time, at our leisure. Our first meeting with her provided us with the opportunity to get to know each other better by actually having a conversation. 

When we finally met Cassie via Hangout we felt like we already knew her. We had read about her and watched some videos about her. It was really cool to be able to see her and have her see us as we chatted in real time. She was a guest speaker in our class without physically being in our classroom! 

Our first hangout:


Our second Hangout with Cassie was geared toward acquiring knowledge about her travels and questions about where she was currently located and how her training is going. She provided the students with excellent 'life' advice and provided us with further information about her experiences which provided us with some questions and starting points with respect to food, clothing, and climate of communities she has visited around the world. 

Here are two videos captured during our second Hangout:

Cassie's 'visits' with the students really pumped them up. Her authenticity and enthusiasm comes through quite easily. The students are impressed by her and I can say that she is a great model for my students. Her words and actions fit nicely with the Catholic Graduate Expectations. In our interactions with her she has demonstrated that she is an effective communicator, reflective thinker, lifelong learner, collaborator, and a responsible citizen.

Their interest in what she is up to (currently training at the World Athletics Center in Phoenix, Arizona) and their fondness of her led to a great Media Literacy activity that was recently completed. The students created motivational posters that incorporated photos of Cassie with quotes that they believed matched the photo they chose to use in their poster. They used Google Drawings like skilled technicians to create their posters. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to step back and let them have some free reign as I observed them apply the 21st century learning skills they have been working on all year. 

Our learning goal and success criteria:


Curriculum connections:

  • Oral - Clarity and Coherence 2.3 - communicate ideas, opinions, and information orally in a clear, coherent manner (when presenting poster)

  • Reading - Demonstrating Understanding 1.4 - demonstrate understanding of a text by retelling the story or restating information from the text, with the inclusion of a few interesting details (retelling someone else’s presentation of their media poster)

  • Reading - Responding to and Evaluating Texts 1.8 - express personal thoughts and feelings about what has been read (after they and others have presented posters)

  • Writing - Research 1.3  - gather information to support ideas for writing (finding the right motivational quote for poster)

  • Writing - Review 1.6 - determine whether the ideas and information they have gathered are suitable for the purpose, and gather new material if necessary (reflect on chosen quote and decide if it fits best or look for another one)

  • Media Literacy - Audience Responses 1.4 - describe how different audiences might respond to specific media texts (how do grade 2’s feel/think and how would grade 8’s feel/think)

  • Media Literacy - Purpose and Audience 3.1 - identify the topic, purpose, and audience for media texts they plan to create (specifically for this motivational poster)

Here are some examples of our Media Posters:

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Cassie 6.PNG

Cassie 4.PNG

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Cassie 3.PNG

Cassie 1.PNG  

As the students worked on their posters I would check in on them, virtually and face-to-face. When I wasn't with them in real-time I would provide them with feedback on their work/progress. Here are some examples of the feedback provided:


In a matter of minutes, I can check in on their progress and offer them feedback to assist them. As you can see from the time stamps in the photos above, I was providing feedback after school without having to take their work away from them. They still had access to their work and could use my feedback the next time they accessed their Drive. 

The students also shared their work with their classmates in order to get feedback and provide their friends with ideas and what they were up to. It was, and still is, amazing to see how open they are to making their work available to others in order to get help and provide help. 

The combination of technology, social media, and GAFE have provided us with many innovative opportunities to learn. The students and I were reflecting today about our learning this school year and the majority of them stated that our interaction with Cassie and the activities that came from them were the most rewarding. In fact, they asked that I display their motivational posters in the classroom because of how proud they are of their their creations. They know where to find their work on the internet but wanted them in plain sight for the last week and a half of the school year.

Stay tuned for the next blog post...I plan on sharing what my students wanted to work on after what they created above. :)

Friday, May 29, 2015

An Evolution in Education: The use of Technology to Engage and Empower Students

It was almost two years ago when I reflected on the importance of integrating technology in the classroom. If my recollection is correct, I wrote that particular blog post because people were constantly asking me what the big deal was. They were reading and hearing about it but needed more information to be convinced that the integration of technology into the classroom/curriculum is as important as other high yield strategies.

As I re-read that post to prepare for this one, I have to admit that it was unsettling. What I had written no longer sat well with me. The unsettling feeling I experienced turns out to be a good thing. It was telling me that I have grown in my understanding of the use of technology in the classroom. I kept referring to the integration of technology as "revolutionary" in my blog post. I don't see that as the case anymore. Check out the following video called "This will Revolutionize Education" to see what I'm talking about:

As you saw in the video, many things (e.g. technology) were introduced in Education with the belief that they would would revolutionize it....but none of them have. What technology has done is help with the evolution of education. The technology we have and use in classrooms is of almost no use to students if it is simply dropped into their laps without any connection/context to teaching/learning. The technology is simply a tool, one of many, that teachers leverage to meet the needs of their students. This is not to say that it isn't a powerful tool, but the power really comes from good pedagogy that is amplified with the use of technology. 

So, what is the big deal? My experience with the use of technology in the classroom has been a rewarding journey - for my students and myself. The world we live in today has no boundaries anymore. With the use of technology and cloud based services like Google Apps for Education, we can connect with anyone anywhere as long as there is an internet connection, acquire knowledge easily, and do so on our own terms and at our leisure. 

From an educational perspective, we are no longer bound by the walls of the classroom. Combine this with co-created learning goals, success criteria, anchor charts, accountable talk, rich tasks, and other proven teaching strategies and you have the ingredients to not only engage students, but to empower them. As an elementary classroom teacher I can say, without a doubt, that students are engaged by the technology (e.g. Chromebooks, iPads) being used in classrooms. They love the interactivity, ease of use, immediate feedback and quite frankly the speed at which they can engage in a variety of activities. The technology is also fostering creativity, collaboration, technological literacy, and digital citizenship.

It all starts with engagement. For a variety of reasons, the technology hooks students in. To this day, I have never had a student tell me that the technology is boring! Once you attach a learning goal or provide a purpose for its use, something magical happens. Engagement starts to turn into empowerment. The students begin to realize that they can harness the technology to create rather than consume. They realize that they can easily seek immediate feedback about what they are doing. They begin to take risks and share their work with others in the hopes that they will ultimately benefit in the end. They begin to use the technology for their own purposes, based around their thoughts, ideas, and reflections. They find new ways to use the technology to learn and demonstrate their learning. It is a sight of beauty and one that is hard for me to describe sometimes.

The use of technology in the classroom is helping education evolve. We have models like SAMR and TPACK that provide a framework for teachers to help them combine effective pedagogical practices with technology enhanced learning environments. The integration of technology can provide teachers with a way to design and create new tasks that were once unimaginable. That is the big deal. If it can allow for this to happen now, what will it be able to assist us with in the near and far future? The use of technology in teaching and learning is part of a wonderful evolution in education. Let's continue to evolve to benefit everyone involved.  

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Evolutionizing the Classroom: Bringing 21st Century Learning to Life with the use of 3Dimensional Technology

Picture this: I'm sitting with a friend in a coffee shop and I tell him that I have a great idea - I want to get a 3D printer so that my students can bring their ideas and curriculum concepts to life. He looked at me funny, and then told me I was crazy! How would this work? Who would teach me to use the technology? How would the kids build capacity around this? How would I get my hands on the technology? He seemed worried  and had a lot of valid questions. Strangely enough, I was not phased by them.

MakerBot Replicator 2
Photo from Extreme Tech
Let me provide some context to my crazy idea. The use of GAFE and Chromebooks with my students last year transformed my practice and their learning. The students and I became more creative as the year went on and we were taking risks with our thinking/ideas. My students had gotten to the point where they were ready to start taking their thoughts/ideas to another level. The 21st Century learning that was going on had led them to a point where they were ready to "take action" - they wanted to start building and "making" things that would act as tangibles of their learning - artifacts that they could hold and talk about as they explained their thinking about their learning.

Image result for Rolland Chidiac
Photo from the Kitchener Post

My crazy idea didn't pop into my head until the summer months when I deeply reflected on the teaching and learning that happened throughout the year. That is when it came to me! Why not use a 3D printer to assist us in our "making"? It seemed like the perfect next step. My students would have been up to the challenge. They would have embraced the idea because they were hungry for more as they moved from engagement to empowerment with respect to their learning. Unfortunately, the year was over and they were no longer my students. Fortunately, I was able to take the time to put together a coherent plan of action so that other students would be able to benefit from my crazy idea.

I spoke to my Principal about it and he supported my Teacher Learning and Leadership Program (TLLP) application to try and receive funding for release time and technology to bring the idea to life. The application was successful and now I have the privilege of bringing this opportunity/experience to my students next year with the hope that it will encourage them to take their learning to a higher level.

Image result for TLLP
Photo from OTF

In my project application I wrote that integrating technology in the classroom enables teachers to differentiate instruction and meet the multiple intelligences of their students. In my classroom, the use of blended learning models and GAFE (cloud based software) is used to facilitate and improve critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration among my learners. As students establish a growth mindset they are evolving into rich thinkers by producing creative solutions to problems.

I believe that this project will take my students who are being taught to explore, create, and reflect to a higher next level by combining the 21st Century skills they are acquiring with opportunity to bring their thinking/learning to life. By harnessing the power of 3Dimensional technology it is my hope that my students will:

  • transform their thinking/ideas to make them a reality by creating prototypes and tangible artifacts to demonstrate their understandings, and 
  • become transformational thinkers by establishing a 'design mindset' whereby they transform their ideas into concrete material.  

I want my students to expand their ideas from the virtual world to the real world, moving ideas to action or product.

I am looking forward to this experience and can't wait to share our learning with you!