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. 


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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:

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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:



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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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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Engagement - Collaboration - Success (in Mathematics)

In Math we are working on 3D Geometry. We are learning about different 3D figures and their characteristics. 


An activity that the students recently completed involved writing riddles about 3D figures using the characteristics listed in the anchor chart above. They were provided with an example and then were left alone to create as many riddles as they could in the time they were given for this activity.

They were given the choice to work alone or with a partner. This activity was done using a Google Document where all the students would be working within the same document at the same time. They were using Chromebooks to access the document via our D2L site.

Here is a photo of what the document looked like at the beginning of the activity:


You will notice that some students jumped right in and started creating riddles, providing me with information about their confidence and understanding of the subject material and the task. In the top right hand corner of the photo you can see the coloured letters which provides information on who is working in the document, providing me with information about who may need assistance getting to the activity.

As the students started the task I was pleased to see three students immediately pick up their Chromebooks and head straight for the anchor chart. After capturing a photo (below) of them using the chart to create their riddles I asked what they were up to. They said they wanted to be sure about spelling and work on the success criteria identified for this unit. Our learning goal and success criteria is right above the anchor chart but I was "in the moment" and didn't think to capture a photo of that.


As I moved around the room I saw and heard the same thing over and over again. Students were talking about their thinking and feverishly typing out their riddles. Here is a photo of three students working on their own. I must admit, even though they are sitting by themselves, they would get up and move around to ask questions of their classmates and classmates would approach them as well. 


After talking to some of the students and capturing some photos, I sat down at the computer and started looking through their work. I provided feedback where I felt is was necessary and then got back up and circulated the room. The photo below shows some of the comments I made in the document. 


It is pretty cool to hear the students talk about the comments I leave for them. It is almost instantaneous. I leave the comment and then I hear something like this: 1) Mr. C left a comment for me, he said.....or...... 2) he wants me to..... There is nothing more satisfying than seeing/hearing students get excited about feedback and then try and make changes/revisions based on my feedback.

As time was winding down I took another photo of our document - here it is nearing the end:



Here is another shot moment before I told them to finish their last sentence and change the sharing settings from "edit" to "view only".


The students did a wonderful job of staying engaged for the 20 minutes they spent working on this task. They effectively collaborated to assist each other and provide feedback and support. It was so amazing to see them and hear them as they remained focused on the task at hand. I captured some video to try and show you what it looked like and sounded like. Unfortunately, the video doesn't fully relay the intense and dynamic experience this activity provided. Here is the video for you to check out:


We will be reviewing the document today or tomorrow so that the students get a chance to answer some of the riddles that their classmates created. Judging by what I saw and heard during this activity the students shouldn't have too much difficulty figuring the riddles out. After all, they have already done the "heavy lifting" but don't really know it yet :)

Monday, March 23, 2015

Making Inferences and Sharing Them Using Google Slides

I have found that teaching young students to make good inferences is tough. They infer things all the time but are unsure how to explain what they are doing. I take them through a three step systematic process to help them understand what an inference is and how to put a good one together.


They learn to focus in on a certain part of a text (clues from text), explain what they think (their inference), and why they think it (using their scheme).

Here is one of the main anchor charts about what good readers do to make an inference.


With an understanding of what good readers do, the students practised making inferences.


Having had several opportunities to practice writing out inferences, it was time to put things together and apply what they had learned.

They were provided with a short text (the one shown above) and the three part graphic organizer to get their thoughts on paper in an organized and systematic way. During this process the students would conference with me and we would talk about considering edits and revisions to their work.

When they felt confident/satisfied with their rough work they would then start polishing things up, writing out their inference in good - putting all three parts together in a way that makes sense and flows well.


Once all the pencil and paper work was in order, the students logged into their GAFE accounts and created a Google slide based on their good copy. They were to include the text that they had written out on paper and a picture via the Internet and or one that they had created themselves. 

They shared their slide with me as soon as it was created so that I could provide them with immediate feedback about their work. Once the students finished their slides I printed off a paper copy for the students who don't have access to GAFE at home and I created a Google Presentation of all the slides in order to create an artifact of our learning experience, to share our learning with others, and to invite comments and feedback from people who would not normally have access to our work/learning community.


Here is our Slide Presentation:


Your feedback is always welcome!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Top 5 Reasons to Implement GAFE with Primary Students

It feels like it was just yesterday that I introduced Google Apps for Education to my students. In reality, it has been about a year and a half since I started integrating GAFE in my classroom. Needless to say, it has been a huge success - for my students and for myself.

Part of the fun for me revolves around documenting and sharing our learning so that others can benefit from our experiences. I recently took some time to reflect on what I consider to be the major benefits of using GAFE with students, particularly primary students. Here are my top 5:

1. It's Empowering
There is nothing more exciting than taking a step back in your classroom to watch and listen to your students as they work on a given task/assignment. It is one thing to have a group of students engaged in a task but it is another to see that they are empowered. What started with engagement has moved to empowerment. The students have moved from being interested in what they are doing to using GAFE to express their interests. I first noticed this last year and thought that maybe it was an anomaly but the same thing is happening with my students this year. They have discovered that the tools allow them to express themselves in ways that they weren't aware of before using GAFE. They have quickly learned how to leverage the technology to create, collaborate, and express themselves and are doing so often. Feeling empowered is a game changer and my students are experiencing what it is like to be intrinsically motivated and to act on that motivation. 

2. Allows for Dynamic Feedback
My students are constantly sharing the work they are doing in their GAFE accounts with their friends, family, and myself. They want me (and others) to see what they are working on. They want to know what we think of their work and how they can make their work better. GAFE makes it easy for them to share their work anytime, anywhere, from almost any device and the people they have shared their work with can respond/provide feedback anytime, anywhere, from almost any device. This experience, the ability to gather feedback from whoever you want without having to hand your work over to them has been very beneficial to my students and myself. Here is a good example for you: while a student is actively working on a task in class they will provide their friends, parents, and teacher with commenting rights to their work. As they are actually working in their document, a classmate of two will jump into their work (document/drawing/slide), see what they are doing, and provide some feedback*. I might also get a chance during the day to check their work and leave a comment. I will make sure to check in again in the evening and see how they have (or have not) used my feedback and that of others to improve their work. Instead of physically handing their work to me or someone else, their work lives in one place where many people can offer suggestions for improvement. GAFE allows me to provide my students with feedback without having to take their work away from them and it allows them to gather feedback without interrupting their work flow.

3. Builds Capacity around Technological Literacy & Digital Citizenship
Our society is ever changing, more so today then when I was 7 years old. GAFE is helping my students build capacity around technological literacy and digital citizenship. They are learning how to effectively use technological tools to benefit their learning and their lives. They recognize that technology and cloud computing is constantly changing and that it can offer them fun and innovative ways to learn and create artifacts that are helpful to themselves and to others. They are also becoming more aware of their digital identities - how to protect them and how to interact with others. With the ease of sharing and interaction there is a responsibility to be good people and to make the right choices. GAFE provides my students with a relatively safe experience that they can build upon as new technologies arise. Their expertise and openness leaves them primed for the future - they are ready to harness what comes next in order to be successful. 

4. Allows for Natural Collaboration
My students don't do a lot of work in isolation, they generally want to work with their classmates. When working in their GAFE accounts, on what I would deem an "individual" task, I will see them calling each other over to take a look at what they are working on and I will hear them asking for suggestions, providing ideas to each other, and I will even see them editing each others work. Then I start to hear "I'm going to share this with you so you can work together when you are at home". I have seen all my students doing this - from the shy introverts to the loud extroverts. This is when things go to the next level, their time at home. They will work on slides or documents together! I asked a few of my students about working together - why they want to work with others and why they invite others to work with them. Their response was that "it is fun...you get better ideas when others help....and...sometimes people helping know more about how to do something than I do". Wow. There are times when a student or two will be off in a corner working away on solving a problem on their own, but generally GAFE brings them together to work on tasks that I have assigned and tasks that they have initiated on their own.

5. Promotes Creativity & Innovation
Some of the things my students have created via GAFE have been mind blowing. It turns out that they had great ideas and just didn't know how to get those ideas out. For example, using the slides and drawing app they took their ideas and used the tools to bring their ideas to life. The students enjoy taking time to play around with the apps and experiment (technological literacy). Once they realize that they can do things using the technology that they couldn't do without it, they are off to the races. Combine this with the natural collaboration, dynamic feedback, and feelings of empowerment I referred to earlier and you have a recipe for innovation. Ideas start to flow more readily and students start to take more risks because they are comfortable doing so.

So, what do you think? Do you use GAFE in your classroom? I would love to hear your thoughts/questions. Fee free to leave a comment here, on Google +, Twitter, or email!