Teaching is a busy job. With so many different responsibilities packed into a few short hours everyday, it is hard to imagine squeezing anything else in...especially something you do just for yourself.
In my new role this year as education technology coach, I have the flexibility to make my own schedule. Originally I thought this would mean that perhaps I might just have a few more minutes to slow down and breathe at any point in the day but in fact learnt quickly that the job meant quite the opposite and my calendar was filled. Busier than I had ever expected or in previous years, I also found myself teaching more. Most days a week I was teaching in some capacity a minimum of five out of six classes with at least an activity or meeting or professional development session or two to lead at lunch, before school or after school. In trying to find the balance, I was finding that I was becoming more off tilter. I was finding it more difficult to complete the other portions of my job while still wanting to be in the classroom as much as I could.
After a week or so of trying to find the root cause and a few discussions later, one of the steps forward I decided to make was to take time each week for myself during the work day. It still boggles my mind that I'm actually doing it but the level of productivity that has evolved from it the rest of the week makes it well worth the dedicated time slot in my schedule.
Just to clarify, time for myself doesn't mean kicking back and relaxing. Rather, blocking out a regular amount of time each week to work on the projects or ideas that inspire me. They may be tasks I just have to get done or something else completely differentI want to explore. Think of it as my 20% time like Google, iTime, Personal Projects, or Genius Hour but for teachers. Time to simply focus on things that inspire a passion and drive even when it gets busy.
On my day off (due to public holiday), I sent the better part of my morning designing a e-Portfolio for my Masters of Education that would be long lasting throughout my entire programme. Each class seemed to ask you to set up an e-portfolio/blog to document your learning in the course but having 8 different e-Portfolios in the end didn't make sense to me. Thus, figuring out a way to map out a design and create what I had envisioned had me captivated and channeling my inner nerd without even realizing I was doing work. This was a project that stemmed internally but was rewarding to know I was setting myself up for success for the next few terms of study. In addition, it got me thinking about how we do portfolios at our school and how they transition between years without one central portfolio to house all e-Portfolios each year. Thus, generate even more learning outcomes than I had initially targeted for.
The first two periods coming into work today were scheduled as office work and administrative tasks that needed to be completed. In that time, I felt more accomplished, productive and motivated than I had the last few weeks during the time in the office. I felt momentum continuing to flow from one day of independent work into other projects and started to make serious headway with them that I got so caught up in doing them, I almost didn't realize it was time to head to class.
This got me thinking. We want our kids to inquire into projects that interest them. We want them to ask questions and find the answers. We give them the time, the tools, the resources, and the support to explore their passions through learning. But how often during the work day do we do this for ourselves? There is always another assessment, report card, meeting, lesson to plan, the list goes on. A teacher's to do list is never complete. But what if you blocked out time during the work day to do exactly what you wanted to explore. Why is it that what we ask of our students we don't always model ourselves?
To be honest, when I schedule the time from now on during the work day, it will almost always be work related independent projects. But because I reframe the work in my mind as time to work on whatever I wanted, I chose the work I felt I wanted to do, not just because they had to get done. Ownership over work truly promotes internal motivation. When mindset changes, so do the outcomes.
I'm looking forward to seeing how 'my time' evolves but it's not coming off my calendar any time soon. I wonder how many other educators actually dedicate time to individual learning in a schedule of chaos. I wonder what opportunities lie ahead in my time. My time is time for my learning, my exploration and my growth.
Year 3 is a unique year group at our school. It is the time when students transition from the early years programme to the junior years programme in the PYP. But to our students, it also means the transition from using iMacs and iPads to laptops.
The introduction to MacBooks can be challenging at any age group but there is no lack of enthusiasm amongst this group of 7 and 8 year olds. Students in Year 3 share a laptop cart amongst the three classes, thus, it is simply a teaching tool like any other resource in the classroom.
After sitting down with the year group teaching team, it was clear we needed a plan in place to help our students transform this teaching tool into a functional part of the classroom.
We've created Year 3 EdTech Boot Camp for the entire year where students will develop technical skills to be applied in class and instruction on a regular basis. The lessons will be linked to the units of inquiry throughout the year wherever possible with the goal of moving towards a full one-to-one laptop programme in Year 4. It is exciting to have a regularly scheduled lesson with each of the year three classes every week and to be able to see their progress.
We started by reviewing the Acceptable Use Policy as a class and how we could demonstrate role model behaviour through our interactions with the laptops. This is something that is to be also reviewed by parents with the child before signing and returning. It was no surprise that the forms were back in quickly as they forms had to be returned before the laptops came out of the cart.
And then today happened...the students finally got their laptops. Beaming with excitement, they eagerly found their way over to the laptop cart and retrieved their numbered laptop hugging it with two hands and showing it love all the way back to their desks. As they patiently waited, there was chatter amongst the students until I finally gave the magic word to open the laptop and turn on the laptop.
It's been a few years since teaching the younger year groups and it was evident that quick thinking to have hands behind the back, or on the head as an instruction was key. The students first learnt how to '1/2 way down and turn them around' with their laptops (and yes, there is a new dance move that goes with that). The eagerness was oozing from the students. As a class, we established a secret word that would replace 'go' and instantly students were more patient about waiting for the instructions.
The first thing we did was find the spotlight search and then have a little fun finding PhotoBooth to take a picture or two. It was important to start off with something that not only the students would have success doing but also would be fun. By allowing them the chance, we were able to also talk about some necessary skills such as searching for apps and how to close apps when we were finished. We then wanted the students to be able to become familiar with some of the terminology such as launchpad, dashboard, and home screen. The students also had fun figuring out how to move between application screens on their MacBooks.
I also wanted to them to be able to have tools they could use immediately in their classrooms so I targeted two applications: the dictionary for language and the calculator for mathematics. It may seem simple but if students are able to locate and use these functions regularly, we will be able to easily build off these. First we looked up the word role model using the dictionary. We had a great question with one student unsure of what one of the words meant in the definition and we had a discussion and trial of how we could further expand our vocabulary by double clicking on the word and defining it as well.
Then we moved over to calculator. I asked my students to use the calculator to find the solution of 25x25 (a mathematical equation not easily solved by the average Year 3 student). Students began figuring out some of the symbols on the calculator and patiently waited to whisper the answer.
The session passed in a split second and it was time to head home. I asked the students in small groups to return the laptops to the cart. I was impressed to see they hadn't yet forgotten about hugging their laptop with two hands as they carefully placed their laptop on the shelf and charger plugged in. One thing I did realize doing this lesson was that it takes time to put the laptops away. Again, it seems silly to think about but it takes a long time to get the students to go from shutting down to closure and finally to their laptop cart.
I walked out with a smile and riding the high of their excitement. I may not have covered everything I had wanted to but what I did do was feel confident in the students' introduction to MacBooks and laptops.
I can't wait to see them next week to see how much information was retained as well as how we can continue our learning as we log into our emails for the first time.
How quickly we forget when we get our degrees, diplomas and certificates what it really feels likes to be a student.
How quickly we forget that time management is always a challenge as a student as you balance homework, life and other responsibilities and sometimes have an all-nighter to finish whatever is due the next day.
How quickly we forget what it feels like on that first day of school, unsure of what's ahead with excitement, nerves and a little fear all wrapped into one.
How quickly we forget what's it like to have to take notes, review, and apply what you have learnt.
Even when you become a teacher and you are helping your students build the skills they need to be successful you often forget what it is like to be the one who is learning.... until you find your way back to being a student.
As I begin my masters, I realize how long I've really been out of the academic world. Learning at the graduate level is so different but so much the same as learning with my Year 5 students. It is not necessarily about the content but the skills you use to help you to be successful. It is not about the grade you receive but the challenges you overcome as you work through it. It is not about the outcomes but rather the choices you've made along the way. It's not about the perfect score but rather what you learnt from the mistakes along the way.
Most importantly, you learn a lot more if you have fun along the way.
I have to say this was one of the most unsuspected and unplanned learning engagement I have done with my students, but was definitely was one of the most fun ones. Last week, my students were watching a few videos about buildings, structures and environmental factors architects needed to consider when planning and building in various locations around the world. One of the videos featured Hurricane Sandy and showed the effects it had on various buildings. One of my kiddos asked, “What makes a building ‘hurricane proof’? What makes a building not get destroyed in a hurricane?” Of course, when a student has an inquiry, we usually go about investigating so this was just another one of those days. At that point it was made known, the hurricane would be here in 3 days.
First the students broke into teams of 5. I am still amazed at how well my 9-year-olds can make groups. Ever since our design thinking and inventions unit at the start of the year, they see the value in creating diverse groups. WIthout teacher support, they make sure there is varying abilities, boys and girls, and unique perspectives. They choose not to work with their best friends and understand that by making these decisions they can make the best teams that can solve any problems.
Once the teams were established, they started to do their research. They brainstormed questions that would be necessary for the investigation such as what happens during a hurricane, what materials are best for structures in hurricanes, etc. and documented them in a shared Google Doc. From there, they began their research. Each student in the group was responsible for different questions as well as keeping a list of references they used to solve their answers. Some groups even colour coded who did what to help them self-monitor if they were each contributing equally to the gathering of research notes.
From there, they pulled the keywords out from their research that would need to be included in their design before creating blueprints that they drew by hand. One group even drew their building from 5 perspectives so they could have a well thought out plan. When they had finished their sketch, they had to meet with me briefly to explain some of their design decisions in the sketch. I was amazed by the thought and detail they went into for their structures. One group thought about being inspired by the Gherkin with a rounded building so the wind would curve around it, Another group had the building on stilts in case there was flooding. The final group created a basement for safety with reinforced walls in the basement with lining to prevent water from seeping in. There were inclined planes for water to run away from the building, multiple exits for if there was something blocking it and a variety of different materials used that they felt would be best to minimize damage.
Then they got to the building process. The students were allowed to use any materials they wanted to construct their buildings. We used recycled materials primarily as well as other resources that were found around the classroom. I loved watching them as they talked through their disagreements in designs, working collaboratively and inclusive of all group members.
Finally, it was hurricane day. I walked into class still unsure of how it was going to play out and no real plan on how to make it happen but sometimes creativity strikes and you roll with it. We had a video with sound effects on the projector as a visual and hurricane sirens as a warning for the members of the community. It was time to see if these buildings would hold. Every student played a role in creating the hurricane. Some students were the storm chasers who used iPods to video document what was happening and finding different angles to capture the storm. Other students were the fierce winds with large sheets of cardboard or boards used to create the wind. Finally, we had students who were the rainstorm who would toss water at the buildings. Hurricane Mac was intense. As the hurricane progressed, debris (in the form of pencil crayons) began to be thrown about and hitting the buildings.
When the storm had passed, we looked at our buildings to see how they had stood up against the storm. Luckily they were all pretty much intact. We had a lot of discussion about why some were better than others, how some materials had been more durable than others, etc. First the teams debriefed individually and then they shared with the whole class. To wrap it up, the students created a written report about the experience from beginning to end including all of their reflections, photographs and experiences.
It was the absolute best way to begin our Monday morning (even with the bit of mess we created). The experience brought about so many questions and inquiries. The students worked collaboratively to investigate and create an experience that was memorable. I honestly think they are still shocked of how we did the simulation in the end. But the smiles on their faces was completely worth every second.
Sometimes teaching can’t be all planned out. Sometimes you just have to jump into the storm, get a little bit messy and be ready for whatever is thrown your way.
We have had a lot of success in my classroom with students constructing their own learning by creating online courses, doing each other's courses, assessing each other through the courses and also assessing themselves. Giving the students this much ownership in their own learning was really empowering for them and allowed them to explore their understanding of the topics in ways that made the most sense to them.
We were wrapping up the online courses one day and the students were completing their self-reflection. A few students had already finished and were working on some independent inquiries of their own off in one corner of the room. As sauntered over to see what they were doing, which then became about a half hour discussion with us on the floor and more students joining as they finished to brainstorm ideas for our next unit about buildings and structures.
All it takes is a simple question. What would you like to do?
From there, we started to brainstorm different ideas for how we might build, hands-on activities and online programmes. I had one student who had been learning SketchUp quite a bit at home in his personal time and offers to lead some lessons about how to use it. By the following day, I had a full Google presentation sent to me with the lessons he had prepared.
My students even created what they thought would be a good summative task. They wanted to have to build a structure or building given a specific region with certain conditions they would have to adapt for. As they built, they wanted the opportunity to show their thinking and document the process. Finally, they wanted to share their building and provide a rationale for each of the components of their structure. This was essentially what I was planning on having them do themselves at the end of the unit but one thing changed that I wouldn’t have been able to give them - Student Ownership.
The students were empowered to create a summative that was their own, something they wanted to do. They are more likely to be engaged in this assessment and produce quality work because it was something they created. What I have learnt this year is that when I allow my students to guide our classroom, they always lead me down the path that will extend their learning most.
I used to want to always set my students up for success. If a graphic organiser or two was needed to push them in the right direction, I would. If they needed to review, review, review, we would. If we needed specific tools to do an activity successfully one way, I had what we needed ready. It's not that I've stopped supporting them where they need it but now it's what they want, when they need it and how they want it.
What my students like to remind me every day, they (collectively) outsmart me any day of the week. So when I give them a task without a lot of parameters, they find a way to make it happen. Just like they did when they took over my class site or took it upon themselves to build class lessons or how they built their courses or support each other through their obstacles.
Today was no other. First thing on a Monday morning I told my students they needed to figure out a way to brainstorm different building materials for buildings and structures around the world. They could sort, write, create this brainstorm however they wanted but I was not going to be involved and they had to do it as a whole group activity. More than anything, it was a way for them to come together as a class to start the week but of course, they didn't know that.
We have worked really hard as a class to develop our abilities to work as a team, create diverse teams and try out different roles. We have talked about not always working with your friends, highlighting each other's strengths and supporting each others' areas of growth. We've talked about planning, process and final products. Most importantly we've talked about how their voice as students matter.
So today when I said go. I had one student tell me they needed time to discuss and brainstorm a strategy before they could begin. I asked how long they needed and got a response for 2 minutes. They discussed as a class of 15 different strategies to achieve the results building on each others' ideas. At the end of the 2 minutes, they had lined themselves up in numbered order, markers in hand and asking for 15 minutes to complete the task. In succession, they each wrote one idea on the paper and also shouted it out so others could hear before the next person took their turn. Fairness was a top priority for them and each student had 3 turns. In the last 2-3 minutes, they then asked for any other additional ideas that had not already been shared.
I could have led that discussion. I could've facilitated who was able to share their ideas and in what order. I could've asked them to write their ideas on a post-it or just raise their hand to share. But I didn't have to. It was fascinating to step back and watch them work.
It was certainly not the way I would've done it but what I've come to find is that they will figure it out. Whether I'm there or not, they will find a way to get through the challenge - independently or collectively. Sometimes you need to just trust your students, let there be tension, friction, moments of chaos and blurred lines. The clouds will clear and what you are left with is a result that was created by the students, that they are invested in and they can walk away from knowing they had a part in constructing their own learning.
We've all been to the most amazing professional development workshops, conferences, weekends, you name it. The ones that just inspire you when you needed it most, gets you thinking about your classroom in a whole new way and excited to start implementing the many new ideas first thing Monday morning at 9am.
Then reality hits - paperwork, attendance, marking, planning, meetings, field trips, after school activities, did I miss anything? As much as we intend to try out all of our new tricks and share them with the rest of our school community, how often does that really happen when you are faced with all of the normal time consuming components of your job?
What I've learnt about all of those ideas that you get beyond excited about don't usually ever happen. I'm as guilty as anyone and I'm the girl who loves learning new things all the time. While I am learning them, I don't always get the chance to apply them.
So here's my suggestion:
1. Choose a couple of ideas.
Just 2 or 3 ideas really that you think you can implement within the next week. They don't even have to be big. When I attended the EdTechTeam Summit in Thailand, I focused on learning what I could about creating websites. It was something I was currently working on for my own personal site so I figured I could build on that. I bookmarked a few resources for selecting colours and creating patterns. I also knew my students would be creating their own sites in about a week's time so it would be something I could show them to do to.
2. Actually do it.
In an hour workshop, you don't always get enough time to figure it all out the first time. So spend a little bit of time on your own walking yourself through the steps. Trial and error is a beautiful thing and I find it's when I work best really. I wanted to become better at creating my own colour palettes using some of the website resources I had used in the workshop and also how to create my own patterns from those colour palettes using Colour Lovers. Some steps you remember from doing it in the workshop, others you have to piece together from when you were trying to listen and do at the same time. Eventually, you figure it out.
3. Do it again.
Repeating something or trying a different way of doing the same thing really helps to solidify the new skill. I played around and probably created about half a dozen or so of colour palettes and then more than a dozen patterns just for fun. Learning happens through exploration.
4. Go back to that list of 2-3 items you wanted to try and try another one.
What else did you love from your workshop? I also liked playing with Google's MyMaps. I had used it before but sometimes you need a friendly reminder of a certain tool before you figure out it's a perfect fit for what's coming next in your unit. For me, that was using it to document different ecosystem imbalances around the world, having students include pictures and
5. Share what you've learnt...even with one person.
Knowledge for the sake of your own personal gain is one thing but being able to share with others is just as important. For me, I shared the website design tools with my students immediately. The first time around, I only had them choose a colour palette with 2-3 colours and then create their website banners using those colours. From there, they could customise whatever they could find in the settings.
6. Then share it again.
Using what you learnt in a professional development session makes you feel like it was worthwhile. After my students had made their websites for their online courses, I pulled 2 students aside for a project for our Head of Primary. He needed to spruce up a website for a workshop he was running. I had the students create a colour palette and make a banner with the colour palette. After that, I introduced them to how to make a pattern for the background of the site and let them have a go at it.
It didn't stop there though. About another week or so later, I met up with a few of the Year 6 students who were working on their exhibition projects and wanted to make a website as part of their action portion. I walked them through all of the same steps from start to finish but along the way added in how you could change the look by using images as a background or creating colour palettes from an image. In addition, I provided them with more websites and options to customise their sites.
By taking one small focused idea from a professional development workshop, I was able to turn the idea into action through practice and practical application with my students. I am still seeing the aftereffects in my classroom of the workshops I attended a month later. This to me is making meaningful connections and creating an ongoing learning opportunity long after the workshop facilitators are gone.
It's not worth overwhelming yourself and setting yourself up for failure when you say you will do 43 new things by the end of the month based on what you might have learnt in an afternoon, day or weekend. What I've learnt is that you really have to make your professional development experiences work for you.
Teaching math has changed for me this year. When there is a game to be played, it makes learning fun. Today we were taking up a preassessment and determining our action plans for growth over our numeracy unit and it was feeling a little bit blah. So out I whipped one of my favourite math games I hadn't yet played with my kids- multiplication war.
War used to be a favourite card game of mine as a kid that I would play with my mom or sister. With the deck split equally in two piles, each of the players would turn over the top card at the same time and the highest card would win the round and keep the cards. The point of the game was to have all the cards eventually.
With a simple twist, I turned this into an engaging math game. When the students turned over their cards at the same time, they had to multiply the values of both cards together and yell out the answer. The first person with the correct answer would win the round and keep the cards.
Worked like a charm! It turned out to be an indoor break time after math due to the Singapore rain and I couldn't get my kids to stop! Easy and fun way to practice your multiplication tables without feeling like you are writing them down over and over again.
My students were beyond thrilled when I told them they could create online sites for our entire unit of inquiry this time around. After discussing our central idea, key concepts and transdisciplinary skills to give my students a general overview of what the unit of inquiry we were supposed to be learning about was supposed to be studying, I did the unthinkable for most students.
I gave the students a document with what would be on their report card for Unit 4...word for word. To the shock and amazement of my students, I pushed it even further. I told them they would be marking themselves and those would be the marks they get on their report card for the most part. Unless I saw something that was different then they did, I would use what they had given themselves. I don't know if I've ever seen my students so speechless. I've had them self-evaluate before but knowing they were completely in the driver's seat wasn't what they were used to.
I thought it was only fair they knew what they had to be 'assessed' on if they were creating the course. In order for them to succeed, they needed to be able to extract the big ideas or concepts that they would need to cover in their course. Essentially these would create their different lessons/sessions/levels. Each group was given a piece of chart paper and asked to think about what those big concepts might be. I suggested they read through their lines of inquiry, central idea and assessment sheet again to figure out what they should be focusing on. They could be as big or small as they felt necessary to be considered it's own lesson.
From there, we discussed as a class some of the bigger ones that popped out frequently on the different pages. We also discussed that some topics could be combined to create one lesson with more detail. After that discussion, students were given time to discuss which lessons they wanted as part of their course and circled them.
After that it was important for the students to order the lessons in a way that made logical sense. As a class, we discussed how you can't have a lesson about something more specific if you haven't had a general overview and that you had to be strategic in the way your order your course.
Whenever students take notes for research, I let them do it whichever way makes the most sense to them. This time around I wanted to add another strategy to their repertoire that they could choose from. In a Google Document, the student would make a table with the first row being the different lessons by the concept in the correct order from left to right. Then in the columns underneath each level, students could write down all of the questions they think they might need to find out to be successful. It was important to discuss with the students that they could come back to this list and add more questions to the chart at any time. Sometimes what you are reading while researching prompts you for another question and the students are encouraged to include it in the document. This method of recording information is not fixed and is able to be changed and modified at any time.
I absolutely love this program with my students. Over the past year and a bit, I have learnt so much about my students through this initiative and it literally makes my day when I get the sweetest emails from them.
For the first few weeks of the first year of the program, I documented my weekly reflections. These are my thoughts from October - December from 2013 as the home writing program began to unfold.
Week 1 Reflection
Well, it’s out in the world now, let’s see how it goes. The students seemed pretty excited that they didn’t have to write on paper for the homework each week. By providing an example of what was expected in the email really allowed students to get a visual of what was intended.
I am glad I emailed the parents prior to the assignment – it can be difficult at times understanding the perspective of the email being sent and I could find myself in tricky situations potentially if a student emails content of concern so it’s good to be completely open about it first and educate the parents instead of trying to backpedal later. I even got a response from one parent being really supportive of the idea and excited to see what comes of this.
The first night I had a few students email me with their letters. It is interesting to see the range of emails. Some students are sticking specifically to the options, others are writing about their own topics. It is a quick glance at who chooses to be creative or follow the form. The range of work is quite wide from a sentence to a couple paragraphs. Hopefully, I can get all of my students writing at least a few paragraphs each week to me.
One thing that also happened today was that a student emailed me about an issue that took place last Friday (not as part of their homework). This was the first time I have received an email like this from a student. It is clear that this outlet can provide students with a comfortable environment that allows them to connect with a teacher without having to have difficult conversations face to face. While I still believe face to face interactions are important, it simply provides students with another avenue to communicate with me so that we can problems solve together.
One thing I learned today is that I should draft the email from the students as I receive them. This way I’m not writing to 20 students on Sunday night. It is a bit much to do it all in one go. Therefore, this week I will try drafting the emails as I receive them and still send them out on Monday morning. I’m going to let my students read their email from me first thing Monday morning once they get settled for the day.
Some of the most common areas of improvement for writing emails include :
Week 2 Reflection
Week 2 of the email writing. I emphasized to my students they should aim to write at least 3 good paragraphs to me if possible when we were reviewing our homework for the week. Hopefully, this will help them continue to develop the length of their writing.
Monday, October 7, 2013– Today was the first day my students got to read their emails from me. They were all very eager to read their responses from me. By the time I got home at night, I already had a few emails from students. Many responded to the questions I had asked them but the biggest thing I noticed was that the length of the emails had grown to almost double for most students compared to the first email they had sent.
Another thing I noticed was that I received questions about class work. I had 2 boys in my class email me to ask to meet with me tomorrow to review some of the work they were unsure of. All I thought was wow! Already my students are using this assignment not only as a vehicle to fulfill their weekly homework but also using it as an educational tool to reach out and get help. For these two particular boys, they both need extra help and rarely participate or ask questions in class. For me, this was a major success this week. These emails are truly opening up the lines of communication with my students and making them feel more comfortable reaching out for support.
I was discussing the project with a colleague tonight sharing some of my successes. I was also mentioning how labour intensive it was right now as it required me to write at least 20 long well thought out and grammatically correct emails for students each week. But how can you argue with the results? A little work could mean a lot of rewards and right now I am enjoying getting to know my students better and being able to help them personally, socially and academically.
Topics that have come up so far in the first 2 weeks:
Week 6 Reflection