Something new: A Trip to Africa

So here’s something new that I’ll be trying: travel to Africa.

From August 7-30, my husband and I will be part of a team of 7 that will travel to Uganda and Zambia doing community/school/coaching/humanitarian/mission work.  My hubby’s been to Zambia 4 times, but this will be my first trip ever to the African continent.

Trying something new!

You ask, “How do digital portfolios promote literacy?”

Dear colleagues,

Some of you seem to be having a difficult time connecting our digital portfolio space  with the concept of literacy.  When I sit at our division literacy meetings I am inundated with techniques and terms that relate to literacy at the elementary level. There’s lots of discussion of levelled reading, and Fountas and Pinnell are household terms. I know you too, are wondering who they are; I’ve learned they are some big literacy names in the elementary world that have little relevance for high school.

As you might imagine, promoting literacy at the high school level when we are all silo-ed into our towers of coursework–this is a daunting task. Thus, the idea of a very versatile digital space where we could encourage both staff and students to write and read each other’s writing, where we could showcase and write about the exciting projects and learning that we are doing outside of the realm of paper and pencil–this seemed like an exciting possibility.  The more I researched digital portfolios and saw how they were being used for different subject areas and grade levels, the more they seemed to be a really good fit for developing literacy in a high school environment, for getting students to write write write , and for writing for an authentic audience.

However, it is evident that where the Literacy Team sees literacy building –writing and reading –at every turn, there are those of you who see no connection. Where we see development of students and of literacy skills that are cross-curricular and cross-career, there are those of you see only an infringement on your course.  Our Literacy Team has worked so hard this first year to provide opportunities to show you the possibilities,  and to work together as a staff to brainstorm possibilities, but clearly we have not been very successful.  

Alas, as I lament, here is a list of examples that I am compelled to compile. This list is a small sampling of easy and obvious ways that I see literacy being developed through tasks that we already do in some form, that can be improved upon through the digital platform, Edublogs, that we have access to. Perhaps you can come to see some of these things as promoting literacy…..

1. You know that survey that you do at the beginning of teaching Romeo and Juliet? The one where you ask if there is such thing as love at first site? Or would you date a boy/girl that your parents forbid you from dating?  And do you know how the same kids want to be heard and the same ones wish to stay invisible? Having students respond via portfolio, helps everyone to have a voice. It could be that they all could comment in the comment string of your controversial question, and then respectfully respond to the comments of their peers. Or perhaps they each pick a controversial question that they feel passionate about or could safely write about, and do a five minute quick write before the class discusses orally.  Total time needed…7 to 15 minutes.

2. You know when students are finished their unit exam, and they maybe veg on their phones until their classmates are done? What if they first had to add one of the following to their “course page”?  Total time needed….10 to 20 minutes.

  • A summary of the unit
  • What they found most difficult/confusing/challenging or easiest in the last unit
  • Something they learned that surprised them in this unit
  • A new skill that they learned or improved in this unit
  • Or, if nothing else, a point form list of the objectives for the unit

3.  You know in English or Social when you ask students to take a position or write a thesis and then support it with their best evidence? Or maybe defend or refute a controversial scientifictopic? What if they wrote that paragraph or body paragraph in a blog post, and then were grouped with 2 to 4 other students whose work they would read.  First of all, when they know they are writing for peers, not just for the teacher, quality and care often improve. Secondly, they are now exposed to 3 other ways to handle the same task, gaining valuable ideas and strategies for future writing tasks.  In addition, you can ask them to respectfully comment with a challenge, an addition, or an “I hadn’t considered that”.  The commenting process is a great place to teach and enforce tone and audience. Moreover, providing this type of appropriate business-like feedback is an important work-place writing skill that needs to be practiced –they aren’t learning it from their YouTube channels!

4. You know how most of the reading we do is on the internet, and  that internet  writing is formatted in ways to keep our attention? This will be the writing that many of our students will be expected to do in their jobs or careers.  I’m not suggesting we discontinue essay writing, or formal lab writing, but I am suggesting that students most definitely need practice with producing text that appeals to an audience in an easily readable format. They need practice with organizing their work with headings and subtitles and bullet points and short conscience summaries.  These are exactly the literacy skills  that students will develop and practice as they build their course “pages” on the portfolio side of their blog.

Our colleague, Mrs. Krause,  describes the digital portfolio building process to the parents of her Info Processing students as ‘building a web page’. Essentially, that is one of the skills our students are developing as they work in Edublogs.  While one has to learn a few technicalities of button pushing to operate the blog, the very process of having a web space is about writing!

Thus, in the creation of our digital portfolio space, this is very much a literacy focus.  Is anyone with me yet?

Trying somethng new: Google Cardboard

Assembling Cardboard viewers

 

For at least a year, I have been planning to buy a Google Cardboard to experiment with, knowing that it would have so many possibilities in a high school Social Studies setting.

Finally, thanks to our school tech guy, we have purchased about 8 of the cheapest sets we could find ( the ‘$US exchange is a killer). When I pulled the first pieces out of the packaging, I wondered if our spend-thrift had been a mistake, but after finally figuring out the full assembly, we have ended up with sturdy little gadgets. My Work Experience student, Kamille, spent the better parts of two class periods assembling them, but, “It was fun.”

So now, MY learning starts. Fortunately I have a great list of VR education sites to start with–shared by a teacher at a Google Summit event who attended the “Cardboard” session that I didn’t have time to.   I might take my first practice group expedition the next time I supervise DT room…..

Trying Something New: Google Maps Games and More

Recently I attended a Google Education Summit hosted by the Ed Tech Team. It was two days of intensive, brain-busting, ed-tech heaven.  In addition to keynote addresses and app slams, there were eight sessions, each with over 5 options to choose from.  Although there were only about two people that I recognized from my own school division in attendance, a colleague from another school has suggested that I share some of the nuggets here in my ‘Trying Something New’ space.  So here you go, Sherry….

One of my biggest passion areas is geography, so why not start there? I attended a great session on Google-Mappy-Goodness, so here are some of the highlights.

  1. https://smartypins.withgoogle.com/ – This is a most addicting geography game. It’s not the first or only one of its kind, but I do like that it gives hints after the ‘bonus’ time clock has elapsed. Basically you get about 1600km to start with; every kilometer that you are away from the target, you lose kilometers …at zero your game is over. On my iPad, I eventually realized that I could chose a favourite category, such as ‘Science and Geography’; this was helpful as I could avoid the ‘Entertainment’ category!  A significant downside to this site is that it is VERYsmartypinsAmerican based, although it does allow for kilometers. (Fortunately, I am able to do well at the game because I have traveled to Washington, DC several times and every 3rd or 4th question seems to be located in or near the American capitol.) In fact, although I have had a few Africa and Australia questions and handfuls of Europe questions, I have not encountered a single Canadian question.  I can’t seem to find anywhere to change the settings to amend this.   Addicting nonetheless.
  2. Another fun geography game is geoguessr.com  This is great game for critical thinking.  It gives you a google maps image of a town or country side and you have to guess where in the world it is. Sometimes I can’t even get on the right continent, but types of vehicles, houses, road conditions and of course vegetation and topography can all be clues. Now and then they will throw you the occasional road sign to use as a hint.  Now here is a great Canada option!  Once you are in the game you can substitute “Canada” for “world” in the url, and it will give you Canadian locations. The screen shot below shows your score at the end of the game and how far off you were for each guess.geoguessr
  3. Of course the most exciting aspect is learning again what new powers are in Google Maps.  Check out https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/   to get to Google’s My Maps.  From here you can create all sorts of wonderful layers of maps. You can turn the layers off and on. Like any good Google map, you can add place pins with biography notes, pictures (slide shows even!) and videos.  You can even draw an outline around a country, thus creating a polygon. You can then drag polygon to anywhere on the world map to compare its real size –try this with Greenland! Here is a link to the map that I am trying out as a new format for my class Current Events notes. If the link works, it should look like this image below. Each pin is customized and contains a summary for our Current Events notebooGoogle CE Mapks, as well as pictures and even video links.  At this point I’m still getting used to the building process, and haven’t tried using it live with my class instead of  my reliable Smart Notebook file format.  Hopefully soon.  There are way too many features to Google Maps and I am far too inexperienced to describe their use, but it is certainly worth watching some youtube explanations about!
  4. Of course, there is the new Google Earth that geo-types are buzzing about…..more to explore!

So, that’s my Geo -Learning from my Google Summit Experience.  Thanks @armstrongedtech

Trying Something New: Flipgrid

Have you ever made a really cool assignment and then forgot to assign it? Well, hopefully this has happened to you, but every so often it is a trick I like to pull on myself.

When I first try out a new tool, I am always trying to come up with an engaging and yet meaningful and productive way to work it into the flow of my course. When I wanted to try out Flipgrid.com, I  created a simple but effective way to incorporate Flipgrid into a lesson on Digital Citizenship that I would be teaching at the very end of my college course for pre-service teachers.  And then promptly forgot about the assignment.

I re-discovered the assignment after the Digital Citizenship lesson, but before my students had submitted their final work for the semester, so I invited them to try out Flipgrid anyway. They were to read a newspaper article about teachers and social media sites in Ontario, as well as a legal response to the same article. Then, using Flipgrid, they were to record a 1-2 minute video reflection and post it in the ‘classroom’ for classmates to view if they chose. So basically, Flipgrid is a tool that lets students submit video responses to a prompt, and watch what their classmates have to say as well.  The paid “Classroom” version of Flipgrid then allows students to make video responses to their classmates’ video responses, but alas, as usual, I have a budget for the free version!

Check out the assignment and responses here.

Flipgrid does seem like a tool that I will use to create future assignments with….and hopefully remember that they exist!

Blogging: Where teachers ‘go to grow’

One of the topics for #IMMOOC Season 2, Week 5 (based on  George Couros’ book The Innovator’s Mindset), is to reflect on the impact that the process of blogging has on us as a teacher.

Like most teachers I was interested in the concept of blogging but it took me a heckuva long time to pluck up the courage to actually think that I had something to write about.  It has been four years now and over 60 posts and even though few people actually read what I write, the process has certainly been an important one. I have found that the most powerful thing is going back and reading what I’ve written in the past, even if few other people did. It is amazing to be able to say,  “Wow, have I ever learned a lot more about that new thing I tried.”  If for no other reason, the blogging platform is a great way to follow our personal growth and morphing as educators.

But there are other reasons!

As a side gig, I teach an Education Technology course to pre-service teachers at our local college. When I took over the course, I really only made one significant change to what the previous prof had covered. I knew I had to help these new teachers grow their PLN and get connected to the thousands of other teachers out there who are pushing at the boundaries of what education can and should become.  To accomplish this, I had them create  a blog and a Twitter account.

Without fail, their first reactions involve eye-rolling.  As one student put it, “Isn’t blogging something that stay at home mom’s do to fill their time posting about recipes and hair-dos?”  And a typical reaction to Twitter: “Twitter is so ’10th grade’.”

Every semester I re-evaluate the value of these two platforms to educators, and come to the same conclusion….Twitter and the blogoshpere are two places where teachers “go to grow”. Perfect evidence is the tasks set out in the #IMMOOC Challenges every week: they involve Twitter and blogging.

Over the semesters, I have refined my approach to introducing these platforms to my college pre-service teachers, and it has resulted in greater buy-in. I have them start by reading pieces from two of my favourite educational bloggers: Tom Whitby’s “Do Educator’s Really Need Blog Posts”, and “4 Reasons People Don’t Blog and Ideas to Help Change Their Minds” by George Couros. I then send them off to a “Top 100” Educational Bloggers type site to hunt around; invariably, their minds are blown by the teacher-blogoshpere that they had no idea was in existence. I show them sites from around the world where teachers use the blogging platform as a window into their students’ learning such as  “Mrs. Cassidy’s Classroom Blog” where she showcases Grade 1 learners.  And so the value of blogging as a teacher is planted as a seed. Over the course of the semester, they create their own blogs, many assignments are submitted as blog posts, and we practice respectfully commenting on the posts of our peers.  At the end, most see the value of reading educational blogs, and some see themselves as teachers who will use blogging as a teacher or student process/tool in their future classrooms.

To sum up, whether as readers or writers, blogging is where teachers ‘go to grow.’

The Elusive ‘Open Culture’:#IMMOOC Week 4

I am doing my best to take part in #IMMOOC Season 2 : a world-wide digital book study based on The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros. It is week 4.

You can’t build an effective wall if your first foundational layer is weak or non-existent; every time you try to add another layer it will collapse within relatively short order.  I love that George has illustrated “Foundations for Innovation” with this wall image. 

The high school that I work at is wonderful in so many ways. We have ‘built’ many great programs and traditions in our short 20 year history.  But one wall that never gets very tall is the innovation piece.  When I consider this image, it all becomes clear: innovation doesn’t flourish in our school because we can’t seem to “Embrace an open culture” – the very base or foundation of the wall in the image.

Most change that we experience is calculated and strategically implemented in response to directives from the province or the school division, but change of the transformative, “this-looks-different”, out-side of the box type doesn’t happen. Of course, like in any school, there have been pockets of innovation. Often times, those innovative ideas have been relatively short bursts of success that haven’t lead to long term change or impact.  The wall image would indicate that without an open, collaborative culture, this is to be expected.

Unfortunately, it feels like we are stuck. Some colleagues fall back on the “high schools are just less open, collaborative places” mentality. On the other hand, I work with several collaborative, open, sharing colleagues and some of them do amazing things for and with their students. Yet, because of our lack of open culture, other teachers in the school aren’t even aware of these amazing things. We celebrate sports victories, musical achievements, and art contest successes, but, we don’t have a vehicle for celebrating the cool things that teachers are learning and trying with their students inside the walls of the every-day classroom. At best we might have a spoken staff-meeting moment of some of the things that are happening, but we don’t make or take opportunities to go watch and experience what is happening beyond the doors that line our hallways.

Some of us have been chipping away at creating a more open culture for a few years, but success has been limited. We tried a “pineapple chart” approach a few years ago before there was such thing as a pineapple chart. It was exciting for a few teachers, but fizzled out because the buy-in pool was so limited, despite efforts to grow it.

During #IMMOOC Season 2, I’m enjoying the opportunity to read about what innovation and cultures of sharing look like across the continent.  As a non-administrator, I’ll keep encouraging different ways of trying to get a wedge into our not-so-open culture. I know there is no magic bullet, but one day maybe we’ll find some bricks that help to build that “open culture” foundation.

I would love to hear how your high schools work on that open culture piece!

Creating vs. Consuming: #IMMOOC Week 3

I am doing my best to take part in #IMMOOC Season 2 : a world-wide digital book study based on The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros. It is week 3 with a “short blog” challenge.

School vs LearningI believe that there certainly is a danger as we implement technology into our classrooms that we fall into the CONSUMER trap.  So many apps, especially it seems for younger learners, are what I would call CONSUMER apps.  Students have access to a variety of apps where they play games to help them practice reading, writing skills, math skills, geography skills. They are fun and engaging for a time, but kind of like the TV/iPad as babysitter idea.

I teach an edtech college course to pre-service teachers and I try to expose them to tech tools that they can use with their students to CREATE. It is these CREATING tools that really move our classrooms from school to learning.  When you give kids a device to capture their learning in picture format, video format, digital poster format, meme format, book snap format, etc., the wheels start turning and all sorts of wonderfully creative divergent thinking can pour forth.

That’s what learning looks like.

Better Last Than Never

There was a curious announcement at our staff meeting earlier this month:

In 2017, our high school had finally gotten a Twitter account.

I’m most curious to know why now, after all this time?   In our smallish rural school division, we are the largest school, but the last to join Twitter.twitter

It isn’t that Twitter has been taboo in our school division.  Many of our district administrators have Twitter accounts that they occasionally use, and most every other traditional school in our division has had a Twitter presence for some time. We have schools in our division with only a few dozen students yet they have posted hundreds of tweets over the past several years, providing a window for the wider world into the activities and rhythms of their learning communities. Over half of our teaching staff have Twitter accounts, and about a third of our staff are at least occasional tweeters, or have had periods of avid Twitter use.

I stopped advocating for a school Twitter account fairly early on, even though for me, Twitter has been the most incredible source of professional learning.  Twitter has profoundly shaped many of the methods and technologies that I use in my classroom. Yet, it was evident early on that our administrators, who are mostly non-Twitter users, did not see the same learning and sharing power that could exist for teachers in the educational Twitter-verse.  Perhaps it seemed like one more complicated to-do list item, especially in the earlier days when school presence in social media places was still seen as risky or debatable.

In the early days of Twitter, many schools jumped to create accounts as a potential means of communicating with the adults in their school community.  In most cases, this didn’t prove to be effective as there were too few parents who used Twitter for anything other than following the school, so it wasn’t a very effective method of reaching parents.

Essentially however, Twitter has become a great mode of free advertising for schools, and a way to stay connected with community and even alumni. Schools have gone from advertising meeting dates (or anything else time sensitive), to celebrating learning and building community: sports results, art work in the hallways,  field trips, guest speakers, progress on building projects, a window into assemblies, class activities….

Facebook can do many of these things as well, and our school has had a Facebook account for a few years now. Our Facebook account is a disseminator of information – events, and dates and places and times.

Hopefully our Twitter space will become a place of celebrating learning and the evidence of events and things that happen inside the walls of our school. Slowly, but surely.

ebhs twitter

Being Reflective: #IMMOOC Week 2

I am doing my best to take part in #IMMOOC Season 2 : a world-wide digital book study based on The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros. It is week 2.

As I ponder the Innovator’s Mindset graphic below trying to decide which characteristic I most exemplify in my teaching/ learning environment, I am drawn to #3 “risk taker”.  Just for curiosity,  I decide to go back through my blog archives to see what I chose in #IMMOOC Season 1 back in September. Turns out I chose the same characteristic and wrote the post “Risk Taking And Resilience Cycle” IMMOOC Week 28-characteristics-of-the-innovators-mindset

Looking back, since then I had an opportunity to take somewhat of a risk when I was asked to pilot the use of Chromebooks in our school division.  It wasn’t really difficult to say yes to the opportunity of having a set of 30 Chromebooks stationed in my classroom. It wasn’t difficult to say yes, since Chromebooks aren’t “new technology” but are actually commonplace in many learning environments.

So the Chromebooks aren’t a big “risk-taking” effort, but I did stretch myself in a pledge to reflectively blog about the process. (See #8- Reflective!)  The timing was terrible as my semester was a crazy busy one and it was December, yet looking back from even a few months on, writing about the implementation process has been valuable. When I go back and re-read, I notice that I had captured initial thoughts and reactions that I had already forgotten about. Our district technology guys have used the posts to adjust and refine the technology from the division office end. I’m not sure if my principal actually read the posts, but because I had so systematically thought about the Chromebooks and the implementation process, I was quickly able to sell him on why it would be a good idea to go ahead and buy more Chromebooks to replace some of our dying technology.

So, my take-away: risk-taking, even in moderation, is amplified when you take the time to think and write reflectively about the process.