Earth Day For The 21st Century

Somehow Earth Day crept up on me this year, and I didn’t even realize it was here until the morning of April 22nd. At that point, I needed to figure out something for my students to do to help celebrate this special day. As somebody that enjoys routine and has a class of students that also enjoy routine, I thought that I would just change things slightly by modifying the blogging topic for literacy centres: instead of writing about school, the students could write about ways that they help the environment. Good … all done, and fairly quickly too, or so I thought.

Just as I was getting everything organized for this blogging activity, I got an e-mail from Mr. Baillie: one of the phys-ed teachers at the school. In the e-mail, he spoke about the paperless classroom, and without realizing it, he inspired me to do something different this Earth Day. I was going to create paperless literacy centres. A large number of my literacy centres are usually paperless, as I use a SMART Board, computers, iPods, and Palm Treos on a regular basis in my classroom. There is always some paper still used though, but not today. I quickly replaced all of my “paper centres” with whiteboards and whiteboard markers. I thought that the students could use their Palm Treos to take photographs of their work at these centres, still allowing me to see what they did and complete my regular formative assessment.

Little did I know the extent of creativity in my class. Thanks to a tweet from Zoe Branigan-Pipe (@zbpipe), I introduced these slightly modified centres as “Litterless Literacy Centres.” My students were hooked! I shared my ideas with them, but they quickly thought of some of their own too. For example, for Buddy Reading, the students were supposed to recommend books to their classmates and explain their recommendations. One child was concerned that by not using sticky notes, their classmates would not know which books other had recommended for them. He quickly came up with a solution though: he wrote his recommendation on a whiteboard and took a photograph of his work with the recommended book. Then the student could refer to this photograph to help find the specific book. In another case, students had to visualize as part of a Listening to Reading Centre. I thought that they could split their whiteboard into multiple sections and draw different pictures in each section. One child thought that creating a digital storybook of sorts would be better. She took a photograph of each picture on her whiteboard before erasing it and drawing the next picture. She then played her work for me in slideshow mode. I didn’t even realize that there was a slideshow mode on the Palm Treos, but all of my six- and seven-year-olds knew. I love when that happens!

When our Litterless Literacy Centres were complete, my class was adamant that these were the best centres all year long, and that they wanted to have Litterless Literacy Centres again. I was inspired to create a set of them for my next round of literacy centres. I can’t wait to see what other good ideas my students share with me as they complete them!

Below is a slideshow of our special Earth Day Activity. You can even read this blog post by one of my Grade 1 students documenting what we did on this special day. Next year, I want to take this activity one step further and have Litterless Literacy and Math Centres.

This whole concept does pose an interesting question though: do paperless centres that rely on the use of technology really help the environment? As a Grade 1 student in another class commented to me, these centres use much more energy even though they use less paper. This is a very interesting point, but maybe this is what an environmental activity of the 21st century looks like. I would love to hear your thoughts!


A Presentation Like No Other!

I just got back from presenting at the Board’s SMART Board Conference.  It was great experience and a wonderful one to blog about too.  Usually when I present, I do most of the talking (everybody that knows me knows that I have always been a talker), but today I co-presented with Karen from Advanced, and she actually did most of the talking instead. I moderated the back channel, and tried to answer all of the questions that people had throughout the presentation. I also helped people at their individual computers too.

This was not like any presentation I have ever done before, but you know what, it was great!  I loved being able to interact one-on-one or in small groups with people, and usually when presenting, I don’t get this opportunity. I got to interact with some amazing teachers and learn some great new ideas too. Now I know how to overcome my “table woes” in the Notebook software and am excited to try out the talking keyboard with my class too.

Today’s presentation was not like anything that I expected, but it was the unexpected that made it wonderful! Have you ever had an experience like this before? I would love to hear what you have to say.

A special thank you to the wonderful Information Technology Team at @hwdsb that made today’s conference such a success! I’m glad that I could be a part of this event.


TedxOntario Ed: What A Night!

Last night, I had the pleasure of hosting the TedxOntario Ed Satellite Event for Hamilton. When @zbpipe initially suggested this idea to me, I was intrigued, but I must admit that I knew very little about this event. Was it a technology conference? When the publicity said that the evening was about “motivation,” what did that really mean? While I don’t think that I really knew everything until watching the event last night, I’m still so glad that I went through with overseeing a satellite location, as it truly was an incredible evening.

TedxOntario Ed was not a technology conference at all. The event really was all about motivation, and from a teaching perspective, it truly was about how we can motivate all learners to succeed in the classroom. Teaching is about the students, and teaching is about ensuring that all students get what they need to succeed!

The most incredible thing for me though was sitting in a room of 15 people, some of which regularly use technology and some of which are new to using it, and watching an amazing transformation: a number signed up for Twitter accounts so that they could participate in the back channel, and then after reflecting on the night, they thought about how they could use these same tools with their students. Change is hard, and as Zoe Branigan-Pipe once told me, you need to be brave to make this change and start using these social networking tools. These educators were brave, and they are willing to make a change.

For those of you that watched the event live, at a satellite location, at home, or even participated in the event, please leave a comment here and share your thoughts on the night. I know that it’s one that I will never forget! Thanks to the incredible TedxOntario Ed Team that made it possible!


Links of Interest

List and Description of Speakers

Script of Zoe Branigan-Pipe’s Five Minute TedxOntario Ed Talk

Twitter Hashtag – Back Channel of Last Night’s Event

Using Skype In First Grade

I had to blog about Skype this week because it’s definitely been a week full of Skype calls. On Wednesday alone, my class had three Skype calls: one for shared reading to Mrs. Stubblefield’s class in Alabama, one to introduce ourselves to Mr. White’s class (our pen pal class from Georgia), and one to compare communities with Mrs. Soltau-Heller’s class in Northern Vancouver Island. The first and last Skype call were planned and the middle one was a surprise, but that’s fine, as it was that much more exciting.

My students love having Skype calls with other classes because it gives them the opportunity to communicate face-to-face with other students from anywhere in the world and share ideas with these students too. The video component of Skype definitely makes it more exciting for my students than Google Wave. My students are also learning some important things about communicating in an audio/video format:

1) They need to stand in front of the camera and face the camera too. This is hard because we watch the Skype calls on the SMART Board, but the webcam is on top of the computer. They want to see themselves as they talk, but if they look to the SMART Board to watch themselves, they are really showing their back or side view to the other class. I do this all the time too! I think that changing this comes with practice.

2) They need to talk in a loud, clear voice. The microphone does not pick up a whisper voice. Skype has definitely helped my students get used to talking into a microphone, but I know that some students enjoy doing this more than others. Then there’s me: apparently my voice carries enough that I don’t need a microphone.:)

3) They always need to watch how they’re sitting, what they’re doing, and what they might be saying because the Skype call is live and an audience of people is watching them. In the classroom, I’m their audience, and while I may always be watching them, they don’t always realize this. When they are watching themselves up on the SMART Board too, they quickly realize that others can see them as well.

I am so thankful for my amazing Twitter PLN (Professional Learning Network) that has helped me establish some terrific Skype contacts, so that my students can communicate with such a variety of classrooms. I will definitely continue to use Skype in the classroom this year and for many more years to come.

That being said, I know that Skype calls are far more beneficial if there are lots of opportunities for choral responses (then everyone can participate) and if they are well-planned in advance too (then the students know what to say and know what to expect). A follow-up activity also helps, as then the students are listening for facts to reflect on later. The length of the Skype call is important too. I find that anything beyond 20 minutes makes it more difficult for my students to maintain interest.

For other teachers out there using Skype, what are your thoughts on using it in the classroom? What have you done to help make Skype a great learning tool for your students? For parents out there, how do your children feel about using Skype in the classroom? What do they like? What do they wish they could change? I look forward to hearing your thoughts!