Going Back And Trying Again!

As part of my current Annual Learning Plan, I’m focusing on communication in math. This includes both oral and written communication, and I’m using many different tools to have students develop these skills.

On Monday, we began a new unit on Number Patterns, and to start off, students were given a variety of number patterns. They needed to work in small groups to figure out these different patterns and explain their answers. Yesterday evening, I was watching the videos that different groups recorded, when I came across this two-part video.

There are many things that I like about these two videos, as the students worked hard to explain their answers, show their work, and really make the audience aware of their thinking. The amazing thing about this group is that they decided to work over the lunch hour, as they chose to work out the problems on paper first before recording the videos. By the time that they were ready to record, it was nutrition break, but they were so eager to record that they stayed in and worked.

While I wanted to share these videos on the classroom blog, I was reluctant to do so, as I noticed two small mistakes in the second video. What was I going to do? This is when I decided to show this video to the class today as a teachable moment, and help the students work through the errors.

It was actually the students themselves that inspired me to do so. In the second video, the group ran into a problem with one of the questions, but instead of erasing and recording again, the students spoke about the importance of making mistakes and learning from them. Today’s mini-lesson provided this opportunity as well.

The most fantastic part about all of this, is that the students were willing — on Halloween — to re-record their video, discuss their mistakes, and show their new learning. They even gave me permission to share all of these videos on my blog, as a great example of how much we can learn from our mistakes.

Thank you to these three students for reminding me about the importance of going back and trying again! How do you get your students to do this in the classroom? How do we build a classroom culture where we can all celebrate mistakes? I would love to hear your thoughts on this!


Be A Part Of ECOO … Even If You Weren’t There!

There’s been many educational conferences that I’ve wanted to attend before, but for a variety of reasons, have been unable to do so. Thanks to social media, I can be at a conference, even without being there. I love my PLN (Professional Learning Network) that are always so willing to share their insights into workshops, and ask questions that further my own thinking as well.

To share the amazing ECOO experience with the teachers and administrators at my school, I decided to create two Storify stories that captured my numerous tweets throughout the different sessions I attended. Below are these stories. Since I haven’t figured out how to multi-task enough to tweet while I’m presenting, here’s a link to the Minds on Media Wikispace Page that includes my information from Wednesday’s session, as well as a link to my first presentation on Using The 21st Century Fluencies To Document Learning In The Primary Classroom and a link to my workshop on Building The 21st Century Math Classroom – Today!

What can you share from your ECOO 2012 experience? I’d love to hear about your experiences too!


My Take Aways

I love presenting at and attending conferences, but I find it difficult to be away from the classroom at the same time. I miss the students! Having just arrived back from Minds on Media and ECOO, I can’t help but think about this incredible conference experience, but also reflect on the pros and cons of being away. For me, when I attend each session at a conference, I want a take away. I’m always looking for something that I can add or change in my classroom, and at this three-day conference, I got many take aways.

  • The Minds on Media format is a wonderful way to personalize professional development. People can choose the sessions that work best for them, and each session can be customized to address the individual wants and needs of the people at the session. They construct their own knowledge, and walk away with practical ideas and reasonable goals. I want to attend more PD sessions that allow this to happen.
  • Make learning authentic. I guess that I’ve known this for a while now, but I realized during these three days, just how authentic learning can be. Thanks to Andy Forgrave (@aforgrave) and Heather Durnin (@hdurnin), I’m now ready to do live radio shows with my students on a REAL Internet radio station: 105 The HiveStudents will get to discuss their learning with others and create real media works (with a real audience) thanks to Andy, Heather, and 105 the Hive. Our first radio show is already booked for this Friday (November 2nd) on the topic of Thinking Thursdays: Our Look At Deeper Meaning In Texts. 
  • Harness the power of the backchannel. It’s funny, as I’ve used the backchannel a lot with my students in literacy thanks to The One and Only Ivan and The Global Read Aloud Project. As I read, students use a group in the Commons (our Board blogging platform) and Edmodo to share their thinking and learning with others. While I’ve seen the power of the backchannel during my language block, until today, I never considered using it in math. Today I attended a fantastic math session called, It’s Just A Tool, But Hey, Look At the Math. While the focus was on high school math, the ideas in the session could definitely be modified to elementary school. One suggestion by one of the presenters was to use Today’sMeet as a backchannel where students could pose math questions to other students and answer other students’ math questions. They don’t provide the answer though. They answer the question with other questions that help students construct their own knowledge while assisting them as well. What a powerful learning opportunity for students. This presenter shared how she models this questioning technique and supports students throughout the process. This is definitely something I want to try!
  • It’s not all about the grade. Over these past three days, I’ve been to a wide variety of workshops and presentations, and they’re targeted to a wide range of grade levels as well. Often the grade doesn’t matter though. Good teaching is good teaching, and ideas can be applied across grade levels. For example, this afternoon, I attended a wonderful session on Clic called, Let’s Play! Now Let’s Document! Clic is a Pearson product that is used in Full-Day Kindergarten classrooms, and allows for seamless documentation and sharing of student learning. The assessment possibilities with this product are amazing! During the session, I tweeted to ask if there’s a similar product in the works for older grades. When the session ended, I happened to run into one of the Pearson reps, and we spoke about this. This connection has opened up the possibility for some possible other future connections, and this never would have happened if I made it all about the grade.
  • Formal and informal discussions are beneficial. While I attended so many incredible sessions, I also had so many incredible conversations with people outside of these sessions. The conversations never stopped in fact! From breakfast time in the morning to dinner time at night, we were constantly talking about teaching and learning and how to best meet the needs of ALL students. Many of the informal conversations were just as wonderful as the formal ones. Yesterday afternoon, I spent time talking to Janet Broderthis amazing special education high school teacher from a neighbouring Board. While we spoke about a lot, I especially enjoyed our discussion about the “flipped classroom.” Together, we were able to look at some of the benefits and drawbacks of the flipped classroom, and if this model could work for disengaged learners. I’ve read a lot about the flipped classroom, but haven’t done much with this model yet on my own. I think it’s time to explore this more. Thanks to one of the presenters in this math workshop this morning, I can use Virtual Nerd to look at some possible video tutorials, and see where to go from there.
So thank you to all of the incredible educators and administrators that pushed my thinking forward these past three days. Being away from the classroom may be hard, but I know that it’s been beneficial. I can’t wait to put my new learning into practice! What did you learn at ECOO this week? What do you want to try now as a result? I hope that you’ll share too!

Linking Curriculum And Student Interests

This week, my teacher partner Gina (@_missginab) and I, decided to get creative. On the weekend, we came across an article in The National Post about Gangnum Style: the song that our students cannot stop singing and dancing to. This article prompted us to search for other articles on this popular song, and we actually found quite a few. We narrowed our collection down to three articles, and we created a media literacy and critical literacy activity that would allow the students to analyse the articles and explore the key themes.

I’ll admit that we wondered if we were expecting too much from our Grade 6’s. These articles are in-depth ones with some challenging vocabulary and ideas. We figured though that the topic is one that highly interests the students, and as Debbie Miller has mentioned before, sometimes students can read and comprehend beyond their independent reading level depending on the topic. If need be, we would support the individual groups of students with more focused discussion and some background knowledge.

There was no need to worry though! The students were thrilled to read these articles, and used group discussion time to clarify ideas, make connections to the text, and infer deeper meaning.

While we were pleased with the discussions, the great part was that the students could take information from these discussions and use it during their follow-up writing activity. Here is just a small selection of student work from our class blog:

Students then took what they learned from the articles to create a drawing/poster, which acted as a visual representation of the main ideas from the text. Many of these drawings are on our class blog, but here are a few of them as well:

It’s great to see students showing what they’ve learned in multiple ways. This project wasn’t an easy one, but the students were actively engaged and working hard throughout the multi-day activity. I think of the student-directed learning often discussed as part of the new Full Day Kindergarten Program, and looking at the results of this activity, I definitely see the value in appealing to student interests.

This same quality work was seen during our Order of Operations/Media Literacy Project. Students worked individually or in small groups to create a media text showing their understanding of order of operations. The completed media works are all posted on our class blog, but here are some of them as well:

Our focus in Grade 6 is to increase communication in math, and I think these work samples show how much the students have already improved in this area. My teaching partner and I could have assigned textbook questions and problems to review this skill, but would this approach have allowed us to see the understanding of the material that we got from this assignment instead?

Giving choice, allowing for collaboration, and providing engaging, open-ended activities, resulted in students really showing us what they know. We will definitely be doing this again. How do you make curriculum content exciting and relevant for students? I would love to hear your ideas!


Is “spelling” a dying skill?

It all started with a tweet from Michelle Fawcett (@michellefawcett), a wonderful Grade 5/6 teacher from a neighbouring Ancaster School:


I had to jump in. As usual, I couldn’t stick to the 140 character limit, 🙂 so my thoughts are actually spread over 3 tweets, all shared here:

From these three tweets, many others followed. Numerous educators chimed in on the need to teach or not to teach spelling. In a constant flow of tweets, we answered questions such as,

  • Should we be giving weekly spelling tests?
  • Our curriculum document has expectations for spelling, but does this mean, memorized spelling?
  • In the age of computers, is spelling a dying skill? What happens to those students that can’t afford this technology?
  • When considering equitable access, do the benefits of technology to assist with spelling really benefit all?

Some educators were sure that in the future, technology would be available for everyone at a reasonable price. Money would play even less of a role than it does now.  I agree with Michelle, who voiced her concerns about this. As the two of us continued this conversation later in a shared GoogleDoc, Michelle made this point:

I would rather not think in terms of technology or lack of technology. While technology does change our approach to spelling — with underlined words and auto-correct — we cannot forget about the paper dictionary. I have a class set of dictionaries in my classroom, and even with all of the tools that my students use as well — from computers to mobile technology — many still consult the paper dictionary. This is a resource for them to use, and a valuable one at that.

I also may not assign weekly spelling tests, but students work with words daily. They learn about different parts of words, and experiment with breaking words apart, working with chunks of words, and adding prefixes and suffixes to change words. My concern with a spelling test is that students memorize the words, but are not using these words in their writing. I want to teach spelling in a meaningful context.

All students are also not misspelling the same words, so why must they all memorize the same words? Some students are also really strong spellers, so why do they need a spelling test to spell words that they already know? If I’m differentiating in my classroom, then I need to meet all of the unique needs of my students, and this includes when teaching spelling.

As I mentioned in one of my tweets during this conversation, texting has also changed the nature of spelling. People understand each other despite spelling mistakes, and maybe in some way, this perpetuates the spelling mistakes. I don’t want to encourage incorrect spelling of words, but I also don’t want to make writing all about spelling. In my experience, this is how we get even more reluctant writers.

As a Grade 1 teacher, a Grade 1/2 teacher, and now a Grade 6 teacher, I’ve noticed that students become more aware of spelling errors as they begin to blog more. They now have an audience for their work, and if the audience cannot understand what they’re writing, these people may not comment on their posts. Their drive to spell correctly is now fuelled by more than just the teacher telling them to check for spelling errors.

So, is there a perfect way to approach this spelling issue? No. But as students have more access to technology, more opportunities to collaborate with others that can assist them with spelling errors, and a more meaningful audience for their work through various blogging opportunities, writing definitely becomes about more than just spelling. This is the way I think it should be. What do you think?