Category Archives: Engagement

Evidence of Chocolates & Cherries

Evidence of Chocolate & Cherries

Life is interesting. Isn’t it always that way?

This year, and I must say the last few really, have been an extraordinary mix of devilish challenges and gleefully, exuberant joys. I’ve shared some of both with you over time on my feed in my “Evidence of…” posts.

Today’s will be a mixed bag, a bittersweet story, a chocolate covered cherry kind of thing if you will. For those of you who know me well, this serves an apt description for a story with an up and down side and for those of who are in the dark, I guess a quick side story is needed:

So here goes… I hate cherries! They hate me. It’s really that simple. Am I allergic? Who’s to say. I’ve never been tested. Few have believed I have an aversion to these red nasty berries over my 55 years of life, not even my own family for goodness sake. But how many times must one be tortured by cherries being hidden in tarts or other confectionery delights only to have them returned violently, “Witches of Eastwick” style, to prove that there’s a real issue? Really!!!

Suffice it to say the story ahead is pointedly poignant, at least to me. A real chocolate covered cherry story.

Many of you may know that I have been troubled with a degenerative and decidedly painful, but not deadly, condition that has slowly been sapping my strength and abilities to sustain a decent quality of work/life balance. And this has played havoc with two sides of my being:

On the one side is the calling that chose me back in sixth grade – that of educating.

I have know since as far back as I can remember that the art of educating learners is what I wanted to do. Why? It was partly due to my educational experiences, which if I must be honest, has been abysmal in many ways. I could recount details of having my left hand whipped simply because I used it to hold a pencil; or how I perfectly tied my shoelaces and cut circles left-handed and had to relearn both in a humiliating fashion; or how when my nose was crushed bloody by a kid on a swing in grade one, I was pulled in front of the entire school body by the Principal and ridiculed; or how I was told in grade five good spellers were born and not made; or how I had to go to summer school for two summers because teachers thought I was stupid. The list of assaults went on and I won’t bore you with more… but sadly there were more!

I knew they were wrong. I knew I was better than they were saying and I managed to prove that decades later when I graduated at nearly the top of my class and became a teacher.

Point being, I didn’t want ANY other learners to experience those set backs, those traumas, those teachers that thought they knew what they were doing and clearly did not, at least from my perspective.

The educator side of me , did not want to stop helping learners. I had more to give. More learners to support.

On the other side, was the family man. He had his own passions outside of work to follow. On this side too resided an incredible wife, fabulously interesting children beginning to branch out into the world and create lives of their own, and grandchildren. Ah, the grandchildren. These marvels can breathe life blood into dead bodies with no trouble at all. And they did with regularity. This side was equally important, probably even more so.

But as time wore on and as I became less able, there was not enough of me to go around. I began to fail… on both sides.

It started with cutting my work load and going halftime every other day. 3 years of that, then in the last year, I began coming home at the end of my working days and going straight to bed at 4:30 only to wake in pain at about 10 pm and not sleeping the remainder of the night. Misery of the most devilish sort.

My recovery days weren’t much better. Mostly sleeping. Definitely pain filled. Not much quality of life anywhere. And my mobility was tanking as well.

I wanted to work! I wanted quality of life and it seemed I couldn’t have both. And so I had a most difficult decision to make between my two passions: my calling and my family life. Seem a no brainer to you? It’s not I can assure you. Clearly, family comes out on top. Clearly. But letting go of a calling is beastly. You try it sometime. It’s like pulling teeth from your best friend or a baby perhaps. That’s the “cherry” in my story!!!

But then came the chocolate. And the chocolate was the best kind you can imagine and from two unexpected sources.

Firstly, was my farewell from work. To bastardize a phrase, I have alway said that I would “go gentle into that good night”. No fuss and no muss. I find farewell speeches nearly intolerable (platitudes, platitudes, platitudes). And I hate being the centre of attention. It’s the introvert in me (yes, you heard me correctly! Introvert! Ask my spouse). But after some heart-to-heart talks with my wife on the subject of closure, we decided to have a come-and-go farewell gig at our place on my 55th birthday entitled, “It’s My Birthday and I’ll Leave If I Want To”. You’ll hopefully recognize the reference to the Leslie Gore hit of the late 60s. At any rate, the idea was to invite people who had made a difference in my career, supported me in some significant way, in order to thank them personally. It was suppose to be a no gift affair and we’d cater the thing so we didn’t have to work too hard either.

The day turned out perfectly: it was sunny, rather warm, slight breeze and no bugs to speak of. We hosted upwards of 50 guests, some of whom ignored the no gifts clause. But the gifts/cards were incredibly thoughtful:

One teacher whom I mentored had her class make cards. These cards were hilarious because I had nicknames for a lot of the students and these students used those nicknames on the cards. One in particular was a constant talker that I playfully dubbed “Sir Chats A Lot”. His whole card took that theme and that’s how he signed it. Another added a bar code to the card because, don’t all cards have those? One student in the class who was rather special (she had ADHD inattentive type) and we connected rather well, made me an incredibly complex 3D card – An artistic masterpiece truly. These tokens of respect and caring are treasures. They all referred to me as Keith and I loved each and every one!

Another amazing friend in a school that I worked heavily with, polled all the teachers in that school and had them express in quotes how I had supported them over the years. She then assembled these into a picture frame keepsake. The quotes ranged from “helped me with seeing things more creatively, more clearly, more positively both professionally and personally” to “helped me see the joy in teaching”. From “helped me see how a truly passionate educator works within a system that doesn’t always support what needs to be supported” to “his work with staff was filled with enthusiasm and provided accessible and valuable information for educators of all experience levels!” What a keepsake and so unexpected that I was completely taken off guard.

There were others as well… cards with like-minded, and exquisitely expressed sentiments, bottles of bubbly, scotch, wine, bird watching paraphernalia, all things that told me that I was appreciated, known and going to be missed. Something I was not altogether convinced of…. Perhaps some of you will understand this point of view. Perhaps not.

I believe it’s completely impossible to assess one’s self-worth or impact accurately. Regardless, I am lousy at it. I am constantly reassessing what went wrong, how I could have done better, what I should have done differently. I beat myself up liberally after most classes, meetings, gatherings, presentations, workshops and inservices. I over think and reflect WAY too much I am told. I figure better this than not at all (as some people seem comfortable doing in the field in which I work). Be that as it may, the sentiments I received were well appreciated and, of course, overwhelming to say the least.

The second bit of chocolate came from likely my last visit to a classroom that I will have, at least in the short term and as a professional teacher. Just a wee bit of background before moving on with this tale:

My favourite level to teach was primary. In fact, the happiest teaching in my entire career was when I looped from grade 1 to grade 2 and back again. It was amazingly satisfying mostly because the second year tends to launch like an educational rocket to the stars! These grades are loaded with unstoppable wonderment and eye-popping amazement. Students are completely honest in their uncontrollable reactions, emotions often confusing you with their grandmother or mom or hugging your leg just because, or shouting in awe, “THAT WORD IS HOUSE!” for the whole world to hear. They’re simply the most precious people you’ll ever meet!

And so it was on the last Wednesday of the this school year, the last Wednesday of my career for all intents and purposes, I arrived to clean out my office. One needs to understand this process, for a classroom teacher, would be a daunting one, potentially taking hours and literally multiple dozens of boxes culled form local liquor stores – possibly frequented and collected over the year, but more likely collected in the panicked frenzy that occurs at this time of year when teachers get their marching orders (I’ve often thought it might be highly amusing for some clever News outlet to post cameras outside such stores to catch these frenzied fetchings as they unfold in the wild – but I’ve digressed again! ). But for me, the process would literally take minutes. I took my professional books to the staffroom, organized them into groups by topic, created a fancy label that essentially read in big bold letters “FREE” (If you know teachers this word also causes a frenzy. Teachers simply cannot resist free stuff of any kind! You could put out free petrified buffalo droppings and they’d disappear! No shit!), erased my hard drive, called to have my technology equipment picked up, put my personal stuff in one small box and took that to the car. All done! It was 9:05 AM. So now what? I had the rest of the day to fill.

I decided I would find a classroom and park myself in it and see if I could be helpful. Why not? I started looking around. Rockwood school, where I am housed, is a lovely K-6 school and coincidentally where I happened to start my Support Career in the Winnipeg School Division working as the South District Educational Learning Support Teacher (you try fitting that on a businesses card in anything bigger than 9 pt text!!!). It’s a lovely, familiar place. But on this day, late in the June, the entire elementary wing, that would be all grade 3-6, were at Fun Mountain! How dare they! I sauntered, as best I could with my ailing legs, over to the primary wing where I found a split grade 2-3 classroom available.

You have to imagine how this looked to the teacher for a moment. She’s working with her students planning their day. She has given each student a time table with half blocks spanning the entire day. Some blocks are already filled: the first block is filled with educational planning time, recesses are labeled as is lunch hour and the last half hour of the day is labelled clean up. The students are charged with filling each empty block with a different “educational” activity, something that they have done over the course of the year, in order to fill their day. Each student will have a different plan and each student can have free choice about how their day will progress. Rather a brilliant activity for a last days of school I thought. At any rate, this is what they were were up to, when a short, sad, grey haired, aged looking fellow dressed in casual summer wear, that the students didn’t know pressed his nose up against the window of the door to their room. Can you guess what happened next?

Distracted “mayhem” in a primary classroom can take many forms: complete off-task behaviours like squealing giggles, young ones running willy-nilly hither and yon, kids screaming AND flying about the room as if possessed (it happens usually after Halloween and you have to see it to believe it. It’s like watching San Andreas, the penultimate disaster movie staring Dwayne Johnson, in fast forward), but in this particular case, the class slowly raised their heads as they became aware of the strange visitor encroaching on the outer realm of their space. They lowered their pencils on their planners, then began flipping their gaze in a rather confused fashion towards the glass and back to their teacher as if to say, “who’s that creepy dude with sad basset eyes, grey bearded frowny mouth and saggy ol’ cheeks pressed earnestly against our door?” Giggles ensued, work ceased, and the teacher realizing that something was amiss, came to investigate!

After securing permission to enter (such a lovely teacher) and accessing the inner workings of the class, students again settled back into the task of planning their days, and I was put to work!

Almost immediately I was swiftly approached by a small, peppy, young lad who brought me back to his table to help him out, where incidentally two other fellows were perched engrossed. He was quite chatty and didn’t seem to need much in the way of assistance (a quick check in with the teacher confirmed my hunch he was fatherless), but there was still plenty of scaffolded support needed at the table.

Over the next few minutes, I noticed two things: first, lovely melodic music was playing. This is something the teacher frequently does in the class. Not an uncommon practice and it provides for an interesting environment at times. Secondly, was that more boys were gathering to this particular table for help.

This is when something magical happened. Something I will likely never forget! It stuck off cords deep inside me and tied up my career in the classroom in a way so appropriate, so perfectly, it seemed a divine gift I suppose, or at least one made just to remind me why I got into this business 33 years ago and why it’s the most important business to be in today. So what was it that happened?…

Lost Boy by Ruth B. began to play and the boys at my table began to sing.

I’m not sure if you’re familiar with this ballad or not, but I find it to be an incredibly beautiful and melodic account of Peter Pan and the Lost Boys of Never-Never Land! Add to that the image of a table of boys focussed on various educational tasks, I’m assisting some of them, singing the exact tune, the exact words right along with Ruth B. in spring warbler-like voices, clear, crystal, shiny and new!

I was stunned into my seat, blown there by the sheer magnitude of the innocent voices of these singing students. And I started crying; that and reliving significant moments of my career, much like rewinding a life before the long sleep I would imagine. It was… overwhelming and much too incredible to describe in more accurate details – it was all muddled and vibrant emotions.

About halfway through the piece, my fatherless little buddy noticed that I had tears running down my face and announces to the class, “He’s crying! Yay!”

Yay? Why “yay” I wonder briefly? But the song continues and I had no time for further rumination on the organic nature of the occurrence of this song in the playlist. Soon the rest of the class joined in the song, and I keep remembering highlights in fast emotional flashes; happiness mostly, but some sadness thrown in too.

Finally the the last part of the song is playing…

“Neverland is home to lost boys like me
And lost boys like me are free
Neverland is home to lost boys like me
And lost boys like me are free”

… and my fatherless buddy had the last words that were rather prophetic, although I am sure he wouldn’t have thought them so. When the song ended, he simply said, “it’s over.” And so it was.

I can think of no finer way of competing 33 years in the classroom than this. I thanked the students, thanked the teacher, bid them farewell and left classroom life behind, chocolate in hand.

Different Approaches To Using Student Blogs And Digital Portfolios

More and more educators are discovering the importance of having their students build some form of digital presence. Blogging is an excellent way for students to create their own online space, but what do you call this?

  • Simply a student blog?
  • Digital portfolio?
  • ePortfolio?
  • Learning showcase?
  • Blogfolio?

When I first started teaching in 2004, each of my grade one/two students had a scrapbook where they would paste their work samples each term. The goals of this process were: documentation, reflection, assessment and sharing with parents.

Often the same goals apply to the online equivalent of this scrapbook. But if we aren’t doing things any differently than 10-15 years ago, why are we bothering with student blogs? Why aren’t we still cutting and pasting in a scrapbook?

When blogs are used as more than substitution, they offer many advantages.

  • Research tells us that student work is of a higher quality when it involves an authentic audience.
  • The opportunity for feedback and discussion through an online presence is greater.
  • There are many skills to do with writing online, using technology, understanding digital citizenship etc. that are not only useful for students to know, but required in most curriculum standards.
  • Influencing your own digital footprints from a young age can be a powerful experience.

This post explores a range of approaches to student blogs and digital portfolios. We have included classroom examples, and encourage you to share your approach to student blogging in the comment section.

When To Set Up Student Blogs?

When I first started blogging in 2008, I didn’t really know what sort of blogging framework would work for me, but along the way I came up with a model that suited the age of the students, our combined experience, our objectives and our equipment.

This digram shows the progression some classes make from class blog to student blogs

The model I adopted was as follows:

  1. I established a class blog and wrote the posts, while teaching the students to write quality comments.
  2. As students became more familiar with blogging, some students start publishing guest posts on the class blog and learned posting skills.
  3. When I was teaching grade two, had limited computers and was new to student blogging, I didn’t think it was practical for all students to have have blogs. Instead, certain students who had demonstrated enthusiasm, parent support and blogging skills, earned their own blog. This added a new layer to the skill set of commenting and posting: maintaining a blog.
  4. When I was teaching grade four, had a one to one netbook program and had experience managing student blogs, I set up blogs for all students, as digital portfolios.

Throughout all four stages, quality commenting and parent participation is taught and encouraged.

Many teachers begin their blogging journey with a class blog and perhaps progress from there. However, you can jump in at any point of this framework.

You might only be comfortable with having a class blog initially. There is certainly nothing wrong with this approach, although keep in mind that aiming to have more student involvement at some point in the future can be advantageous.

At the other end of the spectrum, you might have the confidence, experience and equipment to set up student blogs from day one. Go for it!

Whatever your approach, a class blog always complements a student blogging program. It provides a home base where you can post assignments, showcase student work, publish recounts, communicate to parents, establish community/global connections and more.

How To Set Up Student Blogs

We have many resources in our Edublogs Help Guides that will walk you through the process of setting up student blogs. Sue Waters’ five step guide to setting up student blogs is a good starting place.

One really useful feature on Edublogs, that takes the hassle out of the logistics of student blogs, is called My Class. This is a tool that allows you to:

  • Easily create your student blogs after you’ve set up your class blog
  • Control the privacy of the blogs and control moderation settings
  • Read and/or moderate student posts and/or comments right from your own dashboard (no need to open up 25 tabs in your browser to keep track of what your students are up to)
  • Install a widget to the sidebar of your class blog and student blogs which links to all the student blogs in your class. This means students and readers can easily visit all the blogs, without searching, bookmarking, or adding links individually.

Digital Portfolio Expectations and Frameworks

Many educators refer to their student blogs as digital portfolios.

Academics and thought leaders often debate the meaning of the term digital portfolio. What does this mean? What does it look like?

Perhaps an useful alternative term is ‘blogfolio’ which Silvia Tolisana describes as the glue that can hold it all together in learning. 

Blogfolios are the glue that can hold all curricular content, goals and objectives as well as support school initiatives, observations, assessment and accountability requirements or personal passions, interest and projects together.

Diagram breaking down the concept of blogfolios

For the purpose of this post, we are less concerned with semantics and more concerned with exploring the different frameworks that teachers adopt. Hopefully considering how other teachers approach student blogs will give you some ideas on what would work for you and your students.

I have observed differences in how student blogs work in a variety of areas. There appears to be a spectrum in at least six key areas:

duration privacy content reflection quality control - 6 aspects of student bloggingLet’s break these down and consider where you might sit on each spectrum.

1. Duration

Some student blogs are only active for a year. The student might move up to a non-blogging class and their individual blog remains stagnant. This can be frustrating for teachers who invest time in establishing an effective system for their student blogs. It can also be disappointing for students.

Other institutions think ahead with a whole-school approach. At The Geelong College, which operates their own Edublogs CampusPress platform, there are long term plans.

Director of Teaching and Learning, Adrian Camm, explains the philosophy:

…each student from Year 4 to Year 10 at our College will have a digital portfolio that follows them throughout their time at the College and has a unique identifier accessible on the web.
The ability to export their content easily when finishing Year 12 to be used in the tertiary admission process or in future work endeavors has also been a key point…

Consider: If you’re investing time in establishing student blogs, how can you showcase this to the wider school community and motivate them to establish a school wide plan?

2. Privacy

Should blogs be public or private? This is always a contentious issue.

Ronnie Burt raised some excellent arguments about the advantages of public blogs a few years back, including the power of an authentic audience, ease of access, and the potential for collaboration. Ronnie noted,

If you hide student work behind passwords, then you might as well have them print everything out and hand it in the old-fashioned way. You are losing out on connections, extended dialogues, and the motivating factor of working for an authentic purpose.

In the comment section, there were some well considered opposing views.

J. McNulty argued the consequence of permanence,

Try to imagine that every stammering oral presentation, every 5th grade writing sample and every stick finger drawing you ever made in a classroom was permanently posted online, forever. As a teacher how would you feel if your class of iPad toting students were surfing through your complete “virtual portfolio” while you were trying to assign them an essay?  … Blogging is great but this new information era needs educators who fully appreciate the long term consequences of posting everything publicly.

There is a middle ground. At The Geelong College, students are encouraged to decide for themselves whether their blogs will be public or password protected.

Another option is to create a public blog but password protect certain posts or pages.

Consider: What are the pros and cons of having student blogs as public? Some schools seem to default to the private option if in doubt. Does this mean you’re giving up all the powerful advantages of posting publicly?

3. Content

What will form the content of your student blogs? What will they actually publish?

At one end of the spectrum is total freedom where teachers are less concerned about what the students are writing about, and more concerned about the students simply blogging and finding a voice.

At the other end of the spectrum, some teachers see the blogs as a space that must be in line with the curriculum and demonstrate what is happening in the classroom.

Certainly not always, but sometimes the age of the students influences this issue.

Julie Moore in Tasmania, Australia, teaches grade 2/3. The students begin by contributing to the class blog before some students establish their own blogs. Julie says,

Mostly – the children have a free spin on what they would like to write a post about. It gives them an outlet for writing about their passions/interests, and it then gives me an “in” for feedback and improvements to their writing.

She also finds this approach opens up a very wide range of possibilities to meet certain individual’s requirements.

For example:

Julie understands that the students do require some explicit teaching around blogging. She finds The Student Blogging Challenge a great way to achieve this. In addition, she runs a lunchtime club and a weekly timetabled blogging session.

Heather Alexander in Florida teaches year 9-12 ceramics. Her students use their blogs purely to document and reflect on their own art work, and respond to the curriculum. Teaching the same class multiple times, Heather has come up with a logistal framework to organize the student blogs,

What I have done is name all the students’ blogs with their class period prefacing the name so they appear in order on the page.

Heather encourages students to comment on classmates’ blogs and set up an effective system after finding students were taking too long to find a post to comment on.

I have students work in “peer blog mentor” groups. They self-select a group of 3 -5 peers and then I match their group with a group in another class. I moderate the comments so I can check for accuracy and completion before they are published.

This idea touches on the additional issue of feedback. Who will provide feedback to your student bloggers? Will you set up a peer system like Heather? Or will you personally visit blogs? What are your goals for feedback? Simple encouragement and conversation? Or scaffolding to reach learning goals? All questions to consider.

Can your blogging framework involve set tasks and freedom?

Somewhere in the middle of the freedom/structure debate, is the approach adopted by Adam Geiman, an educator from Pennsylvania. He used the first 30% of the school year to provide structure around tasks for his fourth grade students.

The students were given guidance, yet also had some freedom of choice in how they’d present set tasks. Some would do a Google Doc, while others would present their task as a comic, infographic etc.

For the remaining 70% of the school year, students were given more freedom and many came up with their own ideas on what they wanted to publish. For example, Jackson announced the new school trout, while Brooklyn talked about her new glasses. 

Consider: What are the needs of your students? Are you trying to engage them in the blogging process and help them find a voice? Or are you wanting the blogs to be a vehicle to demonstrate curriculum outcomes? Are these two things mutually exclusive?

4. Reflection

Some form of reflection is often a key feature of digital portfolios or blogfolios.

Educator Jabiz Raisdana, has documented some compelling thoughts on student blogging. He advocates for freedom, stating that:

If you want your students to blog effectively, give them the freedom to experiment and write about what interests them.

Stay away from portfolios and forced reflections on their learning, at least until they get the hang of it.

Wait until they find a voice, find an audience… before you push your agenda of meta-cognition and reflective learning.

Perhaps on the other end of the spectrum is the argument from Matt Renwick in his blog post ‘Think You’re Doing Digital Portfolios? Think again’.

Of course, all of the posted artifacts of student learning are accompanied with reflection, self-assessment, and goal setting for the future.
Otherwise, it’s only sharing content. Nice, but not necessary for students’ education.

Many teachers use a mixed approach

Teacher, Lee Pregnell, from Moonee Ponds, Australia, described how they include some set tasks in their grade 5/6 blogging program. One of these tasks is a weekly 100 Word Challenge response (see student Carah’s example) and a report on a Behind the News article (see student Mariana’s report on dreaming).

While the Behind the News task has some element of reflection, there are other set tasks that involve more meta-cognition. One of these is based around term goals. Check out the example by Alexis to see the format of this reflective entry.

What about our youngest students? How can they reflect?

Using tools like voice recordings can offer students with emerging literacy skills the chance to reflect. Kathy Cassidy is well known for providing all of her six year old students a blog. The students regularly used tools like Book Creator to document their thoughts and learning. Here is Gus reflecting on his writing. 

Another idea is to collate social media posts in a Storify like kindergarten teachers Aviva Dunsiger and Paula Crockett. Short student interviews and reflections offer a rich insight into learning. These innovative teachers have created a special section of their blog called ‘The Daily Shoot’. This is something Aviva has done with students from K-6. It is worth checking out.

Following in her students’ footsteps, Aviva even uses a blog of her own to reflect. What a mighty combination!

Consider: Most teachers agree that some sort of student reflection on learning is powerful. How can you incorporate this into your student blogs without making the process a chore or turn students off the enjoyment of blogging?

5. Quality

Would you like your students to document their learning journeys or their best work? Will your student blogs be process portfolios, showcase portfolios or hybrid portfolios?

This is a tough decision, but also one that can evolve as you go along. It also links back to the public/private debate. Do your students want every evidence of learning as part of their digital footprint?

Again, there is certainly middle ground. George Couros reflects on his dilemma about what end of this spectrum he would sit on: ‘growth’ or ‘best work’.

Since there are benefits in both options, it was tough to decide on one, so we ultimately went with the decision to go with both. The “blog” portion of my digital space allows me to share things that I am learning (like this article I am writing) while also aggregating my best stuff into solitary “pages”.

Consider: Is George’s approach something that could be worth exploring in your own blogging program?

6. Control

Many of these five areas are underpinned by the question of control. Who is in control? The teacher or the students?

Can there be a gradual release of control as the students become older and more experienced?

Perhaps there are some aspects of their blog that even the youngest students can have some control over?

For example:

  • Their title
  • Theme
  • Choice of tool or post format
  • Where they leave comments

Most teachers would agree that it’s important to consider how students can be in charge of their own learning. Digital portfolios and blogging offers a lot of potential for student-centered learning.

The My Class tool also allows you to hand over responsibility as you choose. You can begin by moderating all student posts and comments, and then turn off these settings as appropriate.

Conclusion

Are your student blogs igniting a passion for learning or are they just another chore to be completed?

How can you set up digital portfolios or blogfolios that allow for rich learning, creativity, excitement, deep reflection, collaboration and authenticity?

These are some key questions to ask yourself but in the end, sometimes you just need to throw in the canoe and start paddling.

Figure it out as you go. There is a big blogging community and support behind you.

Don’t let fear or indecision around student blogs freeze you into inaction. Worrying too much about whether you’re ‘doing it right’ can lead to not doing it at all.  At any level, student blogs provide benefits. Embrace them.

We would love to hear your ideas. Please comment and share your thoughts on student blogs. 

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Is AR Good 4 Teaching & Learning? Or should we get real?

Augmented Reality is nothing new for youth. It has been a part of student’s social experience in apps like Snapchat and it made a big splash when Pokemon Go made its debut. But when it comes to learning, does it have a place?

While seeing an object, insect, or animal up close in an augmented reality is certainly preferably to reading about it in your science text, is it really the best way to help students learn?

Is learning via AR it better than that?

Well, yeah. Probably. It will engage kids with the wow factor for a bit, but then what?

And what about the source? Who wants us to buy into this? A textbook provider? A publisher? A testing company? A hardware or software provider?

What’s in it for them?

And, what about all the other ways to learn? Is it better than that? Is it cost effective?

AR: The Verdict? It depends.

When compared to textbooks, most would agree that AR improves upon the learning experience. It can also help make a textbook a bit more interactive and give it some life.

But what about other options? A powerful novel? A game? A MagniScope? A PBS documentary? A YouTube expert?

To help think about this, I turned to my friends at Modern Learners for some insights.
When thinking about AR, VR, mixed reality, and etc, Gary Stager, asks, are we “investing in reality first” before we invest in such technologies?

That’s a good question. Especially for kids who live in big cities like where I work. In New York City we have cultural neighbourhoods, experiences, some of the finest museums, zoos, gardens, and experts right in the backyard of our schools. Are we taking students there? Or if we aren’t in such communities, are we using resources like Facebook Live, Periscope, and Skype to connect and interact with real people and places in other parts of the world?

When I served as a library media specialist in an inner city school in Harlem, we had immersive experiences in places like Chinatown, Little Italy, and Spanish Harlem. We visited places like El Museo Del Bario and the Tenement Museum. We had scavenger hunts around the neighbourhoods and the museums were happy to freely open their doors to our inner city youth visiting on weekdays.

Of course there are times when a real experience can not occur in place of a virtual experience. For example, a trip to Mars or the Titanic are out of reach. Engaging in or witnessing a dangerous activity for a newbie such as driving a car, plane, train, are other examples.

But even with such extremes, there may be a movie, field trip, game, or museum experience that might provide a better learning experience.

In his Modern Learners podcast Will Richardson puts it this way. If for some reason we really can’t invest in realities, then yes, these “halfway measures for poor kids” make sense, but only if it really is not possible to bring students more authentic opportunities.

But let’s make sure those real experiences are not available before jumping into augmented ones.

Consider this…

When trying to determine what is best for students, here are some questions you can ask:

  • How would a student use this outside of school?

  • Does it help a young person create agency over learning?

  • Does this have a real-life use?

  • Is this better than…

  • Reading about it?

  • Watching it?

  • Doing it?

When you consider those questions, you will be better positioned to determine and explain if augmented reality should become a reality for the students where you teach.

via Lisa Nielsen: The Innovative Edu… http://ift.tt/2yI8Xax

10 Reasons Kids Should Learn to Code

Learning about Computational Thinking, often referred to as coding (which is really the “written” part of process), is a new literacy that is overlooked for myriad reasons: “It’s too hard”, “I don’t understand it so, it will be impossible to teach”, “It doesn’t fit into any curricular area”, “There is no math in it at all”, “It’s just not appropriate for little ones”. I’ve pretty much heard the gamut of reasons why this process, not dissimilar to Design Thinking or Inquiry processes taking placing in Making/Tinkering and STEAM environments, is not viable in classrooms today. The reality is that computation thinking is a YAIEP or Yet Another Inquiry Entry Point. This should be a comforting thing for most. Inquiry and more recently Design Thinking are processes have been used extensively in the STEAM and Maker Movements that has swept educational institutions. These programs feature pedagogy that empower students to take more responsibility for their learning pathway; directing their learning through questions and personal perspectives; try to find and solve unique problems that have meaning and importance them; collaborating together to makes sense of data collected; communicating with authentic audiences and experts to share and obtain information; demonstrate their understandings in unique ways. This is Computational Thinking at it’s best as well. But there are added benefits as well and the article highlights these beautifully….  (Keith Strachan)


Word Splash of Coding Words

10 Reasons Kids Should Learn to Code

When it comes to preparing your children for the future, there are few better ways to do so than to help them learn to code! Coding helps kids develop academic skills, build qualities like perseverance and organization, and gain valuable 21st century skills that can even translate into a career. From the Tynker blog, here are the top 10 reasons kids should learn to code:

Coding Improves Academic Performance

  1. Math: Coding helps kids visualize abstract concepts, lets them apply math to real-world situations, and makes math fun and creative!
  2. Writing: Kids who code understand the value of concision and planning, which results in better writing skills. Many kids even use Tynker as a medium for storytelling!
  3. Creativity: Kids learn through experimentation and strengthen their brains when they code, allowing them to embrace their creativity.
  4. Confidence: Parents enthusiastically report that they’ve noticed their kids’ confidence building as they learn to problem-solve through coding!

Coding Builds Soft Skills

  1. Focus and Organization: As they write more complicated code, kids naturally develop better focus and organization.
  2. Resilience: With coding comes debugging – and there’s no better way to build perseverance and resilience than working through challenges!
  3. Communication: Coding teaches logical communication, strengthening both verbal and written skills. Think about it: learning code means learning a new language!

Coding Paves a Path to the Future

  1. Empowerment: Kids are empowered to make a difference when they code – we’ve seen Tynkerers use the platform to spread messages of tolerance and kindness!
  2. Life Skills: Coding is a basic literacy in the digital age, and it’s important for kids to understand – and be able to innovate with – the technology around them.
  3. Career Preparation: There’s a high demand for workers in the tech industry; mastering coding at a young age allows kids to excel in any field they choose!

Tynker makes it fun and easy for kids to learn how to code! Kids use Tynker’s visual blocks to begin learning programming basics, then graduate to written programming languages like Python, Javascript, and Swift. Our guided courses, puzzles, and more ensure that every child will find something that ignites their passion for learning. Explore our plans and get your child started coding today!

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Jigsaw variant – Pulsing

Pulsing is a jigsaw variant that allows students to benefits from the “hive” mind, but also insists on individual accountability in terms of project and task completion.

I use pulsing a lot for research…. I have attached an example I used with a grade 7 class doing an inquiry on creating a fully functional island with government, a people, culture, population  centre, etc… .

My belief is that structures such as this address the following learning structure considerations…

  1. Student Voice
  2. Accountability
  3. Broadening Perspectives
…and are vitally important in an educational landscape. See below.

Intentional by Design: We Build in Opportunities to Learn in the Presence of Students, by Risking Our Own Significance and Demonstrating Instructional Cycles

Interesting look at conversations around intent sharing, co-creation of criteria, & learning along side students & how it affects the learner and their process….


In January, we identified hallmarks of a structure that we use when working with a system or school over time. The following is the fourth of seven posts that serve to illuminate those hallmarks.

As leaders, we know that the most important relationship in schools and school systems is the instructional relationship between teachers and their students. We talk and write about the primacy of this relationship and, yet, it can be easy to simply do that – talk and write about it.

Because the learning that takes place “at the desk of the student” is so critical, we often find ourselves in classrooms teaching a group of students whom we have just met and often at a level or in a subject area that is unfamiliar to us. It certainly would be far simpler to share examples and images of students engaged in learning; however, the potential benefits far outweigh the moments of doubt as one begins a lesson in front of a group of 18 or more educators. (In a subsequent blog, we will more clearly articulate the role of those educator observers, but for now, let us reflect on some recent experiences.)

The body of writing in the area of ethical leadership often refers to leaders who “risk their own significance” and we know of no better way than to model a strategy or an instructional sequence for others. Certainly, this can be done in a learning session where only adult learners are present. That is, we can engage in a strategy or series of strategies and then discuss classroom adaptations and applications. Nevertheless, inviting others to observe a strategy in action with a group of student learners allows us to watch intentional instructional design unfold and to mitigate sentiments such as, “Well, this is a good idea, but I can’t imagine how it would work with a group of Grade 10 Science students.”  

A group of 17 teachers gathered in Debbie’s classroom to observe a process of co-constructing criteria with Grade 11 Pre-Calculus students. In two or three minute chunks, I solved math problems for the students, by not only modelling, but by engaging in metacognitive talk along the way. Students gave me immediate feedback in the moments between the modelling chunks and identified what they noticed me doing and saying that would inform the criteria. At the end of approximately 40 minutes, we had, together, created robust and comprehensive criteria to answer this question – What counts, what matters, and what is important when we solve a math problem completely? The details of the criteria included statements like, “Clear your mind before solving the problem so that you can focus.”, “Think about a problem that you have done before that is similar.”, “Draw on prior mathematical understanding.”, “Take a brain break, if you need it.”, and “Determine what the problem is actually asking you.” At the end of the lesson, I invited one teacher to meet with a group of two students to discuss what he/she had learned about instruction, as a result of the observation. The discussion was not about what the students had learned or what the teachers had learned about the students. Rather, the focus was on that which the teachers took from the demonstration to inform their next instructional steps. In this way, the teachers are making their learning public to the students and modelling the adage that is often repeated – We are all lifelong learners. And perhaps more importantly, the teachers are risking their own significance by talking about something that they now know more about than even an hour earlier.

For two years, teams of K-8 teachers observed every day for four days as I taught writing in two classrooms. At 8:30 each morning 25 to 30 of us gathered for half an hour, digging into the learning destination, discussing evidence we might collect, and, after the first day, considering what the evidence suggested as next steps for tomorrow’s lesson. During those two years, I did the teaching, simultaneously working with students and teacher learners for an hour twice a morning in classrooms ranging from Kindergarten to Grade 8, with students I did not know, and on topics negotiated with teachers in advance, based on what they were studying at the time and their students were deeply interested in. I did not impose the topic to make it easier for myself. My only requirements were that we find something that would be authentic and meaningful for the students and connected to outcomes, content, topics, genres, or big ideas already under study. After each lesson we met to make sense of our evidence – the conversations, observations, and products from the classroom. At the end of the second year, the divisional Literacy Leadership team asked for pairs of teachers to become hub teachers, each planning a writing lesson study week and inviting four to six teachers from schools new to the project into their classrooms. Fourteen teachers opened their doors and made their practice public, using the structure I had modelled and the big ideas of assessment and instruction in the writing workshop that had been the focus of our two years together. In year three, while I began the work with a new team, fourteen teachers took a leadership role, benefitting colleagues from their own school and other schools in the district and making the learning their own. When they repeat the process next year, the hub teachers have suggested that they would like to include time in the visiting teachers’ classrooms. Their feedback has inspired more teachers to volunteer to become hub teachers.

As leaders we deliberately build opportunities to learn in the presence of students and risk our own significance by demonstrating instructional practices. It is our experience that this modelling inspires others to try something that may not have been attempted before.

Risking your own significance is contagious.

In our next post, we will further examine the fifth hallmark that we outlined in January 2017- We use the gradual release of responsibility model not only with student learners, but with adult learners as well.

 

Written with my colleague Brenda Augusta

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