Thursday, March 31, 2011

Schooling Babies

Okay a lot of this information can also be found at Joe Bower's excellent blog. However I am compelled to share my ideas on all of this. If you are working in an early childhood environment or a parent to a young child, this should make your heart race: Why Preschool Shouldn't Be Like School by Alison Gopnik.

I am an ECE specialist and parent to a preschooler. He just turned 3 in January and I have already been asked, by a professional, if he has started reading yet. I promptly replied with another question: Why does a three year old need to read? Okay, I admit that it was completely rhetorical. I've just reached this point. Several of my friends have been swept up in this current of schooling babies, literally from birth, and frankly I don't understand it. I've even endured long emails from friends trying to convince me of the Your Baby Can Read program, with the argument that they will have a head start, a one-up if you will, on their peers when they start school (if you want to know my stance on this, see my Redshirting post below). This program is equivalent to Khan Academy's approach, just targeted to a younger audience. Am I the only one that finds this disturbing? In the words of Sir Ken Robinson, "Kindergarten starts in Kindergarten".

What I love about Gopnik's article is how she reminds us of the importance of creativity, play, and curiosity. Something as simple as faking our own curiosity and wonderment can become a pedagogical skill. I would argue that, by way of demonstrating how school is a place for curiosity to live out, we help children continue to engage in their natural inclinations to learn, discover, and question. Alternatively, by schooling them we can squash that creativity and natural curiosity, limiting it to an extra-curricular activity. Is all this worth having your child top of his/her Kindergarten class (if reading -decoding, not necessarily comprehension- is even of the utmost value there)?

(image source)

Or this:

(image source)

What do you choose? What would they choose?

Maybe the article should be called 'Why School Shouldn't Be Like School'.

Monday, March 28, 2011

My Top 5

It seems like you can't turn a blog page or roll over a twitter tweet these days without coming across a "top five 21st century skills" page. As the saying goes, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. So, here goes. After my two years in the U of C MT program, this is my top five list:

1. Critical Thinking and Analysing skills
As has been stated over and over in books, articles, and anywhere you look for current ideas on education, teachers are no longer gateways to information. We're in an information age where ideas and...well, information, bombard us from every angle. Our students have instant access to this through technology. Our jobs as teachers need to shift accordingly to provide students with ways to approach all this knowledge and information with a critical, analytical eye. It's about learning the stuff worth learning rather than just the stuff. It's also about agreeing to disagree and gaining perspective -a life skill in a global world.

2. Technological Savvy
Technology is today and it is the future. It changes so rapidly that sometimes it's overwhelming. I don't see this as meaning that, as a teacher, you have to keep up with the latest, greatest tools. That's what ed researchers and grad students are for! However, students will need these skills in the future so we need to incorporate as much *useful* technology into their learning as possible and be open to their ideas about using technology. I wonder what students could come up with on the learning benefits and curricular ties of some video games? Furthermore, technology often cuts down on rudimentary tasks and provides openings for diverse representations of learning.

3. Growth Mindset
Boy, Carol Dweck is never going to live this one down...not that she would want to. After reading Dweck's book last year I haven't been able to get her ideas out of my head. It's one of those things where you go around assessing people in the grocery store; you suddenly think you have all this perspective. Instead of just focusing on confidence building, which can often be misconstrued as simply overpraising children, teachers can focus on developing students' growth mindsets. This is tied into being a 21st century skill because of how rapidly our world is changing, both with technology and the environment. Students with growth mindsets have been shown to be more resilient in the face of change.

4. Collaborative skills
This is kind of a no-brainer and is probably on everyone else's top five. Two minds are better than one...better yet, 5 minds are better than one. Great minds don't think alike and they do amazing things together. Technology has broken cultural, linguistic, and geographical barriers, leading to globalization. What an exciting time to be a student...and teacher!

5. Ecological Awareness
For some reason, I've spent a very long time with the assumption that environment is not heavily related to formal education. It seems ridiculous now that I'm writing it (and actually I'm kind of embarrassed). I am a huge recycler, use chemical free cleaners in my house, drive a fuel efficient car when needed, and walk to university everyday. Heck, I even compost. Yet, somehow I didn't make a very strong connection between the environment and teaching. Well I am tearing down this barrier like a Berlin wall! I'm ready to move beyond recycling. 21st century learners are too! It's about being proactive, not reactive. Reactive measures still have a place but they can no longer suffice as the sole objective of ecological education. Composting, naturalization projects, and lobbying, oh my!

Well, that's that. What do you think? What's in your top five?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Comic Life Presentation

Comic Life

I really like the way comic life gives so much freedom for creative expression. They way you can change colours, shapes, pictures, etc. makes it personalized and you know you won't get a single one that looks the same as another. When I've used comic life, I've enjoyed the way it allows me to choose items and designs that reflect my tone, mood, and other feelings.

What an interesting idea: storyboarding! Good point about how artistically "challenged" (i.e. in physically drawing something) people can still express creative ideas by using comic life.
Can Comic Life only operate on a Mac? No! On their website they have Mac and PC options! How is it published? Can it be uploaded somewhere for remote access?

Quite possibly my favourite thing about Comic Life is how accessible and engaging it is for all age levels! Okay, Kindergarten might be a stretch but I have seen it used successfully with Grade one. How could it be used in Kindergarten?

This is too cool not to mention. On the break before this presentation, I was on my phone checking in on the twitter activity. Neil Stephenson had tweeted about the inquiry blog from Calgary Science School  so I clicked on it to check out some of their stuff. I pulled up the most recent one with a cartoon picture. I just started to read when our presenters began. Low and behold, the presenters ended up on the same page to discuss an example of how to use Comic Life! We're now replicating the process!

Picasa. I don't understand yet why you need this. Can't you just use any photo uploader? You can alter the photos there. For example, you can use soft focus.

Thank you guys! Comic Life has so many possibilities!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Protein Pancakes

Okay, I had to really think about how I could justify posting a recipe on an ed blog and here's what I came up with:

1. Teacher self-care -we all know how much better we are with some wholesome food (and, admittedly, a cup of coffee) in our bodies as we start the day.

2. Health units -How could this recipe be used, or even better, modified by students?

3. Everybody loves pancakes!

So here it is. My mom modified these from a couple recipes and please trust me, they are DELICIOUS.

1/3 cup low sodium cottage cheese
1 tbsp. ground flax
1 egg
1 egg white
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 ripe banana, sliced
1 scoop vanilla or chocolate protein powder

Throw everything into a food processor till smooth. Refrigerate batter for 3 min. Lightly grease your pan if needed. You know the rest!

Makes about 5 fabulous (and gluten free) pancakes.

Friday, March 18, 2011

iMovie and WebQuest


I love how they used Jing for their tutorial and actually showed us how to do it. This is so much more effective than just showing us a final projected and telling us what they did.
Windows has movie maker as an equivalent. Make sure to check out the online tutorials for both.
If you can drop and drag, then you can use iMovie!
On digital storytelling: technology use can make the experience deeper and more real
Some ideas: communicating with parents/families, creating instructional videos, growing plants, field trips...

Other ways to use iPods in the classroom: research, access to Smart response tools, getting music
Dropbox app: online place to drop your files, similar to Google Docs -free download on
How is this different from Google Docs? It's great that there are other options. I guess you wouldn't have to create an email account with Dropbox, as you do with Google. Thanks Katie, for bringing up Locker which is used by several school boards as part of D2L.

I think iMovie presents great opportunities for ECE!!! Storytelling, story sharing, drama, etc.


What is a WebQuest?
An inquiry-oriented lesson format, focused on questioning and critical thinking. All resources are preselected. By who? If students are supposed to do critical thinking, why can't they go through the process of selecting resources? Main purpose is to promote higher level thinking. Go to Jen or Bob's blog to get the URL.

How can I make a WebQuest? is highly recommended. Free 30 day membership. Millions of WebQuests that you can change and use, similar to IO. So, what i sthe difference between this and IO? IO is more expensive...
Each section has a checkpoint at the end to help you. Search engine with kid friendly sites only, which non-members can access.

Students need a problem that creates some uncertainty and doubt. Set up constraints but give them freedom to express their ideas in ways of their choices.

Quest Atlantis
Wanted to make a video game with academic content that went beyond drill and practice. Is this the evolution of WebQuest? Has avatars and a lot like Second Life. It's a windows based program and freezes up a lot on a Mac. The point is, there is a quest! You have to gather information from different sources but it's all internal in the program. So you talk to characters in the game but the program is really secure. Bob and Jen had to fill out an application to have access. Furthermore, they cannot speak or interact with other students.
Thank you guys, this is great information for my Independent Inquiry! Oh wait, it's reading based...that makes sense since they have a recommended age level of grade 3 and up. That's too bad. I wonder if there's a way around beign able to click on something that will read it out loud.
Are the games organized by age? I think some of the language and content is above grade three level.
They provide you with a log (word document!) of all the information you've accessed. This allows modification and is, of course, printable.
I like the complexity of having many different players with different goals that are sometimes based on finances, hierarchies, environment, etc. They all try to convince you of their stories. I love how this really relates to the real world and critical thinking skills. Students need to learn how to make these educated decisions in real life! This gives them exposure to the fact that people have different agendas and how they need to constantly step outside of their own shoes to take different perspectives. What a great life skill!
It's great that, at the end, the program asks them to form their own opinion. We struggle with this even at the university level! Well I do anyway... It's actually a difficult task when you've taken the time to truly understand different perspectives.
Having students make mistakes and go back to figure it out is a very effective way to learn. Michele brought this back to constructivist, cognitive theories. This made me think of the appeal of video games, and how people have to fail over and over to finally achieve their goal (next level). And Michele further pointed out how interesting it is that each level is harder! We (human beings) love challenge. In gaming, we know that the challenge is appropriate because we've worked our way up gradually. Games are developmentally appropriate and within a player's zone of proximal development! Teachers struggle with this daily. Should we change our teaching to be more like a video game? hmmm...

Great point brought up about research being done on getting kids to design games. This is too much for a teacher to be able to handle in a classroom! It is a lot of work. Use those that are already there!

Thank you guys, this was great!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Another exciting Inquiry and Technology class!

Xtranormal: This is so fun! But wait, when does fun and entertainment become learning? This is a constant challenge for me in ECE. We know that children learn best through play, but when is play justified and when is it not? I love how xtranormal has different languages. We are currently getting into a lot of bilingual books to support multilingualism and multiculturalism, and I never even thought about these programs and their potential for this! What about in language learning classes too!

Goanimate. We didn't get to see this in action today but apparently it's similar to other animation programs. Animoto too. Lara did one with pictures and it only took about 15 minutes. See class webpage.

Garage Band
What is the value in this for learning? When does it become more than entertainment (particularly in early childhood classrooms)?
I can see how a music teacher might use this, but I'm struggling to think of ways it could be used in the regular classroom. In our little group, Erin had an idea about how it could be used in math. Counting the bars is a visual way of using fractions. In that sense we thought it could be incorporated into a math lesson.

Why use podcasting in education?
Podcasting is very aesthetic and can be used to share information and ideas. Juice is a software that allows you to create podcasts on your PC. iTunes will also allow you.
GarageBand podcasts: You can record separate voices and then put them together later. After a recording you can edit out any mistakes, "dead air" moments, etc. When you're finished, make sure to save it as an mp3 file for more versatility. Podcasts can upload directly to iTunes.

Podomatic: I'm realizing the potential for this in helping students at home. What if we can create these podcasts for students to access at home for extra tutoring in a particular area. This idea comes from a recent founding of Khan Academy. At Khan they record podcasts with visuals to teach math and science concepts from K-university levels. They purport that this can change the face of education in the sense that they do this learning at home with the podcast and do the "homework" at school with teacher support. I can really see how this enhances student learning. (Check out Get off your butt and ride's blog for the video lesson). Good for teaching students about copyrights because legal "mumbo-jumbo" includes examples making it easier to understand. You can google free music for podcasting. These are usually indie bands trying to get their music out there. Michele made a great point about how we can over come these copyright issues by making our own music in GarageBand!!!

The difference between a task and an activity? I have never thought about this! So, an activity is something that doesn't really have an outcome, similar to our Student showcases. It's informative but there's no real product. A task is similar to the Great Tasks we did. It leads to a product of learning and involves specific assessment. See IO for more information.

Arts Smart: 21st Century Skills, Creative Inquiry Process (see article posted on Class Webpage)
  • Use this article for Independent Inquiry!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Critical Pedagogy in Kindergarten?

I recently joined a book club that explores teaching resources. Each week someone from the group volunteers to guest blog about the chapter we're on and the rest of us respond. In the spirit of 'going out on a limb' to add richness to my experience with this book, I volunteered to guest post. You can witness the bravery here. What I got out of this was immense. The particular chapter I got to explore was filled with reminders of so much of the theoretical knowledge we had learned in our classrooms at university. It was comforting to be reminded of the optimism that exists in educational theory. In our first year, we were in practicums only two days a week, and our actual teaching was limited. While on campus, we experienced intense discussions about theory and how it can live out in classrooms, interpreting the things we've seen in our placements, and, essentially, trying to bridge the gap between theory and practice.

During spring and summer we had no classes, or placements. A lucky few of us found work that had something to do with working with children, while some of us stuck with waiting tables. Four months of this, and we were thrown back into schools, this time four days a week. Of course, many of us were really excited to be back working with children. However, what has happened to all that theory we learned a lot about but in all honesty rarely saw? I can only speak for myself at this point, but it was very difficult, when surrounded by the commonplace methods and practices of teaching, to apply, or even remember, much of the theory we learned in the previous year. Our one day a week on campus served as a forum for our instructor to share more practical information, which we deeply appreciated and needed, and for us to share our stories about children we'd fallen in love with, who puzzled us, and made us excited about teaching.

I LOVED my placement and it broke my heart to have to leave at the end of the semester. Interestingly, I think this love blinded me to the theory I had once loved also. It's so easy to fall into the routine and commonplace practices and leave the theory behind to scholars and researchers. Now that I've come back to university, and particularly through the explorations of this book, Making Learning Whole by David Perkins, I am remembering all those important lessons.

One of these, which I rediscovered in Chapter five of the book, is Critical Pedagogy (crit ped). I remember learning about it in our Semester 2 lectures by Brent Davis, and in the associated text book Engaging Minds by Davis, Sumara & Luce-Kapler (one of the best, if not the best, educational theory books I have ever read). Back then I wondered about crit ped's place in early childhood, and here I am a year later with the same question! When you have a classroom full of students that cannot yet read, say in Kindergarten, how do you practice crit ped without the fear that you're essentially just brainwashing them to think the way you do? You choose what to read to them and how to read it. Very rarely are children of this age able to articulate their response(s) to text. Heck, even adults have difficulties with this. So how can this be encouraged?

I found a very inspiring article about this from the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) by Jeffrey Wood. Lucky me, it involved a Kindergarten class too! I was deeply inspired by this teacher's bold aspirations for building critical literacy (crit lit) skills among his early literacy students. In particular, the way this teacher started out his school year with questions, not only about his mandated curriculum but, about how he could support his students' learning with crit lit and how this could lead to social justice actions. WOW! Social justice Kindergarten! To tie this in with Making Learning Whole,there is a junior game of social justice that might be played here which Wood eventually discovers. Wood sums up a lot of crucial points in one statement: "Critical literacy is not only a type of pedagogy that is different from a more traditional approach, it is a different worldview that transforms teaching and the way we, students and teacher, see and interact with the world". What an incredible goal for teachers! And yet, somehow, it is not overwhelming. On the contrary, a lot of the traditional methods are (for me anyway). I think this is because crit ped isn't just interesting or important for students, parents, or administrators. The work becomes important and life changing for the teacher too, challenging our perspectives and ways of thinking about people and the world. In a lot of ways it's a ground shaking undertaking.

One of the big take-home messages of this article isn't just about crit lit, but teacher disposition and self-awareness. This leads me to another big theme of my theoretical explorations in teaching: Integral Theory (IT). From the little I know about IT, I recall that it emphasizes a holistic approach and strong self-awareness on behalf of the teacher. That is, you become ever more aware of yourself (eg. words, actions, subtleties, etc.) in order to improve your teaching. This isn't meant to create a self-centered teacher, although I suspect there's a danger there. This evolving awareness has the potential to lead to some incredible intentional teaching by avoiding a lot of unintentional teaching that happens automatically -sort of like how babies learn language. Perkins talks about this also, referring to it as tacit learning.

Lastly, I love the way crit ped works with the NAEYC's recent statement about Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP). In particular, the social and cultural contexts in which children live is directly relevant to crit ped and the culture that Wood and his class created.

In the spirit of crit lit I must ask, how feasible is all this for a first year teacher?

Friday, March 4, 2011

CCSD Presentation on Educational Technology

Today we have a presentation from the Calgary Catholic School district on Educational Technology...

Teaching Digital Natives -Marc Prensky
-collaborative knowledge building

Pedagogy Continuum -reflective practice
I think it's interesting that the continuum presents a rule of thumb in level three "no more minutes per lecture than the grade level". How does that work for Kindergarten?

Capacity building? I didn't catch what exactly is meant by "capacity" here. I'm gathering that it represents growth and knowledge building.

TPACK model: balance between content, technological and pedagogical knowledge.
Online collaborations via blogs and wikis dependent on specific school teams and what they want to work on.

Big 4 Jigsaw Activity: Classroom Management, Content Planning, Instruction, Assessment for learning
How are all these areas impacted by technology?
Classroom Management: We have to consider self-management with technology around. What is "on task"?
How can you tap into the students' technology use for your teaching purposes?
We DESIGN lessons!
Content Planning: Lesson Progression Maps
Should it be working around the text books/resources? Is there something else that can guide your planning?
Program of Studies!
Instruction: Get creative! What is focused imagining?
Assessment for Learning: Love the Rubric creator
"Assessment is like a traffic light because it tells you where to start" -Dale Armstrong

The Snowball Effect
-provide students with the opportunity to choose modes of technology that work for them and their vision
Engagement strategies -modeling for teachers rather than talking at them in AISI meetings
Assistive technology: tools -low tech (paper, pencils, scissors, etc.) to mid tech (calculators, voice recorders, neos, etc.), to high tech (Premier assistive technology software -used by CCS and RVS)
-keyboarding very important skill for LD students especially
-get your support people involved (AISI leaders, OTs, resource teachers)
Be positive and build the relationships!
Universal Design for Learning: how am I speaking? Combine speaking with tech and visual support.
  • support and challenge
  • what is my goal?
  • what barriers might interfere?
  • representation: multiple methods
  • action and expression: models, feedbacks, and supports
  • multiple means of engagement (entry points)
  • always keep learning goal in mind
Make sure to read the Making a Difference document from Alberta Ed.

Digital Citizenship
Bishop Carrol website:
A lot of digital content is not allowed in class. The highly recommended digital resources are put into the coac site. Public Performance Rights need to be there to legally play the media in class.
Coac site allows you to search via grade level. The search results provide you with a synopsis, grades and subject area applicability. They are all cached so you don't have to worry about network clogging/failures. Basically, anything you access via Learn Alberta is safe territory.

Rubrics provide students with a framework: an ending point, starting point, where and how to improve. If you're only assessing the final project, you are setting students up for potential acts of plagiarism. Assessment has to happen throughout!

It's not about the technology, it's about the way we engage students in meaningful learning!