Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Transparent Classroom for me

I recently read a blog post at Seth's Blog that made me think back to Amy Park's transparent classroom. A transparent classroom relates the idea that what happens in the classroom is accessible information for parents, other teachers, and administrators. More than just leaving the door open, the transparent classroom reaches out to the community and families to involve them in the important task of learning. As a new teacher, I know I will make many mistakes in the course of my career. There will always be things that I could have done better and ways to improve. How could having my classroom transparent help me grow professionally? How can a transparent classroom ultimately enhance student learning?

As a new teacher, I am both excited and scared about getting feedback and advice from colleagues. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for helpful, constructive feedback. In fact, I have often made the case that there is not enough open feedback loops in the professional teaching community. The reason why I'm afraid is because I know that the way I think about teaching and learning is very different from the way it's currently practised in the many classrooms. This whole shift in education is easy to approach in theory but difficult to translate into practice when you often see around you dusty IWBs, punishments and rewards, squashing of ideas (a.k.a. shushing), and worksheet after worksheet after...that's right, worksheet. What are other, experienced, teachers going to think about my smile-and-nod approach to their worksheet sharing meetings? Will I be subliminally coerced into using them? Is it undermining the value of a collaborative network to reject things that the rest of your team use and believe in? How receptive will my colleagues then be of my ideas? (My mind is now racing about creating a "worksheet center" in the classroom that's completely optional for students. I wonder how many of them would go there and how long it would sustain their interest. If you can contextualize them, can worksheets build student understanding?)

This book outlines future classrooms that have auditory, but not visual, barriers making a physically transparent classroom.

On the other hand, one of the major benefits of the transparent classroom is parental involvement. I love parents, even helicopter ones. This is probably related to the fact that I am one...a parent, not a helicopter, but fundamentally because parents are always advocates for what they think is best for their children. I even came across an article discussing how children of helicopter parents are more engaged. After all, they tend to know their children best and to not use their expertise and involve them in their childrens' learning is shameful. They have a right to be involved. By having a transparent classroom that involves parents I benefit from learning more about their children and students benefit, at the very least, from knowing that the school is a community place where they, and their families, belong. Of course, those helicopter types will make sure I'm engaging their children in quality, engaged learning.

Are students just as bothered by them as teachers? (image source)

I really enjoyed the perspective in this article about moving toward a transparent classroom. The full transparency of one of my last courses at university was a simple step toward full engagement by the students, a strong connection with the professor, and the sharing and collaboration of amazing work and ideas. Simply knowing that I could tweet my prof was empowering and broke down barriers so that I could ask questions and share ideas that I never would have shared otherwise. You can see what we did each week and access all of the students' blogs here.

Ultimately, student learning is of the utmost importance and something that leads to better teaching and more engagement is worth investing in. While I have to admit that splashing my pedagogical ideas and choices up in the air for everyone to see is slightly, okay very, intimidating, I know it will make me a better teacher.

Inclusive Technology use in ECE

The link below leads to a webpage that displays my literature review of technology use in ECE. This topic divided itself into 3 categories: fostering creativity, gender inclusion, gaming to learn, and teaching for diverse learners.

Some of the key questions discussed are:
How can teachers know which technologies are worthwhile quality for fostering the development of creativity?
How can girls become more engaged with technology?
How can technology that appeals to boys be used in the classroom?
What is the role of technology in the Early Childhood classroom?
How can digital gaming be used in education generally, and ECE specifically?
How does the Universal Design for Learning support learners with technology?

Additionally, some practical resources are cited.

Feedback is welcome and encouraged!


Sunday, April 17, 2011

My blog in a high five

Inspired by my fellow BEd grad Christy in her Intentionally Me blog, I've created the word cloud of Wonderment. Interestingly, both of us have technology, students, and learning as three of our most commonly used words.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Professional Growth Plan with Goals

Following, is a list of my professional goals to strive toward over the next year (my first year as a professional teacher).

1. Continue to discover the value of technology in an early childhood classroom

Upon having my own classroom, I will strive to include digital mediums, or at least the option of digital mediums, in meaningful ways. My goal is to try at least one digital game with my class over the next year and examine its value for learning. In addition to that, I will take any opportunities that arise to play digital games on my own time.

2. Teach myself and my students critical literacy skills.

I am a sucker for a good writer. Often I’ve had to take a step back and ask myself just how credible a source is, where the information came from, etc. If this is a challenge for me, it will be one for my students. It is a goal for me to commit to teaching my students critical literacy skills, which includes all forms of literacy (visual, audio, etc.). I believe that this is a culture that needs to be established from the beginning through community building where students can trust me and one another.

3. Successfully harmonize the many important roles I have.

You don’t need a lot of time in the education world to realize it is no secret that teaching is a very demanding job. This is not only pertaining to the time it takes to design engaging tasks, organize resources and materials, etc. It’s also related to the mental energy you need when you are fully engaged with your students and their learning. Particularly as a mother, I have found it challenging to harmonize all the different roles I have now. As I embark on my new career, I want to commit to some set hours for quality time in my various roles.

4. Keep connected.

This is possibly my most important goal. In working as an education assistant I have had the tremendous opportunity to see some amazing schools and teachers. On the other hand I have also seen a lot of situations where even the most positive attitude can quickly be snuffed out. It doesn’t mean I will not work in this type of environment. After all, kids are kids are kids no matter where you go. They all have talents and creative minds to expose. However, I believe that, for me to survive and be the teacher that I really want to be, I need to uphold a strong connection with colleagues and mentors that will inspire me, tell me when I’m wrong (and right!), and support me on this adventure. Some of these people will hopefully be teachers I work with, while a lot of them will be from my fellow grads from U of C, my U of C professors, and the amazing teachers all over world that I can connect with through social networking applications.

5. Read books…lots of books.

Anyone that knows me, knows I am a huge book worm. I don’t do a lot of fiction outside of children’s picture books, although I do try to just for the sake of broadening my horizons. Within the next year I want to read the following books:

  • Five Minds for the Future by Howard Garner
  • Waiting for Superman by Karl Weber
  • A New Culture of Learning by Douglas Thomas & John Seely Brown
  • The Element by Sir Ken Robinson
  • Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire

  • Educating for Wisdom and Compassion by John Miller

  • Powerful Learning by Linda Darling-Hammond

  • Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell (I’m actually embarrassed that I haven’t read this one yet)

  • and finally, I'll find a fiction book that's all the hype at whatever time I choose to read one

So that's it. I would love some comments on any other great books people have read!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Squeezing every last drop out of Michele

Taylor Mali poem: Michele's blog "Talyor Mali: My Favourite Teacher & Poet"

How to support toxic communities (Conference in New Orleans)
-focus on designing authentic learning environments
-equity where we don't lower our standards

Will wait on the edge of my seat for Michele's favourite booklist to be posted on her blog!

Provocative Ideas:
Knowledge building as the most important 21st century skill
  • we must engage with technology
  • Managing on the twelfth (Clifford & Friesen, 1993): what matters is that you engage the students
    • we have to empower them so their work is of value outside the classroom
    • think carefully about what you're asking your students to do
  • students want to create, connect, and collaborate
  • they need to be knowledge creators
  • we need to question our own deeply held beliefs about teaching
  • Choice and Voice for Every Child -see YouTube video (which we totally didn't watch in class)
    • what if we provided technological accommodations for ALL students?
  • Hands-on vs. Hands-up video
Engaged teaching matters more than ever in a participatory digital world
  • Unengaged teaching is not improved by technology
  • we need support to both new and experienced teachers in designing and leading the type of technology-based learning 21st century students need
  • Teaching and Learning in 21st century Learning Environments: 3 year longitudinal design based exploratory study (elementary and middle schools)
    • cognitive investment required by students
    • instructional style: how is the teacher relating to the students in that particular lesson?
    • authenticity
    • level of student engagement during every 1/3 of the lesson
    • enduring finding: strong correlation between cognitive investment, instructional style, and authenticity and student engagement
    • galileo network-involved schools demonstrated high success -they implement the tasks, make appropriate changes, and evaluate what happened (focus on teacher development)
    • shared and critiqued practice
    • scaffolding: feedback more than once, possible from more than one source
    • learner-, knowledge-, assessment-, and community-centered = most exemplary results
Inquiry and technology 1:1
Changed mindsets and changed technological contexts
  • changed ideas about knowledge, teaching, learning, and technology
  • result of disruptive technologies (see Rick Van Eck video posted below)
  • Blended, inter-active (collaborative), social, performance
  • groupings and how we organize students in the physical space
  • mobile, participatory, networked, dynamic
  • increase in connective and expressive capabilities
  • Papert: social constructivism
    • we have to engage children in producing external representations of their thinking
    • powerful ideas + children + computers = amazing learning

Inquiry, Technology and assessment: 3 significant shifts

Grade 8 Digital Story: Perspective, Self and World View
This is an amazing video. The language used is superb.

Great Learning Tasks:
  • are authentic
  • are active and participatory
  • are academically rigorous
  • connect beyond the school
  • use digital technologies
  • provide for elaboarte communication
  • use assessment for learning
Final Thoughts from Michele
Let learners know you believe in them.
Let learners know you will not give up on them or on yourself.

Find someone to be your mentor who challenge your practices, someone who will always tell you the truth.

Be 5 eyes
Interested and interesting, inspired and inspiring, idealistic.

Beware of cynical people that will try to snuff out your flame. The giggles that overcame the class demonstrated how we've all had these encounters already. Don't wear yourself out trying to change the cinicism, focus on the positive change.

Start out with just one inquiry project before December, and one before June. Create the culture in your class that supports it.

Love yourself, your colleagues, students, discipline, profession. And be a good colleague yourself. Invest in your professional development. Help students develop their passions and let them dislike things. It's not your job to make students like everything they are meant to learn. But hopefully they can take it up in a way that is meaningful to them.

Always be part of the solution, not the problem.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Student Inquiry Project Self-Assessment

Our SIP was adapted from a unit design already in IO. I think this alone was an important step for me because, for some reason, I have always had this idea that your lesson plans/ideas should be your own. It's kind of like how people think about plagiarism. But I've experienced this epiphany over the semester that I hope my peers have as well: you don't have to reinvent the wheel! And why should you when there are so many great ideas already out there? The point is to take them and make them work for you and your students. So I was glad that our group took this approach.

The core subject our project covered was grade 9 science which I was originally a bit uncomfortable with, coming from an early childhood perspective. However, I am so glad I did! It was fun doing more sophisticated work that challenged me more academically. The topic was so interesting for me. I think that this fulfilled a professional goal that I didn't even know I had: collaborate with teachers in different grades. Yes, we have different perspectives and very different ideas about assessment, but there is a lot we can learn from one another that can help bridge the gap for students too.

Technology is often thought to go hand-in-hand with science, however this often is not the case in schools. In contrast, science tends to focus more on experiential learning and non-digital forms of technology. I know this was definitely the case in my science courses at university. While this unit included a 3D representation of the chromosomes, it also provided the option of creating a digital version. This part of the project was useful for integrating art and graphic design. Because the technology provided students with several entry points, this was an effective use of it.

For our exemplar, we used a GoogleDoc to share our researched information and make notes to one another about what we had done and asked questions. This allowed us to work on the project at our own paces and keep up to date with what others were doing. Also, because we all had different schedules, we didn't have to arrange to meet in person or worry about several different copies of our work floating around.

I have realized through this project, and others over the semester, that there are so many possibilities for learning and developing when we collaborate. The different perspectives that we all bring to the table allow for creative ideas we never could have come up with on our own. It's exciting! I think the colleagial group needs to be in a continuous sway where, occasionally, each member will take on a heavier portion of the workload. Sometimes this depends on passions, interests, and specialities, while other times we just need to give someone a break.

Considering that I will eventually work in grades K-3, I don't see a lot of possibilities for this particular unit on DNA and Genetic mutations. However, I definitely see myself using the amazing resources in IO and, at the very least, following the guidlines about creating an engaging and meaningful inquiry project!

I'm grateful to my fantastic group for all their time and hard work! Go team!

Friday, April 8, 2011

It's almost over

It's almost over, and it's kind of scary and exciting at the same time! It's scary because we will be finished the formal part of our professional development. It's going to be on us now, as individuals, to make sure we take the time to continue to develop. I'll have to address this in my TPGP which is to follow as a course requirement. It's exciting because we've worked so hard and learned so much and now we are ready to apply this knowledge and work as teachers.

To open the class today, Michele reminded us to be kind to ourselves in our first attempts at inquiry in the classroom. It takes practice! Make sure you include students in your thinking about how to design activities and tasks. If you have them involved from the beginning they'll be right there with you throughout.
Inquiry is designed (at least) thrice!
MENTAL: powerful idea, question, issue, or problem
-students strive to exceed the expectations set by your exemplar
-liberating constraints where students feel challenged and supported
-listen for openings, misconceptions, possibilities
-summative assessment: why did it live out a particular way?

What do kids say is the biggest obstacle at school?
This site has a bunch of surveys with regard to students' technology use.

Discussion about the importance of reading:
David Bouchard's For the Love of Reading is a great resource for a Canadian perspective on the top 200 books every kid should read.

Rahat Naqvi, faculty of Education, also provides access to dual language books in many different languages on her website.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Exit Presentation

As part of our last semester in the Masters of Teaching program at the University of Calgary, we were asked to reflect on several questions about identity, challenges, inspirations, hopes and fears as we enter the teaching profession. I made this video to convey part of my presentation with an accompanying metaphor of a puzzle. While my puzzle picture is clearer than it was two years ago, there are still many pieces missing. I don't know that the full picture will ever appear. Should it? If it does, what does that mean?


Friday, April 1, 2011

Amy Park and Candace Saar Presentation on Assessment for Engaged Learning

What is the purpose of assessment in schools?
-feedback for students and their parents
-feedback for the teacher to reflect on practice
-it should all be formative assessment, except for the mark that has to go on the report card
-formative is usually informal, via conversation with the student
-it's the feedback that's useful for the learner, leads to growth
-analogous with coaching

John Hattie (New Zealand) and meta-analysis. What kinds of interventions have the biggest impact in improving student achievement? A: Feedback. Smaller class sizes only improved achievement slightly. Feedback had significant results (i.e. >0.4). It is the most powerful way to improve learning!

How do you teach children how to give eachother descriptive, helpful feedback?

Renaissance Project:
Based on watching the final product, what do the kids know?
-Technologies exist that are more analogue. While we have GPS, we don't "need" it.
-Things do not need to be digital to be considered technology
-vocabulary used is impressive
-geographical thinking
-language arts proficiency: organization, vocabulary
-argument for their perspective: persuasive language
-technology use, eg. timing for images, voice, and music
-deliberate choices in music, images, tone of voice, language

Rubric Building:
"Good job" is not enough information! (This reminds me of one of my favourite articles ever written: Five Reasons to stop saying 'good job' by Alfie Kohn)
A great discussion on breaking down the tasks into smaller, meaningful tasks. This is something that requires great skill from a teacher. Maybe this is one of the things that differs a teacher with pedagogical skill to a tutor?

(image source)

Wow! Amy Park is Super Teacher! Class blog, parent workshops on technology/meaningful feedback/guided reading, class website = the transparent classroom. Passing on this knowledge of pedagogical skill to parents is an investment for a teacher! Amy sends rubrics home for parents to identify areas of strengths for their children. Rubrics are to be used throughout a project, about once a week, to help students continue to improve.
Teach students to ask themselves: is that a helpful comment or a hurtful one? when giving peer feedback. Is it fair to have students investing their time and effort into a task without continuous feedback? How do you justify giving them a bad grade...or any grade at all?
When using student and teacher collaboratively designed rubrics, they get to use their language. Comments are specific and supportive of how much work students are putting in. I am wondering, does the rubric ever change over the course of the project? For example, if a group takes the project a step further and that is not covered anywhere on the rubric, will a place be created for it? I love the idea for Kindergarten about having student's faces printed off with velcro on the back so they can self-assess how invested they were that day on a continuum. Baby steps toward rubric building and self-assessment. I wonder if they could start the day with a goal and then assess where to go from there.

I'm intrigued by the idea of having group members with specific roles. After all, this is what happens in the real world. I'm thinking about lessons/projects I've done in my practicum placements and reflecting on how much better they would be with this aspect.

What a fantastic presentation today. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't feeling slightly overwhelmed but I think that's a good thing. If you do not look at teaching as an overwhelming, complex task, are you being realistic?