Courage- Student Singalong Edition

My students and colleagues never cease to surprise and teach me. Today was one of those times, so I thought I would share a little bit about it. Up until about 2:30, today had been a fairly blah sort of day. Everyone seemed to be on edge and no one really seemed to be getting along with one another. Not that this was a big deal. Some days are like that, even in Australia. When 2:30 rolled around, that blah sort of day went out the door.

I guess I should give you a little preamble. We have been studying poetry. It is a unit I love, but can definitely be challenging for some kids. What I asked the kids to do over the last couple of days is to create a rap or song and be ready to share it in a small group. Any topic, any tune. As you can imagine, the kids kinda struggled with this. I was okay with that because I think that a lot of learning can come out of struggling through something like that. They then shared their songs in small groups in the class. Again, we were still in that blah sort of place. That was until I asked the kids if any of them wanted to share their song with the whole class. To my utter shock, one of the girls volunteered right off the bat. She sang her song about bacon entitled, “I’m So Greasy” to the tune of “I’m So Fancy”. It was awesome. A number of other students volunteered to get up in front of the class, on their own, completely voluntarily, to sing the songs that they had composed. They were great. Even our fabulous SEA Katie got into the act with a song recorded on Garage Band. (I am working on convincing her that we need to post it for the world to hear)

The students amazed me with their willingness to do something that, for many of them, was completely out of their comfort zone. They showed courage and investment in their learning. I am proud of them. Just wanted to share.

Throw It Against The Wall and See What Sticks

One of the things that I love about teaching is the never-ending opportunity to try new things and to work towards finding better ways to help the students that we work with. For those of you that know me, you know that integrating technology with my practice in the classroom is something that I am excited about. I wanted to take a little bit of time tonight to talk about those online tools that I have tried in the last while. Some of the things that I will mention are definitely keepers. Othersare things that I have not tried much yet, but am excited about trying. Click the title for a link to the website for each.

Google Apps for Education

My class gets a lot of use out of Google Apps. I kind of consider it our home base. It is my fallback for anything related to word processing, spreadsheets and presentations. I have used Google Forms a little bit and am excited by the possibility for easily creating surveys and collecting feedback from students, but it is not something I have a lot of experience yet. My fifth grade students were really quick to catch on to how to log on and use the apps and really need very little in the way of technical support from me to be independent. I find it so far relatively east to administer and, like pretty much everything on this list, it is free. (Yay for free!)

Google Classroom

Google Classroom is another useful (and free) service from my friends at Google. It allows me to create a document and easily distribute a copy of that document to each student in my class. They can then work on the document on their own and submit it to me. I would use it even more if each of my students had access to a computer in the classroom all the time. Unfortunately this is not the case, but I use Google Classroom to distribute templates that I want my students to work on or frames for writing or note taking that I would like them to have access to.

Freshgrade

I have talked about Freshgrade a little bit in previous posts, but it is another service that gets a lot of use in my classroom. It allows me to create an online portfolio and gradebook for each student that is instantly shared with their parents. I, or the students can upload files, pictures, comments or video. The site can create reports, and while I know some teachers have used this feature, I have not tried it yet. If there was one new tool I recommend someone learning more about, this would be it.

Nearpod

Nearpod is one that definitely falls into the category of things I have not tried yet, but I am excited to try. It allows you to create presentations that are cast to students when they open an app on a phone or a tablet. It allows students to follow along, but also incorporates interactive elements such as poll questions, videos or a cool feature where students can draw to provide feedback. It allows teachers to see student responses immediately and would be an awesome way for a teacher to get quick, formative feedback from students. I am looking forward to giving this a try once all of my students have an iPad in their hand at the same time.

Kidblog

Kidblog is a site that I have talked about before, but I will go through again. It is a site that allows you to provide all of your students with a blog, which then feeds into a class blog. I am able to moderate both the posts and the comments that students make to one another. I have set the blog so that only other members of our class can see it, but still we have almost 25000 hits over the last two years. I have seen an improvement in the writing of many of the students as they feel they have an audience.

Symbaloo

I have always found it difficult to share web addresses that I want students to access. I find that either it takes them a long time for them to type it in or they make some kind of typo that takes away from their time on the site. Symbaloo is a way for someone to share bookmarks to websites that you want your students to see and it looks really easy. I haven’t tried it yet, but I think I will be looking into it soon.

Scratch

Scratch is a visual programming language designed for kids by the good people at MIT. It is an easy way for kids to get into coding and the kids can make some pretty cool things. I have had students make their own versions of Pong and Pacman and have tried their hand at creating a side scroller kind of like Mario. The site has some excellent tutorials that you can see side by side with the area where you can do your coding. I think it really does help students to develop logical thinking, as they try to figure out how to get their program to do what they want it to do.

Conclusion

As I have written this post I have realized just how many web based tools that I have tried with my students over the last couple of years. I find it exciting. Let me know if there is anything out there that I really have to try that you are having success with. Also, if you want to try any of these tools and need some support, let me know and I will see if I can help you out.

Looking Back

It was my goal a little more than a month ago to contribute daily to my blog for fourty days straight. I missed a couple of days, but in general I posted at least a little something every day. I wanted to take some time today looking back on what I have learned and how I can apply what I have learned to my professional practice. 

Reflection Is Important 

The main thing that I took away from this exercise is the importance of reflection on the learning process. By forcing myself to write, even on days that I didn’t really feel like it, it allowed me to solidify and take a closer look at how I really feel about either what I am doing in my teaching or how I really feel about certain issues in education. In particular, in making my writing public, I really had to make sure I had thought something through before I posted it for the world (or the few of you who read my blog) to see. 

My take-away for my students is that I need to be more purposeful in allowing them time and opportunity to reflect on their learning. It is not enough to just go through an activity and hope that students learned something. It is important to make reflecting an ingrained part of the process. 

Connections Matter

One of the things I have enjoyed about writing this blog so far is the opportunity that it provides for me to connect with people in different ways. Every night I wait impatiently to see if anyone will take a few minutes to respond to what I have written so I can connect to and learn from them. I hope to continue to connect with more and more people as I continue to write. 

The take-away in this for my classroom is that I need to find opportunities for my students to connect with people outside my classroom. I would love to try a mystery Skype or find another class somewhere in the world to connect with. If any of you have any ideas of how I could make this happen, please let me know. 

Audience Matters

I have written about this before so I won’t spend a lot of time on this except to say that students need audiences beyond their teachers and parents. Having their peers as audience is a start, but technology has opened up so many opportunities for students to gain an audience for their gifts that it would be foolhardy for teachers to not at least look at them and think about how they can motivate their students. 

I can’t say that I will be posting daily any more. I would like to post at least once a week and I have asked a number of my colleagues to write guest posts. I do plan to continue to learn and take risks and do things that make me slightly queezy when I do them and I look far ward to anyone out their sharing their learning with me. 

40 Days- By Joy DiNunzio

I joined Facebook in 2006 following the birth of my first baby. The timing was perfect, Facebook would serve as my connection to the outside world when physically being outside just wasn’t in the cards that day. A welcome addition to fill those tiny little windows between diaper changes, feedings, and countless walks around the inside of the house to soothe a fussy baby to sleep.

Nine years after joining, I decided to give up Facebook for Lent. I won’t speak about my knee twitch as a result, or the audits by my husband and kids to check on my commitment as they walked passed me sitting at the computer.

I will share what I first thought was a negative, which actually turned into an unexpected positive. It was on day five of no Facebook I realized I simply shifted the time I would have been on Facebook to other social media sites and this absolutely troubled me. I was questioning whether I should have just given up social media all together for Lent. That was until I started learning something completely new that interested me every day. I had know idea the ride I was in for and the learning experience it turned into. Please allow me to take you on my 40 day social media adventure.

Twitter

I’m putting myself out there letting you know I had a rather eclectic list of people I followed since ’09 on Twitter *cough…maybe a Kardashian sister, maybe Ashton Kutcher.* I decided to embrace Twitter differently after learning how it could be used for personal learning and did a little Spring cleaning. Within Twitter I’d only ever been an observer, never an active participant. After watching YouTube Twitter tutorials to get tips on Twitter mechanics I was on my way. Since my clean up I’ve spent time on the pages of and been inspired by people I admire professionally, started and continue to increase own PLN, created lists within Twitter to enhance my experience, participated in my first #bcedchat, and signed up for Hootsuite and TweetDeck to visually help me navigate.

Instagram

Re-activated. Noticed my first post was about 154 weeks ago and last post was 123 weeks ago. If I can remember that far back I stopped posting because I didn’t see the benefit of posting the same thing to two social networks with the exact same audience. Becoming active again has given me the unexpected pleasure of connecting with my family’s younger generation who embrace Instagram over Facebook. Being the ripe old age of 39 I’m careful not to like or comment too much on their pics, not looking to cramp their steez. Yup, I just said steez. I do very much enjoy the simplistic no frills format of Instagram, telling a story primarily through photo.

Pinterest

I have mixed emotions regarding Pinterest. Similar to the ocean tide coming and going, this would be me on Pinterest. I’ll visit and start pinning. Shortly after that I’ll become completely overwhelmed with ideas and leave as a result. I spent these last 40 days on and off Pinterest creating new boards, cleaning up current boards, and following new boards. I love that it’s just one more source to access for information or inspiration as needed. Pinterest is like that lifelong friend that you don’t talk to often, but pick-up where you left off whenever you connect.

Blogs

I’ve discovered some of the people I follow on Twitter also write a blog. If I visit a blog and enjoy reading it at first glance I’ll bookmark it and subscribe to be notified via email when a new entry is posted. It’s a pleasure to read other people’s thoughts within my PLN and beyond in an extended format. For me it’s great evening wind down reading. Not sure that I’ll ever dive into the world of regular blogging myself, but appreciate the opportunity to get my feet wet through Mike’s invitation to be a guest blogger on his. Thank you Mike!

YouTube

Exactly where have I been? Obviously under a rock since 2006 while the world of YouTube, YouTube channels and subscribing to channels has happened. Wow! Obviously I’ve visited YouTube before, but during Lent (ok, need to back this one up…since October ’14) I’ve discovered how I can make it work for me, both on a professional level and personally. I’ve found channels to subscribe to that I can weave into my workday and channels I’ve encouraged my kids to subscribe to as a safe online place to visit. I have a feeling I’ve only scraped the YouTube surface, the more I use it the more I’ll learn and I’m sure as my elementary kids grow they will teach me a thing or two, or three.

Resources in my own backyard

I don’t need Wi-Fi to connect with my #1 resource. I’ve known from the start that the people I’m blessed to work with and see every day are extremely talented and have the type of wisdom that only comes with years of experience behind them. As Mike mentioned in his March 12th blog entry, everyone brings “unique gifts and talents” and there isn’t a day that goes by that I’m not inspired or learn by something or someone that surrounds me.

LinkedIn

Since I’m on a social media roll, lets throw LinkedIn into the mix. Apparently the third most popular social network, LinkedIn is primarily centered around careers. I really haven’t found any other use for it other then getting to peek into my friends corporate lives and keeping a connection with people I’ve worked with in the past. Perhaps I’m missing something, if this is the case would love to hear your thoughts.

Online safety

In the last 40 days one thing that shocked and terrified me was personally coming across many underage kids online that I knew and the amount that hadn’t activated any privacy settings. I pretty much spent my next full free day off setting up family sharing on all our family devices and adjusting accordingly all the child protection on any device my kids have access to. I understand activating child privacy settings doesn’t take the place of my own supervision of my children, but why not learn about and activate the tools that are provided that assist with cyber safety? It was a long morning of searching online to get myself up to speed on what I needed to do, even still I’m sure I missed things. Maybe even more importantly then the privacy settings is the continued dialogue that happens between my kids and I regarding online safety. Thanks to my at times overwhelming friend Pinterest, I have a coffee table charging station in the living room where all electronics are placed and plugged in nightly before bed. I’m thinking as my kids become teens the coffee table charging station will move beside my own bedroom nightstand for the eye at the back of my head.

Will I go back to Facebook? Absolutely. There are very important people in my life who live too far away to be able to see regularly. Our activity through Facebook makes it easy to connect. I will be adjusting my feed settings though, with a higher priority placed on the people who are my family and friends who I consider my family.

Thanks for taking the time to read about my recent journey. Wishing you a blessed and Happy Easter.

My First Try iMovie/Youtube (Stations of the Cross)

As I mentioned yesterday, today our school had our annual Holy Thursday retreat. As part of that retreat, I had my students create models of the Stations of the Cross. They did a great job and I am very proud of their efforts. When the students had finished, I took photos of the models and used iMovie to create a video out of them. This is my first try at creating an iMovie video and I really liked how easy it was to use. It was a lot of drag and drop and it did a lot of the work of making the video look good on its own. I then uploaded the video to Youtube. This was my first try at that as well.

Below is the link to the movie. I would love any feedback in how I could make it better. Keep in mind that I am looking for feedback for the video producer, not the artists. Thanks.

Click here for the video.

Why I Love Working in a Catholic School

Tomorrow our school celebrates Holy Thursday by having a whole day retreat where we take our students through a series of prayers and activities designed to get them more prepared to celebrate Easter, the most important day of the year. This retreat is an important day on our school calendar and one that I have come to appreciate more and more as time goes by. 

This day is a clear illustration of why I love working at a Catholic School. It means that our faith life and our academic lives don’t have to be separate. Growing up I went to a public school.  I would even say I went to a good public school. I finished my schooling with a strong academic background that allowed me to succeed both in University and later in my life. I always felt, however, a disconnect between my internal faith and the way I felt I could live that faith when I went to school. That disconnect disappeared when I started working in a Catholic School. I love that I can have conversations with my students where we can talk about morality and decision making in light of a shared faith.  

I have read a lot lately where people are trying to paint independent schools as places of wealthy elititism. This just has not been my lived experience. I am not saying that there are no independent schools that do not take on an air of elitism, but I would be willing to wager that the public schools in those neighbourhoods take on those same attitudes. In my experience, most of the parents that send their kids to Catholic schools do so because they want the values and beliefs that they hold at home to be mirrored by the schools that their kids go to. Most parents that send their kids to Catholic schools want to be closer partners in their children’s school. The Catholic schools that I have worked at (there have been four of them) are not filled with the rich elite. They are filled with families that make sacrifices to send their kids to that school. 

I have been very fortunate to work at the schools that I have. I have been surrounded by excellent teaching and non-teaching staffs and supportive parent and parish communities. I look forward to telling you more about my experiences moving forward. 

Get Out Of Their Way And Let Them Learn

I never cease to be amazed at kids’ capacity to learn when they are motivated. In particular, I amazed with how much kids can learn on their own. I think that sometimes that us adults get in their way far more than we think we are or we should. I think, if given the chance, kids will learn far more than we give them credit for. 

This past therm in Science I did something that I had never done before. Our unit of study was human body systems, so I spent a day talking about the things that the kids already knew and laid out the things that the kids were supposed to know at the end. The students then needed to come up with a plan that laid out how they could learn what they were supposed to learn and how they would present their learning at the end. From that point forward I let them go. My role was more one of a facilitator than a dispenser of knowledge. I gave them some structure for their data collection and laid out deadlines for pieces of the project, but other than that I moved around the classroom giving advice to some, checking the work of others, and fixing technical issues of others. At the end the students presented their learning to the group. I also did a short interview with each kid to see how much they had retained. It was awesome. I was amazed with the depth of understanding of the material that most kids had. 

Why don’t teachers (myself included) not do more of this? There are two reasons that I can think of. First, this kind of learning is chaotic and messy. I think that most of us have a difficult time giving in to and embracing a less than structured learning environment. The second is control. I think that most teachers are control freaks one way or another. It is difficult for us to hand over that control to anyone else. 

So, what can we do? I think we need to give up that sense of control that we cling so dearly to. We need to better embrace a little bit of chaos. First and foremost we need to get out of kids’ ways and let them learn.