What would you choose?

I’m very fortunate because I work in a school with two amazing administrators that have been very supportive of me and of my classroom program. I’m not in a school with 1:1 computer classrooms or SMART Boards in every room, but we do have a growing number of SMART Boards in the school (at least one per grade), anywhere from 1-10 working, networked computers in every grade team pod and/or pod and classroom combination, and a laptop cart that contains 15 computers. At this time of the year, we are looking at purchases for next year, which is why I went in to talk to my principal on Friday.

In the ideal world, or my utopian classroom, I would have a little bit of everything, but the budget doesn’t always allow for this. It’s also not just about me, but about school purchases, and the question becomes, do we spend our money buying SMART Boards or buying class sets of Netbook computers? 

If you asked me this question a year ago, I would have said that I would love laptops for my students, but that I would want a SMART Board first. My students really enjoyed learning on the SMART Board, and worked well together to create and learn using the SMART Board. All that being said, the real focus for our Board is on creating “higher level learning opportunities,” and that has been my real focus in the classroom this year. While I believe that I’ve done that using the SMART Board, everything that I’ve done on the SMART Board, I could have done on laptop computers instead. The laptop computers also lend themselves to more student-centred learning. SMART Boards only allow for a single touch, so when students are waiting around for their turn on the SMART Board, they could be creating and contributing using a laptop.

Last week though, I really began to realize this when I saw one of my groups of students at the SMART Board literacy centre, all huddled around my laptop entering words into the Wordle instead of typing them one at a time on the SMART Board keyboard. They were collaborating together, creating a great finished product, and even though they enjoyed looking at their Wordle up on the SMART Board, they could have done the same activity without the use of the SMART Board at all.

During my discussion with my principal on Friday, she asked me, “What would you say if I told you that I was taking away your SMART Board next year?,” to which I replied, “If you told me that I was getting a class set of Netbook computers instead, I would say that I would be the happiest teacher in the world!” My recommendation to my principal would be to start purchasing class sets of Netbook computers. Right now, everybody shares our one laptop cart, and I think that creating some more laptop carts is the way to go. Laptops are easy to store in a central area, sign-out when needed, and use with any age group. I would love to say that we should start outfitting individual classes with these laptops instead, but maybe, when it comes to equity, that’s not the way to go. I would love to hear your thoughts on this!

Yesterday, I posed these purchasing choices to my amazing Twitter PLN, and they shared their ideas in this GoogleDoc. Please add your ideas too! I even included an option of 1:1 computing involving Netbooks and iPod Touches, and it’s interesting to read what people had to say about this option too. While many people here mention how much they love their SMART Board (and I do too!), the majority of the contributors would choose laptops over a SMART Board. It really is about putting the technology into the hands of the students.

A PLN Like No Other!

Last night, I had an incredible online conversation with @gcouros, @flourishingkids, @Saskateach, and @Mollybmom that made me realize the power of this PLN. Here I was as a Grade 1 teacher, communicating with three other teachers and one administrator. We were posing questions, sharing opinions, and offering options, and for a few short minutes, it felt like we had the power to change the world.

While writing report cards today, I was still thinking about last night’s conversation, and I realized something: a number of years ago, when we started building Learning Communities at our school, we were told that a principal is a “leader of leaders.” We are all leaders and we can all learn from each other. Last night, I saw that this was the case, and I need to thank my wonderful Twitter PLN — that really does span the world — for making me realize the true potential in all of us. To think that when this year began, I was unsure about even joining Twitter, and now I look first to this terrific group of parents, educators, and administrators to share ideas and answer questions.

Thank you, Twitter PLN: you are the greatest group of people that I have ever “met” without really meeting at all! I hope that others will share their great Twitter experiences here too. Maybe this will help show a few other people the power of a community that thrives on 140 characters or less!


Always A Surprise …

I love the fact that even now, nine months into the school year, my students can surprise me with just what they are capable of doing. Friday was a great day full of surprises, and definitely one worthy of a blog post. We began the day with “writing buddies,” and 11 groups of students blogged on our Grade 1 Litcircuits Blog. I told the students that they could blog on any topic that they wanted, but that the Grade 1 students had to do the writing. The Grade 6 students were just there to offer some additional ideas and help the students with spelling if they wanted it. I was amazed at just how much my students were writing, and just how engaged the Grade 1 and Grade 6 students were during this activity. Neither group wanted the writing to end. When I hear students tell me that they want to continue to write, I get excited: students should have that internal drive to learn, and blogging has helped with this.

Following this activity, my students started working on our VoiceThread for our contribution to the Elementary VoiceThread Wikispace. The students had to select the pictures, upload them into the VoiceThread, and get into groups to plan what they were going to say. We watched one of the completed VoiceThreads to provide a good example of what to do. My goodness: I was so impressed with how well the small groups worked together, and how well-prepared the students were when uploading their comments. The biggest surprise came once the VoiceThread was complete, as it was then that I walked my students through the steps of grabbing the HTML code and pasting it into the Wikispace. As this was happening, one child raised her hand and said, “I have a connection, Miss Dunsiger. This is just like when we take the Wordle HTML code and put it into our Kidblog. We should be able to put VoiceThreads into our blogs the same way then.” Wow! This child really understood technology, and as the other children in my class are nodded their heads in agreement, it was clear that they really understood it too.

The best surprise came at the end of the day though. When we went up to the computer lab, I gave my students the choice to use any of the programs in our Grade 1 folder. I was interested in seeing what they would do. I was thrilled with what I saw. A large number of students logged into Storybird to continue working on their stories. Some students created Wordles and uploaded them onto their blogs. Many of the students went into the Notebook 10 software and created a wide variety of files: some wrote morning messages, others created sorting activities using familiar words and names of students in the class, some created their own calendars, and one child created a community map. This child then exported the map as a jpeg file and uploaded it onto his blog. I was thrilled! Sometimes one’s best work comes with the least amount of direction.

Giving Grade 1 students the freedom to create led to some incredible work and some of the best surprises of the day. Please share your “great surprises” here too. We all need a chance to celebrate in the successes of our students.


It’s All About Taking Risks

A number of months ago when I presented with @zbpipe at the Brock Tech Showcase, we spoke about the fact that using technology in the classroom is all about taking risks. You need to be willing to try something new. While I have always believed in the use of technology in education, I never used as much technology in my classroom as I did this year. Until this year, technology in the classroom meant using the Notebook software on the computer, but now, technology in the classroom means using technology to open up the walls of my class and interact with other students and teachers from around the world. It means daily tweets, grade, classroom, and individual student blogs, small group and large group Skype calls, and so much more! It means reading about amazing educators that use a variety of tools in their classrooms — thank you Twitter for connecting me with so many of these phenomenal people — and figuring out how I can use these same tools with my Grade 1 students. My risk-taking is in trying out these social media tools with my students and realizing the potential of these incredible tools too.

Everybody is different though, and as a result, the risks that everyone takes will be different too. On Thursday, I asked one of the teachers that I work with if I could write about him in my blog, as he’s recently experienced a huge learning curve, and he’s shown me the value in trying something new and never being afraid to take a risk or two. A couple of weeks ago, this Grade 7 teacher got a SMART Board in his room. Mike LoSchiavo has been teaching for years, and up until he got this SMART Board, his blackboards and overhead projector screen were always full of hand-written notes. The day that he found out that he was getting a SMART Board though, everything changed. He came down to see me and asked when I could come up and help him connect the SMART Board. He asked me about creating documents on his home computer and transferring them to the school laptop. He went out and bought a USB stick so that he could bring documents back-and-forth between home and school. He learned how to use Learn360 to find current media to enrich his lessons. He even found out that there is a webcam on his laptop, and he asked me how to work it so that he can use it to record lessons too. Mike spent hours learning how to use a laptop — his first one for that matter — and each day, he takes a new risk, as he learns a new way to use technology in the classroom.

Mike’s favourite expression is, “Love this job!,” and he says it at school often, and in every possible way, he means it too. I also “love this job,” and I love it even more when I work and collaborate with incredible educators, both at my school and online, that are willing to take risks and learn something new to better education for all students. Thank you, Mike, for again reminding me just how valuable a great team can be: together we take risks, together we learn more, and together our students learn more too!

Please share one of your great risk-taking experiences too. I feel fortunate to be part of a community of risk-takers.


Using Technology For Assessment

Looking In The Front Foyer For 3-D Solids
Looking Around The Classroom For 3-D Solids

Looking In The Staff Kitchen For 3-D Solids


I know that it’s not a new concept to use technology for assessment, but after an activity that my students completed in class today, I just had to blog about this topic. In math, I am just beginning to introduce three-dimensional solids, and as a pre-assessment, I wanted to see what students already knew about 3-D solids. I compiled a list, with visuals, of six different three-dimensional solids, and we read this list as a class. We then discussed the difference between a two-dimensional shape and a three-dimensional solid: shapes are “flat” and solids have “depth” — they “pop out.” I then put the students into partners and gave each partner group a list of three-dimensional solids. Each student got his/her own Palm Treo too. We then went on a Scavenger Hunt around the school and outside looking for three-dimensional solids. Students were challenged to find at least one example of each solid.

Wow! It was incredible to watch them on this Scavenger Hunt. The students were whispering to their partner that certain objects were shapes and not solids because they were “flat.” They were telling their partner that they could take pictures of other objects because they “popped out.” You could also hear them whispering the names of the different solids that they found. Every student was completely engaged in this activity, and even the snippets of conversation that I overheard told me what the students knew and what they needed to learn.

I could also use their photographs as a digital portfolio. Scrolling through these photographs tonight told me which students understood the difference between a shape and a solid, and which students did not. Then there was the discussion that this Scavenger Hunt produced when we got back to class. Students told me about what they found and recorded their answers on the SMART Board. This became almost a “digital exit card”: a great piece of formative assessment telling me what the students knew and what they needed to learn.

To my students, this afternoon was all about having fun, but to me, it was the perfect combination of fun and learning, and it produced really meaningful data for me to use too. What a great day!

Please share the different ways that you have used technology for assessment. I would love to hear about your great success stories as well!