Where To Start

Less than a week ago, I read a blog post by George Couros, a principal in Alberta, about what Web 2.0 tools he’ll be focusing on using at school next year. I’ve been thinking a lot about this blog post lately. I also think that there are so many amazing tools out there, that it’s hard to use them all and use them all well. Since this year is almost over and I’m already starting to think about next year, here’s my list of essential Web 2.0 tools that I plan on using first with my students:

1) Blogs — Blogging is a great way to get students writing in a meaningful way. This year, I started with having a Grade 1 Blog (for all four Grade 1 classes), then a class blog, and then individual blogs. This allowed my students to communicate with an audience from early on while also giving them time to develop their writing skills.

2) Twitter — This year, my students loved to use Twitter for interactive writing, and they definitely benefitted from writing to an audience. As shown in their tweets, my students quickly learned about the importance of conventions and developing good ideas. I hope that next year’s group is equally as excited about using this tool to communicate with teachers and students from around the world!

3) GoogleDocs — While I do have regular access to the Grade 1 pod with eight working computers in it, these computers are all Sunset Image Computers, and you can’t save on them or print from them. This makes a word processor, such as Word, very difficult to use well. GoogleDocs is fantastic though! Students can save everything online, and even collaborate with each other on the same document. I have all of my students use a single GoogleDocs account that I set-up for them, and due to their age, this is the easiest thing to do. Folders make this system quite manageable.

4) VoiceThread — Some students find writing difficult, and oral language is definitely the backbone for all writing. This is why I like VoiceThread. Students can make written comments, audio comments, or audio and video comments. Differentiation is built right into the program, and it’s easy enough for all students to use too. I used VoiceThread a lot this year for self-assessment (a real Board push), and I plan on using it again next year too.

5) Glogster — I didn’t start using Glogster until later on this year, but I think that it’s a program with tremendous potential. It is great for creating media works, and since Media Literacy is becoming a big focus for next year, I think Glogster is the perfect tool to use. I also like how students can use Glogster collaboratively up on the SMART Board, which makes it perfect for literacy and math centres too.

I love so many Web 2.0 tools, and I know that I will use far more than just these ones, but these are what I plan as my “starting point tools.” What do you think? Is there anything that you would add or change? I would love to hear your thoughts on this!


The Guide on the Side

Student Using Google Search Bar To Answer His Own Question

For years, I’ve heard about the importance of being the “guide on the side” instead of the “sage on the stage” when it comes to teaching. It’s all about giving students independence, and being there to support students as they learn, but not just being the one to preach the content to them. I have always believed in this model, or at least I always thought that I did, but that being said, I used to argue that since I teach younger students, more direct teaching was necessary. I found that I was always up at the front of the classroom talking. This has changed though. I won’t say that I never stand at the front and teach, as I do, but far less than I ever did before. I also talk much less too, which is sure to be a surprise to people that know me, as I do like to talk a lot.:) I find myself asking more questions though, and letting students explain what to do and not just me. This has been a learning curve for me, but it’s an important one, and I’m glad that I’m trying to make this change.

This week though, I really did feel like the “guide on the side.” My students were completing their math centres, and one of them is a fraction activity on Math Tool Chest. I had set up the computers in the pod as I always do, but when one of the students that was at the computer first left it, he accidentally exited the program. I went out in the pod, and I was expecting to hear cries of, “Miss Dunsiger, I need help.” Instead, I saw one of my students start typing “Math Tool Chest” in the Google Search Bar, and I heard, “There it is!” He then clicked on the correct website choice, and got himself back into the program. He didn’t once look at me for help. Wow!

Then on Friday, a student was completing a writing activity about “stingrays,” and he wanted to know if “stingray” was a compound word. I was sitting down next to him helping another student with this writing activity, and I expected this student to ask me to add “stingray” to his dictionary. Instead he asked me if he could use the classroom computer for a second. I said, “Sure,” and went over to see what he was doing. He typed “stingray” into the Google Search Bar, and when he saw that it came up as a compound word, he turned to me and pointing to the screen responded, “It is a compound word. Look here!” Unbelievable!

That same day, a student that was away the previous day came back to school. On Thursday, the students used My Avatar Editor, Pizap, and their Kidblog to write a special message to dad for Father’s Day. I wanted this student to complete this activity too (thanks to @rmcdonald17 for the activity suggestion), but I didn’t know when I was going to have the time to explain it to him. One of my wonderful Grade 1 students helped me out though: he took this student out to the pod, and talked him through what to do. When I looked out into the pod, the two of them were standing side-by-side: one leading the other one through the process. I couldn’t have been prouder!

My opinion has changed: Grade 1 students may be young, but they are still capable of incredible things! As a teacher, I can talk less, stand by my students more, and support them as they become even more independent learners. Thank you to my amazing Grade team and entire Twitter PLN for showing me just how much students can do, and thank you to my entire class of awesome students that never cease to amaze me with their incredible skills and willingness to learn! I’m going to miss you next year! You have shown me the true meaning of “success.” I hope that other people will add comments here sharing their great success stories too!


What A Difference A Year Can Make!

From 12:00-1:00 today, I presented on Classroom 2.0 Live. This was a webinar where I discussed using Web 2.0 tools in a Grade 1 classroom. At one point, there were almost 90 people in the room, and they were typing questions and sharing information in the chat window while I was talking about how I use these tools in my classroom. I’ve sat in on many of these webinar presentations before, but never presented at one, and it may have been one of the most incredible experiences in my life! Here I am interacting with people from all around the world (there were teachers attending from this Board, an administrator from Alberta, teachers from all over Canada and the States, and even a teacher from India), and they were here listening to me … me!

I know that I feel comfortable using technology in my classroom, and I know that I see the benefits of using these tools with my students, but I don’t consider myself an expert on using technology in the classroom. I’m still learning too. In fact, on some days, I think that my students know more about these tools that I do. I still don’t know how to record audio or insert video clips on Glogster, but all of them do, and I didn’t realize that you could add images on Twiducate, but the students all know how to. They took chances, they explored these tools, and they felt comfortable enough to take the risks.

Using technology in the classroom is about risk-taking. @zbpipe taught me this, and if it weren’t for Zoe, and her inspiring me to even join Twitter and start using Web 2.0 tools with my students, I never would have taken the risk. So thank you, Zoe, for encouraging me to try something new, and thank you to my entire Twitter PLN for continuing to inspire me to take more risks. Thank you to my students for sharing their learning with me too, and showing me that they can be the leader just as much as I can be, and thank you to @gcouros for reminding me about the importance of letting students lead. Thank you to my incredible teaching partners that support me as I continue to try new things, and explore these new tools with me too: I’m a lucky teacher to work with such incredible people! Finally, thank you to all of the parents, and my principal and vice principal too, for supporting me as I take these risks and believing that I really will, and always do, put children first. I’m a lucky teacher to work with all of you!

A year ago, I didn’t use any Web 2.0 tools, but thanks to my PLN (both the one on Twitter and the one in person), I can’t imagine teaching my class without these tools. This year has been one of the most incredible learning curves of my life, and I think that it peaked today! Many thanks to everyone that attended my Classroom 2.0 Live Presentation: I’ve learned so much from all of you, and I can’t thank you enough for all that you do! Today has been one of the best days ever … now there’s just the question of what comes next?


Twiducate: Take 2

There has been a lot of discussion on Twitter lately about Twiducate, and after our successful Twiducate activity the other day, I decided to try using this tool again with my students today. This time though, I wrote two questions for them to answer — one about what they liked best about Grade 1 and why and one about their words of advice for the SK students entering Grade 1 next year — and then I told them that they could write about anything they wanted. I encouraged the students to have a conversation online. I even showed them what @kathycassidy did with her students on Twiducate to inspire them during their discussion. Students shared with me what they should remember when talking online (only saying nice things about each other, not sharing too much information, and as one student said, not using swear words), and with that, they were off to read, write, and have fun. It was amazing! In about 40 minutes, the students posted 196 comments, and they generated tons of good ideas, while improving their reading and writing skills too. Below are some screenshots that I took to show the work of two students that spent much of their time conversing with each other (click on the images to enlarge them). I love when they start to respond to each other’s posts and ask questions to move their conversation along. I was watching these two students working, and one said to the other one, “Let’s not talk. Let’s just type.” This is exactly what they did, and the results are incredible!

I hope that you will share your Twiducate success stories here along with some different ways that you use this tool. Hopefully we can generate some new ways to engage our students and continue to improve their academic skills too!

#WeAct — Building The Home/School Connection

George Couros, an amazing principal from Alberta, sent out a tweet a couple of days ago asking us to write a blog post today about something that we did to further education. I’ve spent the last couple of days thinking about what I was going to write, and it was actually when I read his blog post this morning that I knew exactly what to say. Thanks @gcouros!

I have always believed strongly in the power of the home/school connection, and since this is something that I think is important, I really try to build stronger relationships between home and school in everything that I do. I manage a Grade 1 Website and multiple blogs that inform parents what’s happening in the classroom, and I send out weekly e-mails updating them on important classroom and school events. I also call all of my parents on a regular basis (usually every week or every other week) to inform them about important updates for the following week and share some “good news” stories too. I’ve built a strong relationship with these parents, and the information that parents share with me, helps me build an even stronger relationship with the students. When I was in the Faculty of Education, a professor told me, “Parents give us the best that they have.” I have always believed this, and I work hard at ensuring that I give my best to “their best,” so that the students leave the school each day having the same love for education that I do.

In my little Grade 1 world, this connection has made a difference, but I wanted to do more than that. To help build the home/school connection on a bigger scale, I became the school webmaster and made more frequent updates to the school website. I also set up class, grade, and school e-mail distribution lists so that all teachers could frequently send out updates informing parents about what’s happening in their classroom and in the school. I teach at a school of over 700 students, and teachers send these updates to me, and I e-mail everything out from the webmaster account. At times, this can almost be like a full-time job in itself, and when I have close to 15,000 e-mails at the end of the year that I have replied to, I realize the enormity of doing this, but it’s all WORTH it! Parents are so appreciative of this additional information, and children ultimately benefit from this positive┬áhome/school connection. I’m proud when I say that at Ancaster Meadow School, children, parents, educational assistants,┬áteachers, and adminstrators really are partners in education!