Good Alone; Better Together!

This week has really made me think about the value of a team. On Wednesday, we started to explore measurement as we compared the sizes of our various pumpkins. Watching the students in action, I realized that they need more opportunities to measure items using non-standard units. Now I’ve taught K-2 for 12 years, and this is definitely not the first time that I’ve worked on measurement with students, but I really wanted to try and create a real world context for this math. My problem was that I couldn’t think of a good reason to use non-standard measurement. Why not just grab a ruler?

I decided to tweet out my request and see what others had to say. I mentioned my previous vice principal, Kristi, in my tweet, as she’s the one that inspired me over the years to make math meaningful, and I thought that she might be able to help. It wasn’t long before she started chiming in with possibilities, and an instructional coach for our Board, Moojean Seo, also contributed ideas. Until they started talking, I never even considered the connection between math and phys-ed, but now I had some fun new options. Thankfully both of our awesome phys-ed teachers, Frank and Cindy, are on Twitter, so I mentioned them in our discussion, and Frank offered to meet with me the next day to help me out with some of the games. Thanks to our discussion, I now have Bocce Ball, pedometers (linked with mapping), and Trundle Wheels as exciting options for non-standard measurement. Frank’s even arranged to teach my students Bocce Ball on Monday, so that when I use it after that, I can make more of the connections to math, and students will have a good understanding of how the game is played.

Some Rough Notes During Our Meeting

Some Rough Notes During Our Meeting

As I was exploring these phys-ed connections with Frank, a wonderful intermediate teacher at our school, Frances, mentioned a non-standard measurement connection with horses. My students love animals, so they would find this really interesting. Hopefully I can arrange a Skype call with one of her friends (that owns and/or rides horses) and students can explore non-standard measurement in another way.

Part Of My Conversation With Frances

Part Of My Conversation With Frances

That night, another teacher in my Twitter PLN, Angie Harrison, tweeted me with some non-standard measurement ideas. She had a neat activity with wind-up toys that made me think of a comparison between wind-up and battery-operated toys. We’re exploring energy right now, so this activity could also link with our Science learning.

My Discussion With Angie

My Discussion With Angie

After all of these great online and offline conversations, I’ve been trying to plan things out for next week. It was during this planning process that our fabulous Arts Consultant, Karen Wilkins, asked about meeting to exchange ideas. I happily arranged to meet with her today, and I’m so glad that this happened. While we were chatting today, I started to think about the connection between music, proportional reasoning, and non-standard measurement. Now I have some exciting new math and language provocations for next week. I can’t wait to see my musicians, mathematicians, and musical writers in action!

My Notes When Meeting With Karen

My Notes When Meeting With Karen

And as I sit here, on a Friday night, ridiculously excited about new Math, Language, Science, Music, and Phys-Ed learning for next week, I can’t help but think about how a “team” made this possible. I could have tried some of the measurement activities that I’ve done before. They may have even worked. At some point in time, I may even use them. There can be value to what we’ve done in the past. There can be value to what we create and implement on our own. But this week showed me how much richer teaching and learning can be thanks to a team! (A special “thank you” to everyone that helped me out this week. My Grade 1 students will benefit because of you.) What are some of your “team” success stories? How do you decide when and how to ask for help? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!


“Blended Talking”: Building Relationships In Today’s Classroom

I had almost an entire blog post written on the Transforming Learning Everywhere Open House, and then I read this recent post by Bill Forrester: an instructional coach with our Board, a friend of mine, and our volunteer driver for the event. His post has me thinking, and while I commented on it, I also thought that I needed to expand on my thoughts in a post of my own.

The concern mentioned in Bill’s post is one that I’ve heard many times before. The issue (paraphrased) is that technology hinders relationships with people. I wonder about this though.

  • Why was this student staring at his iPad screen? Was it because he was immersed in a game or an activity, or was it because he was overwhelmed by the noise, excitement, and busyness of the sharing session? Did the iPad offer an opportunity to escape? I think about one of the students that I brought along today. This student was initially so eager to share, but I think that the crowds became a bit overwhelming for him. At that point, all he really wanted to do was write, like he would have been doing back at school in Writer’s Workshop. I’ll admit that at first I was tempted to have him stop, but then I thought of Stuart Shanker‘s book about self-regulation, and I let him be. He still answered questions. He still shared some of his learning, but he was more reserved, and often waited for people to engage him in the conversation. Maybe this is what worked best for him. 
  • How can we build relationships with people? Not all relationships are face-to-face. Dean Shareski, the keynote speaker at today’s event, was one of many people that I got to know online well before I met him in person. The connections that I’ve made online are fantastic ones! In fact, even this evening, I managed to plan some exciting non-standard measurement activities thanks to my Twitter PLN (Professional Learning Network). I say all of this because building relationships is important whether in person or online. Looking around today, I saw many people — both students and adults — staring at screens. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. People were trying to capture the learning through their devices, and this meant that they were looking at the day through their screens. But, for the majority of people, they were still talking, sharing, and making connections. I wonder if we can still build relationships with people while also looking through a screen. How does this work?
  • What role do adults play in modelling for kids? As I mentioned above, lots of people today were looking at screens. If we want students to put down their devices, then as adults, do we need to do the same? I’m constantly looking at my iPad screen. I capture almost our entire day at school through a device: be it in pictures, in videos, or in audio recordings. I see the benefits of doing this, but I also know that students often see me with a device in my hand. As I’ve mentioned to some teachers before, I love recording podcasts because at least I can put down the iPad, be in the moment with the students, and still capture the learning. If, as adults though, we want our children to move away from the iPad, then when/how do we decide to also put down our devices?

Technology has changed learning in many ways for our students. As Dean said in his closing remarks today,


I might even extend this to say, how do relationships change?  Maybe today, socializing includes a blend of face-to-face and online interactions, sometimes even happening simultaneously thanks to the use of social media. I can’t help but think of how “listening” has changed with the growing trend of backchannels such a Twitter. People used to think that others were only listening if all devices were away, but now, “active listening” can include adding to the conversation with something as simple as a tweet. Does “speaking” today, now include texting, emailing, and instant messaging? 

Maybe there needs to be some new norms for socializing that address how this “blended talking” approach works. I think of our classroom this year and classrooms of mine from previous years: often screens were looked at throughout the day, but communication and collaboration happened often. Sometimes this happened through messages on the screen and sometimes this happened through combined talking and screen interactions. During large group discussions, I like when people look at me to talk, but during small group interactions, I understand why sometimes people talk and look at their devices. What they’re talking about is right there in front of them, and they’re merely addressing the content while also talking to the person. I understand why this screen time may concern some people, and at times I have my own reservations, but I think that the same problems could happen regardless of the number of devices in the room. If we want students to build relationships with people, we have to make learning social. In a classroom environment, students can stare at a screen, stare at a book, or stare at a piece of paper. If we want students to talk with each other, we need to give them opportunities to do so — both online and offline. How do you give students this opportunity? What are the norms of conversation that you think should he present in a 21st century classroom? How do you help build/create this classroom environment? What impact do you think that it will have on student interactions both inside and outside of the classroom? I’d love to hear your thoughts on these many wonders of mine.


Thoughts From The Halloween Humbug!

I’ve blogged before on my reservations with celebrating holidays at school. In just a couple of days, it’s Halloween, and up until this point, I’ve really done very little in the classroom discussing the holiday.

  • One student brought in some Halloween word cards, and a few students decided to write sentences and stories using them during our Writer’s Workshop. 
  • On the weekend, I purchased and brought in 6 pumpkins — three orange ones and three white ones — for the students to explore in math tomorrow. We’re going to measure the perimeter of the pumpkins using different non-standard units, compare results, count seeds, compare sizes, and think about some of the similarities and differences between the pumpkins. This activity is as much about the harvest (and hopefully even how plants are living things) than it is about Halloween.
  • Students are solving a real world candy problem, and in the end, I’ll send home some bags of treats on the 31st.

We’re not carving our pumpkins. We’re not having a big class party. Some students may dress up, and others may not, and that’s fine with me. Our school doesn’t do a parade, and in many ways, Friday will be a regular day (or so I hope). I know: I really am the Halloween Humbug! 🙂

Here are my thoughts though:

  • Every day at school should be fun!
  • Not all students are passionate about Halloween, or even believe in the holiday. I want to be respectful of this as I plan ahead for Friday.
  • Students can still choose to write about Halloween or even link some math learning to Halloween, but do we all need to do so?
  • For some of our neediest students, these unstructured days cause increased stress and increased behavioural difficulties. Yes, we need to help all students gain strategies to succeed during unstructured times, but do bags of candy and loud parties help with this? How are we ensuring that all students have a successful day on the 31st?

I know that students from all grade levels will be incredibly excited to come to school on Halloween! I know that I’ll see joyful students and teachers around the playground and through the school. But I can’t help but think about Dean Shareski and his post on joyHow might we make every day “joyful” so that holiday times become just as exciting as other days in the year? This Halloween Humbug would love to hear your holiday thoughts! 🙂


Making Things “Better” With Technology

There are so many ways that students of all ages can use technology. Yes, I’ve blogged and tweeted with students as young as Grade 1, and I know that there are even Kindergarten teachers around the world that are doing the same thing. Every time, we start to talk about using technology with young learners, questions/concerns always arise.

  • How young is too young?
  • What impact will these tools have on socialization?
  • What about the value of students learning to print, or even, dare I say it, “cursive write?”
  • What’s lost if students stop experimenting with tools such as paint, paper, markers, crayons, and pencils? These are all tools that we grew up using. What impact will this have on students if they don’t use them?

The truth is, before this year, I never worried about the answers to any of these questions.

  • I’ve been very vocal before about the benefits of using digital tools with young students. It’s amazing the thinking that we can capture with the use of these tools, and how we can teach even very young students, the value in a positive digital footprint. Imagine the benefits for these students as they grow up!
  • As someone, that’s used iPads, iPods, Livescribe Pens, and computers in the classroom regardless of the grade that I’ve taught, I’d say that even when using these tools, students collaborate on them. They socialize all the time. I wonder if this comes from creating a classroom environment that emphasizes the importance of collaboration, whether that be face-to-face or online. Students don’t need to be staring at screens in isolation to be learning via them. They can still talk, challenge, collaborate, and problem-solve, whether using or not using a device. 
  • First of all, I’m a firm believer in the fact that printing (and even “cursive writing”) is not the definition of “writing” in the curriculum document. Writing is all about generating and sharing ideas. Students can publish their writing by printing or using cursive, but they can also do so online. That being said, there are articles that speak to the value of writing with a pen (and while I don’t have them listed here, I know that they are not hard to find through an online search). But even if students are blogging, why can’t they also be writing on paper? Blogging is just another form of writing, and I think students should be exposed to many forms.
  • Even in a “digital classroom,” there is value to non-digital tools. No matter how many devices I have in the room, I have even more pencils, pens, markers, stacks of paper, paint, and plasticine. I don’t think that these tools need to exist in isolation. There’s value to using both tools together, and always attempting to pick the best tool for the job!

I still believe in everything I’ve written about, but my teaching position has changed this year, and my student needs have changed. The truth is that before this year, most of my students came to me printing with success. I didn’t worry about how often I had students putting pencils to paper because I knew that they didn’t necessarily need this practice. Now many of them do. 

If students can print on paper or print on the iPad, what’s the value in choosing the iPad option? Is there one? I’m not sure if there is, but I do know that there’s value in sharing student work, and the iPad allows for that to happen. I saw this value first-hand today. Last night, I sent out a tweet to Carrie Gelson and Elise Gravel. Carrie is an amazing teacher from British Columbia, and last weekend, I read her blog post about Elise’s books. I went out and purchased a number of them because my students love all creatures. Yesterday, we read The Slug, and I shared some of these experiences with Carrie and Elise through Twitter. Both of them replied to my tweet, but Elise’s request resulted in a wonderful dialogue today between an incredible author and my Grade 1 class.


Students were thrilled that their work captured the attention of an author that they love, and they were so excited to get receive this special “gift” from Elise. And it’s an experience like this that helps me see the benefits of using technology and realizing how technology can “transform learning everywhere.”


Technology provides a meaningful audience for student work. With an iPad, students have easy access to a camera, video camera, podcasting tools, and screencasting apps that allow them to not just capture and share this “paper work” with others, but also annotate it and explain the thinking behind this work.

I can’t help but think about the argument that we managed to “learn well in the good old days,” but I wonder if we would have learned more and/or gained a deeper understanding of learning with the use of technology. I don’t want to give my students what I had growing up — I want to give them a better experience than what I hadHow could technology contribute to this “better experience?” I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!


Lessons From My Drive Home

We had a Staff Meeting after school today, and I was heading home a little later than usual. My head was on my day at school, changed plans for tomorrow, and a blog post for tonight. As I was thinking, and maybe even humming along to some music, I realized that I forgot to turn onto Queen Street. I was in the wrong lane! Oh no!

For those that don’t know me, I’m very directionally-challenged. Just the other day, I went into one of the Kindergarten classrooms to throw out my yogurt cup before going outside to pick up the Grade 1’s. When I got out of the classroom, I turned the wrong way, and I actually got lost in the 20 steps it would have taken me to head outside. It’s actually quite a miracle that I make it to work everyday! 🙂

With this in mind, there was no way that I could miss this turn-off. If I did, I had no idea where I was going, and in the labyrinth of Hamilton’s one-way streets, I probably would never find my way home (no exaggeration). So I did the only thing that I knew how to do: I stopped the car and signalled that I wanted into the other lane. I made eye-contact with the person beside me in that lane, and he agreed to let me in. Yay!

The only problem was that this turning lane had a red light, and the other lane had no light. Now I had a long line-up of cars behind me honking their horns, shouting at me through the window, and making very angry faces at me behind the glass. As I sat there praying that the light would change quickly and I wouldn’t cause a major accident in the meantime,  I couldn’t help but think about my students in the classroom.

How often do I remain focused on the time? When the students ask to finish first before tidying up, what do I say? Today, all that I wanted was for the people behind me to slow down, wait a few extra minutes, and be understanding of my mistake. Will I always remember to do the same thing for my students? I wonder how the classroom and school environment would change if we didn’t always feel in such a rush.