It Started With The Stress Of An Indoor Recess …

I loathe indoor recess. I need fresh air. I need to move around. And my students need this too. They also need routine, and even though they can see that it’s raining outside and understand that they need to be inside, we go through the same conversation many times a day to make this happen. I remember last week when it was pouring rain and we stayed in. One SK student turned to me and said, “My body needs me to go outside.” How can I argue with this?! Yet, I had to.

It was on this very same day that I could feel my stress level rising. I don’t know how to explain it, but the feeling is like a rumble in my stomach, and I know that I just have to breathe deeply to feel better. I happened to have a prep Period 5, and I needed to call a parent, so I found a quiet area in the kitchen to call. When I was coming back down the hallway, I saw a student outside with a teacher. She was talking quietly to him, and they both said, “hi,” as I walked past. It turned out that this child didn’t want to go back to class. He was also struggling with the stress that comes from indoor recess. 

At this point, I got down on my knees and looked at him in the eye. I said, “I’m having a difficult day today. Are you having a hard one too?” He said, “Yes.” I replied, “We just have to get through one more period. It’s going to be hard, but maybe we can do so together. I’ll try if you will.” He looked at me and said that he would. Then he turned and headed back into the classroom and I headed back down the hallway to our room.

When I walked inside, I knew it was going to be a challenge. A large group of students were doing an Easter craft with my prep coverage teacher. There was a mess everywhere. The room was loud, and I was finding it hard to think. I then looked into the back corner of the room, near the bathroom. There was a small group of students using our gardening supplies to make music. The area is a bit more enclosed, but I could still see the whole room from there. Perfect!

I took a deep breath and headed that way. I then spent the next 20 minutes making music with a small group of interested students. I positioned myself in such a way that I could block out some of the noise and some of the mess, but still see what the children were doing. I calmed down. I had fun. While tidy up time was still a challenge, I thought of this other student, and I made it through.

I saw the child from the hallway at the end of the day, and I asked how he did. He said that he stayed in the classroom, and I said that I also did. We gave each other a high five. Maybe, sharing our feelings and both taking on the challenge to make it through the day, helped each of us as we self-regulated. Or maybe this is an example of co-regulation? Either way, this experience was a great reminder that adults and children can experience stress, and sometimes, we can help each other make it through these stressful times. Have you ever had a similar experience? I’d love to hear about it. Now here’s to hoping for a week of outdoor recesses. 🙂


“Can I Tell You Something, Miss Dunsiger?”

My teaching partner and I are usually really cognizant about tidying up on time at the end of the day. Getting dressed and ready for home can be a stressful experience for many students and adults, and having some extra time to get ready slowly with fewer people out in the hallway, really seems to help. For a couple of different reasons, we were later tidying up today, and getting organized for home initially seemed far more rushed. 

I went outside in the hallway to help the students get ready, and one child had an armful of clothing items, containers, and bags that he was determined to carry home with him, as is, in his arms. I convinced him to put everything in his backpack, but this turned out to be a very time-consuming process, and he ended up being one of the last children ready to go home. After I helped him with his zipper, he turned to me and said, “Can I tell you something, Miss Dunsiger?” At this point, I was tired and a little bit stressed, but I took a deep breath and replied, “Sure.” He looked at me and said, “I love you!” That’s when my heart melted.

I’ll admit that this is not the first time I’ve heard these words at school. Other students have said them to me before. Sometimes they also show you they care with …

  • their stories.
  • their pictures.
  • their cards.
  • their high fives.
  • their hugs.

But this isn’t what almost moved me to tears this afternoon: it was the realization that I almost replied to his question with, “No.” I almost said, “We don’t have time.” I almost asked, “Can this wait until Tuesday?” Here’s a student that just wanted to take one of the final minutes in the day to tell me how much he cared about me, and I almost stopped this from happening.

This experience I think will forever be a reminder for me to always respond to, “Can I tell you something?,” with a “Yes.” You never know what somebody’s going to share. You sometimes never realize the impact you can have on another person. Imagine missing the chance to hear it. Has someone ever asked you this question before? How have you replied? 


Computer Science: The Good, The Bad, The “Where Do We Go From Here?”

A little earlier today, I read a recent blog post by Brian Aspinall that has me thinking. I’ll admit that I often say this about Brian’s posts, but I just can’t stop thinking about this one. This is actually the second post I’ve read today on computer science. Doug Peterson, another Ontario educator, published the first one early this morning. There definitely seems to be a more recent move in education — or maybe I’ve just read more about it recently — to going beyond coding and really looking at the benefits of computer science. This is not just for older students. As Doug shared in his post, we are really looking at what this means for all students from Kindergarten right up to Grade 12. 

On one hand, I find this exciting. I loved that Brian highlighted how computer science can really develop thinking skills, and that this even connects with thinking beyond the use of technology. His chess and basketball examples really resonated with me and got me thinking about “thinking” differently. We need our students to be good thinkers. It’s great that they know content or even know how to access it, but are they questioning what they’re reading? Are they thinking critically about this content? Are they looking at ways to re-purpose it? I can’t help but reflect back on the last few years when I was teaching at my previous school, and the time that we spent — as a school — looking at how to help students become better “thinkers.” Would computer science have been another good option to explore? When we look at what computer science means, were we exploring it?

But on the other hand, this computer science focus scares me. Yes, I’ve explored coding in the classroom for the past few years. I even facilitate our school’s coding club. I’m still trying though to really understand the difference between coding and computer science. I’m still working through a long list of questions that continue to make me pause. 

    • How do we support students in this learning?
    • What about struggling students? (I’m not talking about “good struggling,” but the frustrating, this is ‘way too hard,’ breaking down in tears of stress, struggle?)

My Edit After Publishing: After tweeting out the post, Noeline shared it with this comment.

Screenshot 2016-03-20 at 16.52.34

This leads me to a new (and important) question: What about struggling teachers (and struggling in the same vein as the students that I described above)? How do we support them, so that they don’t give up on coding?

  • From a Kindergarten perspective, what about students that are developmentally below grade level? Where do we begin? Are there some fundamental skills that the students need first? How do we develop them?
  • How much do we need to know about computer science in order to facilitate this learning in the classroom? I know that we can learn with our students, but is there a certain amount of learning that we need to do first?
  • How do we make the connections to the curriculum? I understand the “big idea” links, but how do we stay focused on them. How do we ensure that this time spent coding, tinkering, making, remixing, disassembling, etc., connects to classroom learning that aligns with curriculum expectations? Maybe I’m having a “pink elephant, what are we really teaching kids” moment.
  • How much time do we invest as a full class in computer science, and when (or do) we decide to just give it as an option to share learning?
  • How do our own experiences with computer science impact on our thoughts about teaching it? How do we address the pros and cons in this case? I still remember taking computers in Grade 10, and spending hours writing a DOS program that would make my computer do (or say) one thing. I feel stressed just thinking about this time now. Is this stress, in some way, holding me back?

I don’t want these questions to be stopping points. I don’t think that they should be. But I do think that if we, as an educational system, are moving forward with computer science, then we need to start talking about these questions. Does anyone want to join in on the discussion? What would you say?


Maybe It’s Okay To Take A Break

It’s nearing the end of our March Break. For the first time in a very long time, I really did take some time off. Don’t get me wrong: I always spend some time over March Break reading books, meeting with friends, and sleeping in, but I also usually do a little bit of school work each day. Today is Friday, and I didn’t even think about doing work until later on this week. I even shared far fewer tweets and Instagram posts over the past week (which is a rarity for me), and this is my first time blogging since last Saturday.

Yes, I do have some things that need to get done before I head back to school on Monday. I have …

  • some errands to run.
  • lesson plans to print.
  • a presentation to finish.

I’m also taking a course through The MEHRIT Centre, and I did spend time over the Break working through the current modules. I’m not sure if I really consider this work though. Much of my time for this course is spent conversing online with amazing people that have given me a better understanding of self-regulation. It’s really because of this course that I took a real break this week. I’ve come to understand the importance of my own mental health, and if I’m relaxed and recharged, I can do and be so much more for my students. 

When my superintendent, Sue Dunlop, sent me this tweet this morning …

Screenshot 2016-03-18 at 14.29.59

I decided that I am going to end this Break reading a great mystery book because it’s something that I love. Please don’t get me wrong. I love teaching, and I am looking forward to going back to school on Monday. I’m excited to see the kids again, and I’m very eager to see how they respond to some upcoming invitations for learning. 

Maybe it’s okay though to admit that we need a break and take the time to have one. What do you think? How do you recharge? I hope that everyone had a great March Break and got some well-deserved “me time.”


An FDK Addendum To #MyWorkFlow

A couple of weeks ago, an educator that I truly admire and love learning with/from, Royan Lee, asked me to write a guest blog post as part of his #MyWorkFlow series. I loved Royan’s questions and had a lot of fun answering them. This post gave me an opportunity to reflect on what I do and why I do it, and looking now at other posts in the #MyWorkFlow series, it’s interesting to compare the similarities and differences between so many of us.

After Royan published and tweeted out the post this morning, Diana Hong sent me a tweet that made me realize the need for an FDK addendum to the post.

Screenshot 2016-03-12 at 15.15.18

Diana is not the first person that’s asked me this question, and when talking about “work flow,” maybe it’s time to address this question in more detail.

Here is what I do.

  • I carry my iPad with me everywhere. This makes it easy for me to take a photograph and write down what children are saying and doing.
  • I use the Pic Collage For Kids app most often, as I can take a photograph and annotate right in the app. I used to use Pic Collage, but I like how the kids version doesn’t have all of the advertisements and has more child-safe stickers and backgrounds included. Then I don’t have to worry as much about the app content when I’m trying to make a Pic Collage with the students.
  • I sit down (and/or squat) to document the learning right away with the children. This can be a challenge. Sometimes another child calls me over. Sometimes there’s a problem, and I need to stand up, go and help solve it, and then come back to finish my documentation. But if I sit down, I can still see everyone else, but the children are a little less drawn to me. It’s less likely that more children will run over and talk to me, so I can stay focused on the task at hand. It’s kind of like the idea of out of sight, out of mind (or maybe we’re just continuing to work on Piaget’s object permanence. 🙂 )
  • I aim for 2-3 minutes of focused attention with a group. Yes, it would be great to sit for longer with students, and sometimes this happens, but usually it’s hard to just stay with a couple of children for longer than about 3 minutes. Instead I try to make the most out of my time with them. I observe what’s happening. I try to record what children are saying and doing. And, if the opportunity presents itself, I strive for a mini-lesson, often connected to Language or Math. Then I circle back to see the children again during the day, to either extend the learning from before or focus on a different area.
  • We don’t have “maximum numbers” for any area in the classroom, and my partner usually has a large group of children working with her. Our students love connections with adults. They gravitate towards them. We’ve used this knowledge to help meet more student needs in the classroom. My partner usually sits down at the one large table in our room, and other children join her there. When she’s working with a large group of children, there are less other children spread around the classroom, which makes it easier for me to spend some quality time observing and talking with these other students.
  • I have an amazing partner. We both document learning, and then I can tweet out everything. This allows me to share more documentation without doing double the work. Often, this leads to some great discussions afterwards, as we can talk about similarities and differences between our observations, and plan next steps accordingly.
  • I make use of video documentation. If discussions are happening at a fast pace or there are a lot of children involved, it’s hard to write everything down, so sometimes videos work better. Then I can focus on just watching and listening, which usually helps with my questions. I am forever working on asking better questions.
  • If one iPad is good, two is better! 🙂 While I always have one iPad with me, it’s not abnormal for me to carry more than one around, or go and grab an extra one if needed. Then I can upload a video on one iPad, when recording a video or creating a Pic Collage on another one. This requires some multi-tasking that works better with practise.
  • I make use of Instagram. While I love Pic Collage For Kids because I can take multiple pictures and add in multiple text boxes at the same time, sometimes I just want one photograph with a more detailed written component. Twitter limits me to 140 characters, and this is rarely enough. With Instagram though, I can write a paragraph of text with a single photograph, and I can cross-post it to Twitter. It’s like the best of both worlds!
  • I have the Full-Day Early Learning Kindergarten Program document memorized (or at least I have all of the big ideas and major topic areas committed to memory). This allows me to easily add the curriculum connections to the Pic Collages, tweets, and/or Instagram posts without having to look back for the wording. With Pic Collage, I usually use a different colour to make these curriculum links stand out, so for interested parents, administrators, and/or colleagues, they can easily see the “why” behind what we’ve done.
  • Some children also document. We have a number of students that really enjoy documenting their learning, and they’re beginning to use Pic Collage For Kids to do so. A couple have also used Explain Everything. This provides the very important child perspective in our daily tweets.
  • I don’t worry about perfection. If you listen to our videos, you’ll often hear a child scream my name in the middle of one or even come to me with a question, and you may even hear me say, “Just a minute.” I teach Kindergarten. Interruptions are almost a given, but I’ve stopped worrying if they’re overheard in a video recording. The learning is captured too, and that’s what’s important. And there’s always the option of editing out a problem …
  • Sometimes I document more than others. Every day is different. Sometimes there are additional challenges that make documentation harder. In that case, I might document less … or at least share less online. There are also times of the day that are harder. When my partner goes for her lunch and I’m alone, I can’t document as much as I can when she’s there, so I don’t worry about that. I know that I’ll see the learning at another time during the day or maybe even on a different day.
  • I rely on my good memory. Thank goodness my memory has always been a strength of mine. This is especially valuable when I’m outside with the children, and I may not have a chance to record as much as I’d like. I remember snippets of what students say, and I take photographs to trigger my memory. Then I take about five minutes as soon as I come inside (always on my lunchtime) to write everything down.
  • Tweets don’t have to happen at the minute when the learning does. I do like to tweet things out as soon as possible, so that I don’t forget to do so over the course of the day. That said, sometimes the classroom is a busy place, and I can’t tweet out the Pic Collages and videos as I take them. I just make sure to open the videos in tabs on the Internet browser, so that I can share the links whenever I get a moment. I then usually spend about 5 minutes at the beginning of a nutrition break or on my prep sharing anything that I didn’t get a chance to share earlier.
  • I limit my words. Usually most of my thinking and learning is captured in the photographs (Pic Collages or Instagram posts) or in the videos. I then keep my tweets short, and this makes them easier to send out quickly. If I’m alone when I send them out, I also use Siri, as I can type a lot faster with my voice (even though I type fairly quickly with my hands 🙂 ). 

As I write this post, I realize just how many layers there are to this system of mine, but it is a system that allows me to usually document a lot of learning as well as share a lot with others (parents, administrators, and fellow educators). It’s also quite a productive system that doesn’t take as long as it appears in this post. 

How do you document student learning and share it with others? I’d love to know different documentation systems that could even make me more productive in my work flow.