Tuesday, April 18, 2017

#notabookstudy Week 1

I was very keen to be a part of this project for any number of reasons. Well, 10 to be precise!
In addition to knowing I would learn more about the work of Cathy Fosnot and how it relates to our goals in Ontario and Near North DSB math classrooms, I was fascinated to learn more about building a community of learners online.

I am always telling people that I learned most of what I know about tech-enabled learning and teaching from colleagues I met on Twitter. I have also had an all-purpose blog, that I contribute to in fits and starts, for several years. More recently, I have friended quite a few teacher friends in the virtual world of Facebook. I had explored on the fringes of the #ossemooc project as well.
But when Donna Fry started promoting #notabookstudy, I knew I wanted to try to become a part of it. It all boiled down to those 10 reasons!

For a variety of circumstances, I had to watch Week 1 from the sidelines. But now I am geared up for Week 2, and have my own reading done. My next blog post will address one of Cathy Fosnot’s questions – to the best of my ability.
But the new learning for me has been huge – VoiceEd Radio, trying to support participating bloggers by commenting on their thoughtful posts, not to mention Fosnot’s work itself.
I can’t help thinking of the potential for our #notabookstudy online community in light of our board’s new work with George Couros. Will my local colleagues take the plunge into the Twitterverse? If yes, might they be open to further online collaboration and learning.

I am very much looking forward to these possibilities.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Our path to leveraging digital

Yesterday was one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had, as a presenter, co-learner and colleague.
Although our board has been at the forefront of supporting teachers in integrating technology into their practice, it has seemed like a very long time getting to the point where we are talking about leveraging digital for teaching and learning. As opposed to learning the basics of our tools and how they work.
For four years, we have had the Tech For Teachers program to provide a device to all full-time teachers. We have supported these teachers from year to year with regional sessions on Intro to MacBook, or iPad, for example. But we have never had the chance to meet to think deeply about using tech to meet specific student or teacher needs.
With our MISA grant complemented by board funds, we not only had the chance to present two regional events to explore these ideas, but the money to support teachers with ongoing learning in their schools.
The event was very well received, and a number of participants even lingered afterwards, to continue their discussions with each other and with us. Tech experts and new users alike were engaged and inspired, it seemed to me.
The first sign that this was going to be a popular program came when we sent the original email to principals. We were seeking five teams of two from each school. Half an hour after I clicked Send, these spots were filled, and requests to participate continued to flow in over then next days and weeks.
The original email read as follows:
The project will include an exploration and implementation of our board’s Office 365 tools, including some or all of: Mail, Calendar, Sway, Word, Powerpoint, Excel, One Drive, Forms, Planner, One Note, Class Notebook, People, Tasks, Video, SharePoint, Delve, Newsfeed and Skype, as well as the Office Lens app. Learning will address teacher and student productivity as well as 21st century competencies such as Communication and Collaboration.
We are seeking teams of two teachers from schools. Teachers will be able to support one another, and will be sharing release time to plan and reflect.
Release time
Teams will meet on Tuesday, February 28 for a full day of PD. Half a day will focus on the apps and their potential, followed by half a day of classroom-focused personal planning to narrow the focus of learning and application for the teams. (PD location to be determined based on participants.)
Between March 1 and May 31, schools will be allotted several release days to continue activities such as planning, co-planning, observing, and reflecting. Teams can use this time as they wish. Examples of activities might include meetings, co-teaching opportunities, or releasing other teachers within the school to work alongside the team.
ET Department staff will be available upon request to support the teams during March, April and May.
Data Collection
We will ask teachers and their students to complete a brief survey on February 28 and May 31.
We could never have guessed that this seemingly simple project would generate so much enthusiasm.
Obviously, before starting to plan the details of our introductory sessions, we knew that we had tapped into a demand for information on these apps, but we were looking for a way to go beyond the “how-to” approach. We also knew that we wanted to to have the follow-up release time used in a self-directed fashion.
With everyone more or less familiar with the terminology of the Collaborative Inquiry, this seemed like a logical way to plan. We had also recently enjoyed PD with CI guru Jenni Donohoo. We were give her second book as a resource, and I went out and bought the first one as well. Both were invaluable in getting me back into the CI process, and also to give me ideas and values as a facilitator.
Our keynote for the day described our Near North environment and vision, and also referenced Fullan’s 6Cs and the ministry foundation document: Towards Defining 21c century competencies for Ontario.”
We followed up with an activity where teachers used sticky notes to write down a series of personal needs: urgent student need, professional need, digital citizenship need, curriculum expectation that could be adapted with technology, etc.
Then, several teachers were asked to come forward and transfer all the sticky notes from the whiteboard onto chart papers with the headings: Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Creativity, and Citizenship.
At this point, participants could graphically see that their needs, which might be fulfilled by various O365 apps, also fell into categories of 21c or global competencies.
The next couple of hour were spent exploring several apps: Word and One Drive, Sway, One Note and Class Notebook, Lens, and Skype for Business.
Then, participants had a quick refresher on the CI process before starting to work on their own plans.
When everyone shared their ideas at the end, the vision and creativity shone from each team, as a wide array of ideas, questions, strategies, success criteria, grade involvement and use of release time was revealed.
This whole day far exceed my dreams and expectations, and I can’t wait to see the great things that are accomplished at the school level in the next three months. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Windows MovieMaker – RIP

I heard today that Windows MovieMaker is no more! Double checking when I got home I discovered that as of January 10, 2017, MovieMaker was discontinued with no replacement.
What a bittersweet moment! This workhorse of a multimedia program was a staple in my classes for many years, before we had iPads and the wizardry of iMovie and many other apps. No, in those days, we had MovieMaker and it was fantastic!
Looking back to nearly 15 years ago, teachers at our school only used the computer lab during their assigned periods for word processing and sometimes research – to be written up via more word processing. Myself included!
Then, my friend Len told me about this app that was built into Windows and therefore available for free on all our machines. He taught his class, then me, and then one of his students came along on Day 1 to help me out.
I never looked back.
MovieMaker might have been a bit clunky but by gosh you could search for and save photos off the Internet, make a slideshow, and add a soundtrack (I am sure I could still hum Blues Highway if I put my mind to it!) – all on a computer in the lab. This simple process alone called upon skills that were new to students. For example, it provided an authentic reason to discuss and insist on using network drives instead of the local C: drives. In later years, it prompted lessons on Creative Commons photos and music.
For a long time, I started every year with MovieMaker projects. It was definitely a case of introducing something quite new to the students. In Year 1 of MovieMaker we started simple with some personal projects. To this day I still have Who Let The Dogs Out in my iTunes, after buying it for a student to use:)
But several years later my Grade 8 history students used MovieMaker to make incredibly evocative photo essays comparing the lives of children in other countries to their own in Canada. We always built a sharing component into their work, and the discussions and metacognition value were enormous.
The height of our use of MovieMaker occurred in the years of Speaker’s Corner. We had a large free-standing brick-wall backdrop from the theatre, and a tripod and small video camera – containing mini-cassette tapes. All this apparatus lived in my core classroom for a month. My friend Len came through again and showed me how to work the camera. Then, for a month all my media classes in the computer lab ran as follows: pick a topic, start researching and creating a basic slideshow into which the video would be dropped. Meanwhile, across the hall to my classroom they would go in small groups to film themselves. I tried to make the task as realistic as possible, with short speeches and all production work done by the students themselves. I kept away from the room, and left them to show some responsibility. I was never disappointed.
My work came later. Every Saturday for three weeks I would go to school and transfer the speech files off the cassette tapes, to name them and store them on the shared network drive where the students could pick them up and place them as the centrepiece of their opinion slide shows.
With three or four classes, this was usually 100+ projects. What a production!
We also held a film festival in the theatre during the last week of school to screen a wide range of projects and vote on an equally wide range of “awards.” I still remember one popular Speaker’s Corner. Many years ago, this student chose to speak about gay rights, and the theme of tolerance. I still remember one of her slides: “Don’t like gay marriage? Don’t get one!”.
I have to say, the values I learned through the process of learning MovieMaker and regularly integrating multi-media forms of response into my classes has stayed with me to this day. Yes I will miss it, but I am equally happy to be learning new apps and spreading the word about the wonderful variety of assessment forms now available to us.


Saturday, February 18, 2017

Coding In Kindergarten? Yes! - Part 2

Here are some notes and observations on my experience.
Each day I met with a group of six students (in partners), using 3 Beebots, at the main carpet area. The students faced me, and I set the mats to one side.
I showed them the command buttons on the Beebot: forward, left turn, right turn, backwards, stop, and "x" for cancel the previous program (like a reset). Then they explored using the BeeBots.
On the carpet, one partner told the other partner to program the Beebot, eg. forward, forward, right turn. Then they switched. Some students were quite shy and it took a while for them to verbalize to their partner. But all were successful. This time also allowed the students to play with the BeeBots on their own, and to share with their partner after each turn. Then they all returned to face me.
I placed the Treasure Island map in front of me so they could see it, and asked them to name all the different things they could see. They did really well with all this vocabulary and identified: ladder, bridge, octopus, volcano, sharks, secret passage. I prompted them to identify the groups of trees and the river, and anything else they did not name. Then I explained that the BeeBot would be placed in the corner and one partner would challenge the other to "go to x location." Then they would switch.
With the clear grid, I used a nice stone from the classroom collection. One student placed the stone in a square, and the other would get the BeeBot to move from a location at the edge of the mat to touch the stone. 
Once the two groups were dispersed, I introduced the streetscape, as it took a bit longer to identify all the locations. Some are sort of urban, and not readily identifiable to our students. One or two students could read the names on the storefronts. Same routine, with one partner asking the other to get the BeeBot to go to a specific location.
Timing: approximately ten minutes to introduce, ten minutes at their first map, and then ten minutes at a second map. They took their own BeeBots and moved to a new map.
Instructions I found myself using:
What is the path it would take, can you point to the path?
How many steps?
Right turn or left turn?
Let's count out the steps before pressing the buttons.
With the streetscape, I told them to have the BeeBot enter the store, not just drive down the street to that location.
Strategies I observed:
One-to-one tapping of squares and buttons, with one hand tapping the squares forming the path, and the other simultaneously tapping the BeeBot buttons.
Lots of counting out loud.
Lots of verbal command lists: eg. forward, forward, forward, turn, forward.
Looking at the physical arrow buttons to clarify whether to turn left or right.
With the clear mat and stone, some groups started making roundabout paths, not just the most direct path; this helped them input longer series of commands.
Students working together to identify the pattern, and to say it out loud while the BeeBot was being programmed, or while it was running.
Next steps:
Math such as adding up steps to a total: 3 forward plus 1 turn plus 1 forward equals 5 steps.
Going off the maps and estimating how many forward steps might be needed to get from one classroom location to another.
Phrasing the street map in a different way describing store functions: move BeeBot to a store where it could get a haircut, where it could buy gas, where it could mail a letter, etc.
For three students, next steps would involve adding a turn, as they were successful only with defining short forward paths.
In terms of the whole class, staff and students alike are confident enough to incorporate BeeBots as one of their centres on a daily basis.