Sunday, 30 September 2012

Diagnostic Assessment & Space Exploration

Accessing Prior Knowledge & Starting on the Right Foot

We began an exciting group project the other day and thought it was important to start with self-reflection and diagnostic assessment through informal and formal conversations. Students filled out group proposals (below) where they had to consider their strengths within a group. We also challenged them to think about their group members and how they've worked together in the past...

Project:  You have been recruited by CETSA (The Canadian Extra Terrestrial Space Agency) to create a community proposal and a recruitment video to lure earth-dwellers to colonize your planet. 

** Students will hold a "recruitment fair" in the Learning Commons for all grades of the school (and perhaps other schools through online video/voting). Students will vote on which planet they would like to colonize based on given criteria. 

Day 1: The Hook
Each student received a letter in the mail from CETSA directing them to save humanity.They showed up to school with their letters clutched in their hands or crinkled in their pockets, ready to accept their mission! They were then tasked with identifying and resolving hazards in a colonization report to permanently settle a planet in our solar system. They will soon create a recruitment video/presentation to lure settlers to their planet - which they will later create a government for.

We gave students the sheet below, allowing them to choose their own partners. Using a sheet like this had a number of predicted and surprising benefits, here are the big three:

Self Reflection - Students were able to discuss their strengths and shortcomings in a safe environment, among chosen friends.

Group Reflection - Students analyzed the relationships within their team and identified possible issues, as well as where they may soar. It was interesting to see how students grouped themselves - some students purposefully avoided their friends!

Access Prior Knowledge -  Students were forced to access prior knowledge and to discuss what they already knew about the planets and what they wanted to learn. This discussion was further enhanced by the pesky, roaming teachers asking clarifying questions and taking notes.

The sheet we used is below, as are some samples taken from students on Friday!

Group Work and Getting Started

Some of the responses...
Some of these are hilarious, others are insightful... I think the process and the discussions we video-taped were the true gold in this. 

Problems with "big giant words such as the Encyclopedia" 
The "Who does more work" comment showed up on lots of these. 
Human Typewriter and has great potential in research and studies...

This group really hit the nail on the head! This was exactly the same problem they had in our last project... Although I didn't know about the hitting!
It's okay to laugh a lot! 

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

So I built a Lego Wall...

Lego and Math

So I built a Lego wall to teach math today! Initially I was going to glue the lego base-plates to a wall and wallpaper it from top to bottom - but I realized that the true learning potential came from being able to work on the base plates, and then to post them to share progress. 

Lego Baseplate with velcro on the
back to mount to the shelf.
After discussing a few options, we settled on velcro tape. We fastened it to the back and mounted the other side on the edge of a bookshelf. This way it could get that “wallpaper” effect that I wanted, while at the same time have the portability and individual work space of a single plate. Although I’ve just done the first “wall” I’m going to go in early tomorrow to make the other 3 (on the ends of the book shelves sticking out of our walls). 
Part of our work this year is going to be around experimenting and finding ways to use lego for math. Considering that it is a grid, we’ll be able to work on having students model patterning, multiplication (through arrays and groups), addition, subtraction, area, perimeter, rotations and an endless number of other tasks. Actually, it could be fun to set it up as a cartesian plane and play some battleship... Or to create different graphs to show collected data. 

I’m excited to move on this... Luckily we have an amazing teacher who wants to spear-head this with me, so we’ll be throwing some stuff up on this blog in no time, I’m sure!  

Some days I just love my job. 

Mike MacKenzie

Lego Wall:

Friday, 21 September 2012

5 QR Code Uses

Our 5 favourite ways to use QR Codes -

Debit Cards - We've created "Library Licences" for students to come to the commons and take out books. The idea behind the licences is simple: With student photos, barcodes, and a signature, they'd take seriously the books they borrow and the standard they return them in. Plus, they all laugh when we tell them in serious voices, that no matter what their parents say, they are not allowed to drive the car!

Anyway, the grade 6 teachers wanted to teach the students about debits, credits, and managing a bank account, so they created the ultimate money-management system: a Google spreadsheet for each student linked to their own personal QR Code. This is fairly forward sighted as we only have ipads and iPods borrowed from the ILC downtown... But we have big plans if a grant comes through...

These are our Library Licenses... I've had to cover up all of the student info-
 the other one just shows what goes where.
Learning Commons Commercials/Area Descriptions -As we're converting our library into a Learning Commons, the students are just now starting to understand the possible uses of the spaces. As such, the fifth graders are working on creating video advertisements for each section and posters to house QR codes that link to the commercials. Both will inform guests and students about ways to use the space and will make the areas more appealing.

Book Responses - Students are working on a number of reading responses including movie previews and reviews and dramatic reenactments, among others. We're connecting the QR codes to the inside/outside covers of books to help future generations of students determine interest in the books and to see the legacy of students past.

Past Events - Having student work on the walls is important in building the atmosphere and philosophy behind the Learning Commons. It has a growing history that needs to be recorded and displayed, even if it is video! QR Codes connect our Learning Commons to past events and memories. This is especially important for those kids who rarely experience success in school - the posters on these walls with the videos linked to the QR Codes remind students of the success they've achieved. It also shows others in the school what can be accomplished through hard work and determination.

Classroom Newsletters - Our teachers are working on classroom web pages that contain everything from student work and rubrics to newsletters and year plans. Teachers have been throwing QR Codes in students' agendas and on newsletters. The result? Increased traffic from both parents and students from home and at school... Edging us ever closer to that 24-7 learning!

This isn't part of the newsletter - but if you have a second,
I'd browse the awesome work our grade 6 teachers are doing!

Social Media Forever!

The things we don't think about, or realize, about social media - One of our grade 5/6 classes were discussing Terry Fox and a way to find out more about him. One of the students thought they could look up his Facebook page - "because it might be still around from when he was alive". The class agreed that would be a great idea! Of course, Terry would've had a Facebook page - everyone has Facebook.

Little did they know,  Facebook wasn't around, or even close to being around, in 1981. These grade 5/6 students just assumed that Facebook has been around forever. Social media is such a normal part of their young lives that it must have been their for everyone.

Another class that I was working this week (a grade 4/5 group) was discussing Terry Fox as well. I thought we could tie in what the other class had come up. So we decided to make a Terry Fox bulletin board (Faceboard) and imagine what his Facebook page might have looked like when he was alive. Our question was "How might Terry Fox go about promoting the Marathon of Hope if he was still alive now?".

Some of the students had a hard time thinking about this and implementing. Some thought that they couldn't do it as they weren't allowed a Facebook account. Others were fine with the idea and fully understood the concept.

Students were to post messages to Terry Fox to thank him, ask questions, write them from his perspective.

This is what they came up with.

The first posts were exactly what I imagined they might look like. Relatively weak and lacking any kind of substance. After some feedback students were able edit their thoughts and give their post some more oomph. This is something we will definitely work on and develop in the future.

What a great discussion about the positive power of social media and the reason why some people use it. It also showed students that us old teachers even value Facebook and that its OK to talk about it and include it in our learning experiences.

What next? 

We thought we could leave the main part of this bulletin board up and change the contents. It would be a great way to promote Social Media for a good cause. We thought we could even try real time posting, where students could post notes using post-it notes or something else similar.

I wonder what else we could do? How else could we promote the use of Social Media as a learning tool to elementary students?

Pleas feel free to comment. We would love feedback.

Measurement & Mapping

Our PhotoPeach Slideshow: (Beware - some students are faceless/headless to protect their identities!)

We (the grade 6 teachers and I) have just finished our first, ubre-successful class showcase in the Learning Commons! The grade 6 students masterfully measured, mapped, modeled, displayed, and shared for the Learning Commons.

Phase 1: Hook

Our Learning Commons is a new and challenging concept for teachers and students in our school.  For each grade's beginning project students are working on lessons around belonging and ownership of the space. Each grade has created something that will stay in the space or that will enhance the space in some way.

After completing an iPad photo scavenger hunt of the space, the Grade 6 students discussed what was missing and what would make it better. Eventually they decided (with some guidance) that the learning commons needed a map - I was more than happy to work with them on that. ;)

Phase 2: Measuring and 2D Map

After printing out some architectural paper, students were introduced to the challenge criteria and set off to measure the space any way they wanted. We suggested 3 ways:
  1. Snap Cubes: Students put 1 snap cube on each tile, collected the snap cubes in sticks of 10 (or 5), and added up the sticks. 
  2. Post-it Notes: Students put post-it notes on every 5th square (or whatever multiple they felt comfortable with) and collected them while skip counting or multiplication. 
  3. Counting: Some just counted each tile as they walked from one side of the commons to the other.

Students counted the tiles and completed a map where 1 tile was 1 square on their paper.  Because we teach students with a range of skills, we wanted to make multiple entrance points and lots of extra challenges to keep them engaged. We organized the challenge criteria into 3 columns (below) to meet individual need. All students were expected to complete a Level 3, but should aim as high as possible. 

This was displayed at all times during the independent work times.
If students finished level 3, they knew to move to level 4, and then 5.

Phase 3: Mapping in 3D for future displays and proposals. 

Now came the fun part!  Students could take their 2D maps and transform them into 3D masterpieces using a computer program or a hands-on-material of their choice. We gave options to use Google Sketch-up, Plasticine, Minecraft, Lego Digital Designer, or whatever other way students wanted (as long as teachers approved it). 

We were shocked when a student discovered - and the enthusiasm for this program quickly took over the group.  We were also pleasantly surprised by the students using Minecraft and Sketch-up. And one group took on this project by re-creating the entire Learning Commons using paper! Actually, it was 2 groups that both realized they bit off more than they could chew and asked if they could team-up and work together to get the project done in time... We obliged.  Check out their amazing work below!

Phase 4: Show and Tell
It's hard to believe that we're 3 weeks into the school year with a 3-week-old learning commons. Our entire school community came during our showcase and were all blown away. We worked with the students and practiced talking about: 
  • Why we completed this project
  • How we mapped in 2D/3D
  • Who the maps are for (everyone in the school!)
  • Ideas they had to improve the space
The showcase was important for a number of reasons. The other teachers in the school were able to see what type of work can take place in the Learning Commons. It gave them a chance to talk to me directly and to ask questions. More than a few times I was asked about what the planning and teaching looked like, and how we made it work. 

Students were able to look up to the grade 6s, as each student completed an enormous amount of work and was a role model for the younger students. The younger children were also able to inquire about the process and to ask questions about the math (area, perimeter, ratios, etc.). Students wanted to experiment with the programs they saw the grade 6s use, most notably Keynote and

Phase 5: Where to now? 

We're going to have students take their current 3D representations of the Learning Commons and make proposals about how the space could be used. They'll also create proposals, sharing what they think would make the space better...I'm already running with the idea of building a lego wall - but more on that later!

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

The Role of a Learning Commons Teacher

Hi I'm Steve Clark. I'm the Learning Commons teacher at Marlborough School. A Calgary Board of Education School in Calgary's NE.

This is a post I wrote on my own profesional blog:

Today we had our first day. It was great to see our students settle fast into their new classrooms with their teacher for the year.

As it was Tuesday, we also had our first staff Tuesday Staff meeting for the year. Our heads were already spinning from a great first day but we still had it in us to discuss a few things. One of those being my position in the Learning Commons (LC). As it has been undecided, it's important we all get an understanding and also have some input into what I will be focusing on right from the beginning of the year. The discussion went well. This post is some of my my thoughts after the fact. A chance for me to think about what value I can add to learning in our school.

Some of the things that were mentioned were the following:
  • Our school will continue to focus on working and developing Galileo and Inquiry Based Learning principals. We will focus on using the Disciplined based model of inquiry.
  • We will have a full time teacher working out of the LC. We also discussed that the LC is an extension of the classroom.
  • My position would not be solely going into classrooms to teach a particular App or technology based tool. I would more than likely compliment or add something extra to the learning in a project ~ Small group work, displacing a teacher, adding another teacher to a group to enable more diverse grouping, 1-on-1 work with particular students, etc...
  • That my position would not be providing any Non Instructional Time (NIT) for teachers, as originally thought.
  • Teachers could think about how I could be utilised that would work for them and their students.
  • We also talked about the fact of making learning visible. The dream that I have is to showcase the learning happening in our building with the wider community ~ that being within our system/district as well as in the global classroom of Twitter :)
What a great opportunity - To be able to work both students and teachers and be engaged in some amazing learning.

What do I think I can offer the students of our school? What is it that I really specialise in? I am certainly not saying that I'm the only expert in inquiry or technology in our school. As I mentioned in our staff meeting, I actually struggle to always think about the big picture. What I think I can do is think in a digital sense. I can take an idea and thinking how students might be able to present that idea using technology. This ability comes from being aware of Apps and tools available to us and to be able to make a connection between a specific tech tool and the curriculum.

One of my main focuses as the LC teacher will continue to be on student engagement. I enjoy the challenge of trying to get students who sometimes struggle to engage themselves in learning tasks, to take ownership of their learning and express what they know about something in a way that is meaningful to them. I try to find something technology related that may be able to help them. Of course, technology based learning tools aren't always the best answer but I do believe with some creative thought, technology can definitely make learning more accessible for many of our students.

I will be interested to see when my position goes this year. How much teachers will value having someone else to turn to. There will need to be a fair bit of change in the way we think. In my experience teachers often don't like giving up the control in their classroom. I do agree it is hard to see your students walk out and work with someone else. I'm not sure why but with guidance, hearing testaments and seeing it work through modelling, this new way of looking at learning will be more widely accepted and grasped by educators everywhere.

It's not going to be an easy journey but I do believe it will be well worth it.