Thursday, 21 March 2013

Our Physical Space

The physical space is often a hurdle when setting up the Learning Commons. There are no hard and-fast rules around creating the space... Really it is about the students, the teachers, and the larger community. Here are some informal guidelines we used to set up a dynamic, learner-centered space.

1. Allow Student Voice

Students are the primary consumers of the space and their input is paramount... We began the year with a grade 6 mapping project. After mapping the space, students came up with new ideas and proposals to make it more appealing and functional. We listened - and now we can't keep them out whether it's class time, recess, or lunch!

2. Use The Walls

We pushed everything off to the walls... Opening up a flexible, middle space is extremely important. Students and teachers are able to move shelves, tables, and SMART Boards around as needed. For example, tables can be clumped for large-group work, or separated for small group work, or separated so individuals can work in peace!

3. Use Castors

All of our tables and bookshelves are standing on castors... Having wheels means that the space can completely change for presentations or events. We have Karaoke Club, special presenters, staff meetings, large classes, small classes, and individual students all working at the same or different times throughout the Commons.

4. Consider Learning Styles

Just because the buzz of education right now is group work, collaboration, and cooperation, doesn't mean that intrapersonal students that like to learn independently in a quiet and peaceful place have left the building! We've set up quiet areas with noise-blocking headphones near the windows and we've got a quiet table for guided reading, where visual distractions are a minimum.

5. Think About Tables & Surfaces

The tables below come from Moen Designs in Edmonton Alberta. We received a wonderful grant from Education Matters to purchase any table we would like, and we went with the "Burp" (to the left). Our students, though, affectionately refer to them as the "Ladybug" tables because their "wings" open to expose the underbelly (Another working space!).

The benches (below) were also purchased from Moen Designs. We chose them because they come in a couple different sizes, and they are sturdy enough to stand on... And the perfect height for students to work (draw, read, write, build) on.

6. Open the Windows!

I don't know why this is such a big one... Kids are NOT distracted by the great outdoors, and natural light is extremely helpful. I'm not worried about students being distracted when peering outside, and the natural light is infinitely better than the dim, fluorescent lights flickering at 120 Hertz in our students' eyes.

7. Be Dynamic

Everything needs to change over time. Our SMART Board moves, the tables rolls, the benches are carried, and the chairs all move throughout the course of the day. The space transforms to meet the needs of our students...Our community wouldn't do it any other way!

Friday, 15 March 2013

Voices on a Wall

This is a post that has also been posted on and also follows-up on this post QR - Quick-Response.html

I have been working with a couple of different classes to experiment with using QR codes to share ideas and work that we have created. 

Text to QR Code
The first class we played with QR codes to share 'secret messages'. As part of the heath curriculum, we want to talk about our qualities and inefficiencies, our dreams and our aspirations.

  1. First we used Microsoft Word and Apple Pages to type up some text.
  2. Next we copied the text and pasted it we copied the text.
  3. QRStuff generates a QR code and then we download.
  4. The QR code, in the form of an image, can then be pasted into another document and printed.
  5. These particular QR codes could either have the text embedded right in the code (which would mean the mobile device would not even require an Internet connection) or the user could choose to have the text uploaded to a QR Stuff Server (this would require Internet but also teacher discretion to ensure no personal data would be included). The only real difference would be in the visual appearance of the QR code itself.

Audio Recording to QR Code
After we learned and understood how QR codes worked and saw how visually appealing he wall display was. We thought it would be cool to make different kind of gallery on a bulletin board - We would attempt to put student voices on the wall. With parent interviews coming up, it would be a great way to showcase some great work produced by our students. This project would require writing and recording voice using 1 of 2 apps on the iPad.
  1. Students first needed to produce some writing. The teacher used some health related writing around 'bullying' and 'it's OK to be me'.
  2. Using an iPad, students recorded their voice using either GarageBand for iPad or Voice Recorder for iPad.
  3. We then co-created success criteria and a rubric for students to make quality recordings.
  4. Students published their audio recording and then shared it with the teacher.
  5. The teacher then uploaded the audio file to our web site server (CBE Project server) - the file would need to be accessible online by a URL.
  6. Once uploaded, the teacher generated the QR Code (with and saved back to a shared folder on the school server. 
  7. Finally Students created posters to share their work.

Below are a couple of examples of our Voice Gallery QR codes

Monday, 4 March 2013

Exemplars and Comics

Using Exemplars with Photocomic
Using exemplars to set clear expectations is vital when designing a project... This is our infusion of technology in the process of examining student work, setting criteria and building a rubric for writing a  feasibility report for settling a planet.

The Bigger Picture
We're well on our way to colonizing the solar system! Kids have completed their research, and they're now ready to compile their information into an official "Colonization Report". To do this, they'll need to examine both excellent and lackluster reports to help wrap their heads around the expectations .. We wanted to find a way for students to document what makes a good report and found a natural connection with an App called Photocomic.

After this, students will write reports that they will submit to the Canadian Extra-Terrestrial Space Agency for review. They will then write a storyboard and screenplay to help them develop a recruitment video to help them lure students, parents, and community members to their planet.

The Task 
Students will be given specific topics (Creative Language, Organization, Visuals, and Content) to carefully consider as they go through the exemplars.  Each student will record successes and shortcomings about their topic using an iPad app called Photocomic.

The App
We've used the app Photocomic for a number of purposes and the more we use it, the more we love it! It is simple enough that clean, clear work can be created, published, and shared within a 30 minute period. It's been used to act out key moments within a book-study, to role-play social situations, and to enhance concepts such as friendship.

It allows you to take photographs and arrange them in a number of ways to look like the pages of a comic book. Students can add all of the elements of a comic, including speech bubbles, thought bubbles, action words, etc.

The Process
Students are challenged to become masters of the "Photocomic" app in 5 minutes. The only rules: You must touch every button to see what it does and you must create a comic!

Students are given their task cards and join their groups. They are to take photographs of the exemplars and to annotate with speech bubbles, thought bubbles, and action words to show what they like/dislike about the exemplar. It is expected that each student will contribute 1 speech bubble/sound effect.

Students then go to the next table, take a close look at that exemplar, and repeat!

At the end, the students will put their comics on to the teacher's computer, who will throw all of the pictures on the SMART Board so that everyone can see what makes a great report. Afterwards, the teacher guides the students as they come up with their own rubric that clearly describes the expectations.

We really need to narrow the focus...
All students can participate in this because there is so much to evaluate! Some students can use higher-order thinking skills and analyze the content. Others can really think about the grammar/word-choice, and others still can examine the visuals. We'll choose the roles and make sure they cater to the right students.

Using the Photocomic App students can either be detailed about about their evaluation (they can write speech bubbles, clearly outlining why they may/may note emulate something), or they can can use sound effects such as "Ouch!" to show that something is undesirable.

5 Considerations About Exemplars
Narrow the Focus: We had 4 to 5 people in each group, and each student had a role where they were looking for a certain topic. It was way too much, and the activity nearly bombed because of it! Were we to do it again, I'd suggest having each group focus on one topic, rather than 4. And I'd suggest the each group share one same topic of analysis.

It's great how they could use the '!!!!' symbol
to point out the juicy words!
Time: At the beginning, we gave students iPads and told them to get started after explaining the task... If only it were that simple! They jumped right in for sure, but they took inconsequential pictures and didn't provide thoughtful comments.

After the first round, we had them close their iPads and focus on the work itself. After we heard sufficient discussion and we had a chance to discuss with each group, then we had them open the iPads.

Groupings: I'm always tempted to put a higher student with a lower student to settle behavior issues and enhance learning. I wonder, though, what this is doing for both students' learning! One isn't challenged by the other, and the other is so far below, are they getting anything out of the lesson? Would it be better to put all of the lower students together and to use different exemplars with catered expectations? How would that look?

I guess that "Zonk!" means it's good... 
Exemplars: We used great exemplars and 2 non-exemplars that were created at a much lower grade level. It's tricky though... We have students that really struggle with reading and writing, and I'm hoping that they didn't feel awful about themselves when they saw the non-exemplar was at their ability level. When the integration model fails, I guess...We'll have to find new ways to approach this next time.

Return: The idea of annotating with the iPads worked really well, but some extra work needs to be done with the kids! It's just October, so I'm hoping that we'll get this figured when we try it another few times... We'll see!