Posts Tagged With: Kidblog

At Heart, I’m Still A Teacher

All of us who move into district leadership positions must remember that we are still teachers.

This past Friday I visited 4 schools in our district to present on Library Learning Commons. It was a busy and exciting day as I raced from school to school sharing my message and trying to convince teachers that an effort to bring our libraries into the 21st century was a worthwhile endeavour. These were the first 4 of 7 schools I’ll be working with as part of our district wide pilot. I recently blogged about our plans here.

In the days leading up to my presentations I made myself conscious of the fact that this could easily be seen by our already stretched teachers as one more thing being preached about from my soap box in central office. So, I decided to prepare a presentation showcasing projects that could be experimented with in the Learning Commons and possibly used to support the work they are already doing with their students. Using examples from my previous work as a teaching administrator, I tried to highlight projects that build important competencies and provide a platform for authentic literacy. I wanted them to see these projects as an “instead of” and not an “in addition to.”

Here are the projects I shared:

Grade 6 Iroquois Confederacy Webpage – Grade 6 students worked with their teacher to design, build, edit, and manage a webpage that covered their Social Studies unit on the Iroquois Confederacy. Students researched and created content over time and eventually completed this amazing resource that can now be shared with others.

Public Service Announcements –  Grade 6 students used iPads and iMovie to create Public Service Announcements as part of their unit on the Charter of Rights. They were then uploaded to the teachers YouTube account and played on the Smartboard in the Learning Commons for all to see.

100 Word Challenge – Grade 4 students participated in the 100 Word Challenge, a website that provides some guaranteed comments on student blog posts. Pay particular attention to the comment towards the bottom where Cait connected with a class in Galway, Ireland.

Bullying Rants – Grade 5 students wrote and recorded rants about bullying in school, using their Kidblog accounts and the Audioboo App. Not only did they write from their heart, they also spoke with great passion and emotion.

Digital Stories – Grade 3 students created digital story books using Storybird, recorded themselves reading it, and then embedded it all into their blog. You can press play and then follow along with the book.

About Me – Grade 1 students created an Animoto  to tell their classmates (and perhaps even the rest of the world) about themselves.

Digital Portfolio –  Grade 6 students maintained a personal blog throughout the year, building a portfolio of their work.

Sharing these personal learning experiences and offering support seemed to go a long way. A number of teachers have already contacted me with questions about how to try some of the ideas I shared. We as leaders often see the value in moving toward something before our teachers do. Before moving themselves, our teachers need to see and understand the small practical steps that will get them there. I hope to find the right balance between the two.

My best chance of doing so is to never forget…

At heart, I’m still a teacher.

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, 21st Century Learning, Capacity Building | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

And So Test Prep Season Begins

This past week parent/teacher conferences were held at our school. It was an opportunity for teachers and students to share the many engaging learning experiences they’ve been involved in this year. This interactive timeline outlines some of them. I am so proud of my teachers for trying a variety of new approaches in order to engage our learners in a more relevant way. It’s exciting to walk around the school and see teaching and learning as I never have before.

Awhile back I wrote a post called Is Curriculum Thwarting Transformation? There, I argued that our provinces oversized curriculum is getting in the way of teachers trying to dig deeper into key learner outcomes through real world, authentic learning experiences. In order to get everything “covered” by the end of the year they have no choice but to skim the surface of important outcomes so students will at least have touched on everything. As we all know, that means staying at the lower end of Blooms Taxonomy. And if you’re a grade 3, 6 or 9 teacher with Provincial Achievement Tests staring you in the face, that ups the ante even more.

So with the final term underway at our elementary school, the grade 3 and 6 teachers are starting to prep for the test. Our superintendent @cdsmeaton has always told us that the PATs should not affect our teaching practice. “I am a staunch believer”, he tells us, “that a focus on excellent teaching will lead to excellent results, no matter how it’s measured.” I tell them the same thing. But it doesn’t quite play out that way in the mind of the individual teacher. PATs, existing as they are, leave teachers with a strong sense of responsibility to prepare their students to write them; and as long as the tests are administered in such a way that has very little to do with the type of learning teachers are being called upon to engage in, there will be a bit of an exit from engaging learning around this time every year.

Heres what I’m getting at:

Below is a question from the 2009 Grade 6 Social Studies PAT: (lower order Blooms and builds no competencies)

EquityThe assignment below took place earlier this year at my school, addressing the same learner outcome: (higher order Blooms and builds countless competencies)

Equity vs Equality

Teacher Blog Post to Students

Student Response

Student Response

And yet another project addressing the same learner outcome: (higher order Blooms and builds countless competencies)

Here is another question from the 2009 Grade 6 ELA Provincial Achievement Test: (lower order Blooms and builds no competencies)


The assignment below addressed the same learner outcome: (higher order Blooms and builds countless competencies)

Rachels Simile Post

Yet another question from the 2009 Grade 6 ELA Provincial Achievement Test: (lower order Blooms and builds no competencies)

Reading Response

The blog post below addressed the same learner outcome: (higher order Blooms and builds countless competencies)

Michelle Reading Response

Many would say that my teachers should continue with these engaging and authentic learning experiences and the PATS will take care of themselves. The problem is that it takes time; much more time than is left over once the curriculum gets “covered.” Time that will now be needed to skim the surface, to prep for the test, to write the test, and to deal with a great deal of unneeded stress.

Is it fair to ask teachers and students to do both?

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, 21st Century Learning, Community Engagement, Education Transformation | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Listen To Me – I Can Read

audioboo_logo[1]We’ve had the Audioboo App on our school iPads for a while now. It’s a great podcasting tool because you can easily record student’s voices and the recording automatically uploads to the Audioboo website where you can manage all your “Boos” and embed them wherever you want. If you don’t have iPads, you can do it all, right from your PC as well. Here, for example, is a recording of a student teacher giving a testimonial after completing an internship at our school. Recently, the concept of recording students reading books came across my Twitter stream. This was not the first time I heard about the high yield strategy of providing children with the opportunity to listen to themselves read. This has been found to improve confidence, fluency and comprehension as the article indicated. So last week, after being reminded of this, we introduced two new activities at our school, one with grade 5 and the other with grade 1. Grade 5 – The students had already been involved in the 100 Word Challenge, a weekly creative writing activity for children 16 and under. Each week a prompt is given, which can be a picture or a series of individual words and the children can use up to 100 words to write a creative piece. In our case, grade 4, 5 and 6 students complete their writing on Microsoft Word, post it on their blog and then link it to the 100 Word Challenge blog. They receive some excellent comments from teachers and students around the world and may be selected as part of the weekly showcase of excellent writing. Here’s where the podcasting comes in. Starting last week the students have been voice recording their written entries. We have been embedding the Audioboo recording into their blog post along with the written piece. The students really enjoy hearing their voice and will be able to monitor their own progress as they add more entries to their blogs throughout the year. Here are a couple of examples: Alexis and her story about a dark stormy night in New York City and Tyler writing about a poor bird. Grade 1 – If you want to see what pride looks like, just watch the face of a grade 1 student as they listen to themself read. Last week,CB276635-5691-4882-A165-60847A63D7A7-229-0000003ADC57D570[1] before returning their library books we voice recorded them reading their book. Then, we assisted them in embedding the recording in a Kidblog post. After sending the posts out through our school Twitter feed, a teacher and her students from Texas left a bunch of comments. What a powerful affirmation for our students. Here is Kayla reading Frog and Toad are Friends and Lemuel reading Nicky Upstairs and Down. I encourage you to take a look at the comments they have already recieved. They can’t wait to hear themselves read again next week. We are looking forward to discovering more ways to incorporate voice recording into the literacy activities at our school. If the way in which our students are engaged in the process is any indication, I suspect more teachers will give it a try.

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, 21st Century Learning, ETMOOC, Inclusive Education | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Getting to the How and Why of Student Blogging

This year every grade 2-6 student in my school has been set up with a Kidblog account. After successfully introducing this easy and safe platform with older students last year it made sense to continue to explore blogging as an excellent form of authentic literacy.  Here are some of the reasons why I feel every student should be introduced to blogging:

  • Blogging is fun.
  • Students can learn to communicate effectively.
  • Students can learn to share thoughts, ideas, and opinions, and support them with details that make understanding easy.
  • Students can become better writers, both in content and mechanics.
  • Students can become better readers, improving comprehension and the ability to read critically.
  • Students can learn to use Web 2.0 technology as a tool to publish their work to share with their peers, family, and friends.
  • Students can improve writing in an exciting and engaging manner.
  • Students can comment on other’s work, sharing thoughts and ideas.
  • Students can learn about using computers and web-based tools.
  • Students can show off their work to their parents, grandparents, and other family members.

The idea of student blogging has definitely taken hold with many of my teachers as the year gets underway. Already, we are planning a supper session on Kidblog. “Experts” on staff will lead two sessions: 1. How to Administer a Kidblog Account and 2. Using Kidblog to Support and Enhance Learning.  Needless to say, I am very encouraged that teachers see the value in such an endeavor. I’m looking forward to watching throughout the year as my teachers come up with ways to build 21st century literacy skills in our students through blogging.

I do, however, want to share a word of caution. In reviewing the archives of last years student blogs I’ve noticed something. Kids are quite competent at posting on the who, what, when, and where of their topic. What was noticeably absent was the how and why. Blogging, at it’s best, is not just the sharing of facts and information. It’s also the sharing of your own opinions and ideas. It’s about respectful debate. It’s about inquiry and investigation. It’s about incorporating the Blooms levels of synthesis and evaluation. If blogging is going to be a worthwhile experience for students and teachers, these last two questions must be given a lot of attention.

Whether writing posts or commenting, I will be encouraging teachers to expect a lot of their student’s writing this year. After all, improved literacy should be an automatic product of the blogging process. A big focus on the how and why will be the key.

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, 21st Century Learning | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Difficult Struggle of Letting Go

I recently read this post by Will Richardson where he described the bold 21st century transformation of a Nevada charter school as one “…not fully understanding the shift to self-directed, personal learning that technology and the Web support.” He went on to describe true transformation being something that shifts the balance of power to the learner. I fully agree with Mr. Richardson and have recently completed action research on this very topic. I also blogged about student-directed learning a few weeks back.

As the principal of an elementary school I am reminded every day how difficult it is for teachers to let go of control of the learning process. Moving from being the distributer of content to the guider of learning is not that easy for teachers who were trained to ‘deliver curriculum.’ This shift is even harder to understand for elementary school teachers who work with the youngest of our students.

Two weeks ago I found myself in a position where I experienced first hand this struggle of handing over control to the student. As an administrator who teaches grade 4 library I was quite happy with the new experiences I had been exposing my students to. Early in the year I introduced them to our library Twitter account and in turn they were given an opportunity to compose Tweets and respond to other ones. After that I got them blogging through a Kidblog account and write books reviews with our Destiny Quest software, allowing them to share their views beyond the walls of our school. Blogging helped us to connect with a wonderful grade 4 class from Wellford, South Carolina and a face-to-face Skype visit was arranged shortly thereafter. Epals were set up and our students started ongoing conversations with their new global friends. I was on a roll, feeling that through the use of these Web 2.0 tools my students were starting to take charge of their own learning.

Mrs. Witherspoon, the teacher of the class in South Carolina was interested in giving the ePals an opportunity to visit by setting up individual Skype sessions so I jumped at the opportunity and my students started preparing questions in anticipation. Under the watchful eyes of adults at both ends the first two visits went off without a hitch. The level of engagement was amazing and the students themselves led through the entire experience.

Now to my struggle. The next ePal Skype session was arranged between Makayla from our school and Chandra from theirs. On the day it was scheduled I didn’t realize until 45 minutes before it was to start that Makayla was home, not feeling well. I decided to make a quick call to see if Makayla’s mom would consider bringing her to school for the Skype call then take her back home. She informed me that Makayla was upset that she would not be able to Skype with her ePal but was not able to come to the school. She did however suggest that Makayla participate in the Skype call from home as she has her own account. It was then that I experienced first hand this struggle with letting go. Up until now I was directly involved in the learning that came from Twitter, Kidblog and Skype. This was different. I would have to trust that Makayla would be responsible and represent our school appropriately. I would have to trust that she knew what she was doing. I would have to step aside and let my student take charge of this learning experience for herself. It was at that moment that I clearly understood why this shift is so difficult. I decided to let it happen.

In spite of the uncertainty, the uncomfortable feelings, and loss of control I encourage every teacher to take that first step and let it happen. Our students are ready.

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, 21st Century Learning, Education Transformation | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Skype With Students – It’s A No Brainer

This past week we connected a laptop to the Smartboard in our library and my grade 4 students participated in a Skype call for the first time, engaging in a wonderful dialogue with Ms. Witherspoon’s grade 4s from South Carolina.  After this wonderful experience two things became very clear to me.  First of all, skyping with other classes is easy.  Secondly, lending itself to the development of a varirty of important 21st century competencies, skyping with students is a no brainer.

Since opening a Twitter account for our school last August (@stmarylibrary)  I’ve noticed that most classrooms use their account to engage others.  Educators who have figured this out, mostly use Twitter for one of two reasons.  Either to direct followers to their blogs and other student created work or to arrange more full engagement through Skype.  As a matter of fact, this is exactly how we met.  After following one another for a few weeks we began to reply to the interesting happenings each school was posting.  Through these posts and replies we decided to introduce our students through Skype.    

Our Skype visit with @spoonsclass was not strategically planned out by any stretch of the imagination, but the conversation provided for some amazing learning.  For starters, our schools are two time zones apart and a quick look at Google Earth gave them some much needed perspective, seeing that South Carolina was about a 38 hour drive from our home in Southern Alberta.  After sharing a little bit about each of our schools the questions started.  At first, the students were mostly interested in snow, class pets, and the length of recess.  At that point there were no set curricular outcomes being met but the level of engagement was extremely high and inappropriate behavior was nonexistant.  In the middle of the question and answer period we found out that one of their students was celebrating a birthday and our class spontaneously broke into song.  Then the students proudly shared their countries of origin as both schools are highly multi-cultural.  We learned that some of our students come from the same countries.  As our Blackfoot students from the Blood Indian Reservation introduced themselves the @spoonsclass students informed us that they recently studied the Plains Indians in their Social Studies classes.  It was very interesting to find out that students from the South Eastern part of America study the history of our First Nations students.  The teachers agreed that there were some great possibilities for future learning activities.  Before saying goodbye our students agreed to leave comments on each others blog posts and become e-pals.  We can’t wait for our next Skype visit.

If you are interested in giving Skype a try check out Skype in the ClassroomIt’s a no brainer.

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, 21st Century Learning, Education Transformation | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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