Posts Tagged With: Student Choice

Our Grade 2 App Smackdown – An Experiment.

According to Cybrary Man’s Educational Websites (@cybraryman1), “a Smackdown or Show and Tell is a sharing of websites, tools or teaching tricks that you have found to be great to use.  You are given 2 minutes to present the tool to the group.”

Recently, we held an App Smackdown during grade two 21st Century Learning time. Our students have been using iPads for nearly two years now so I thought it would be a good idea to give them an opportunity to show me what they knew. The idea of a “Smackdown” has been used at teacher conferences and EDCAMPs so why not experiment with the concept with young students. Heres the experiment.


With little time to prep, are seven-year old students capable of effectively selecting an educational App from a list and effectively presenting it to peers.


Yes, when given the opportunity students will amaze us.


  • iPad for each student
  • Apps on each iPad
  • Apple TV
  • Comfortable furniture
  • Front seat for presenter

Background Research

Students have been using the iPads for two years in a variety of ways, using a variety of Apps.


  1. Students take an iPad, sit in a comfortable spot, and start playing to warm up.
  2. Teacher explains what an App Smackdown is.
  3. Teacher explains and demonstrates the “face down” rule; which means when the teacher says “face down”, students place their iPad on the floor face down and pay attention to the student up front. As an option, you can tell them that they will lose the iPad if they don’t follow this rule. I guarantee that will work. 🙂
  4. Teacher explains and demonstrates how to take control of the Apple TV with an iPad.
  5. Teacher explains to students that once an App has been demonstrated, it can no longer be used by others.
  6. First student is called up to the front seat, takes control of the Apple TV, and the teacher says, “face down.” The student selects any App they want, explains how it works, and demonstrates its use. They also answer any questions that might be asked by peers or the teacher. This should take no longer than 2 minutes. When finished, the presenting student relinquishes control of the Apple TV.
  7. Teacher tells students to pick up iPads and continue to “play.” They are reminded that the App that was just presented can no longer be used.
  8. After about 2-3 minutes, the next student is called up.
  9. Repeat steps 6 and 7 until all students have had a turn or as long as time permits.
A Grade 2 student describes the Pottery App to his classmates.

A Grade 2 student describes the Pottery App to his classmates.


  • Engagement levels were extremely high.
  • Students were happy to experiment with Apps that were new to them.
  • If the presenting student had any troubles explaining anything about an App, there was a lot of expertise in the room.
  • The students were perfectly behaved.
  • Even the shy students appeared confident because they could use the Apple TV to demonstrate instead of just sitting there and talking.


It was amazing to watch as each student not only selected an App that no one else did, but presented it with great confidence and pride. Everyone, including yours truely, learned something new about the Apps on our school iPads. It was a highly engaging activity that I would recommend to others. Give it a try.

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, 21st Century Learning, Inclusive Education | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

School Should Be More Like Summer Break

As summer break begins to wind down many parents are starting the process of getting their children back into the right “routine” for a

Summer Message on Our School Sign

return to school. They want to assist their kids in readjusting to the structure of a school week so the transition will be less difficult. After all, summer break is a time to slack off, right? Bed time becomes non-existent, evening reading goes away, meal time is sporadic, and all learning ceases to exist. Basically, it’s a break from the long, tiring school year.

As the parent of 10 and 12-year-old girls, I’ve come to realize for the first time this summer that the notion of kids not learning during breaks could not be further from the truth. They don’t stop learning; they stop “doing” school. With the summer break finally giving me the opportunity to read Pink’s Drive and Dweck’s Mindset, I believe the research-based ideas that these two authors present, that intrinsic motivation and a growth mindset is the key to lifelong learning, make a really good case for the very different learning models that education reformers have been talking about. When human beings are able to experience learning in their own time, in their own way, and at any place, the learning is authentic and long-lasting. When this happens intrinsic motivation kicks in, which leads to perseverence through failure, further developing a growth mindset. I’ve watched this play out these last two months.

I’ve watched my daughters own their learning. They have tried new things and failed, only to self-assess and try again with even more determination. Their activities, which have taken place at many different times throughout the day, have recieved their full attention and engagement. They have even reflected on their learning by happily completing daily journal entries at a place and time of their choice. I can not think of a time when they were not enjoying what they were doing.   

In my opinion, “brain drain” does not occur during summer break. Instead, most summer activities support the findings of Pink and Dweck, and if school could be more like this, our children would experience the authentic, real-world learning they deserve and need. This year I will be encouraging my teachers to approach their very important work with summer break in mind.

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, 21st Century Learning, Education Transformation | Tags: , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Student Voice – Are We Really Listening?

In November 2008 Speak Out – our provinces Student Engagement Initiative was launched. During that time thousands of Junior High and High School students have attended Speak Out Forums, Annual Speak Out Conferences, or been part of the Minister’s Student Advisory Council. They have also been encouraged to share their thoughts through the Speak Out website. In recent years it is quite impressive to look at the wide variety of opportunities students have been given to ‘have a say’ in the how, what, when, where, and why of their schooling. Rarely is there a public consultation on education without students being invited to the discussion table. And they have some excellent, innovative ideas about what leaning should look like. Adults almost always leave these forums agreeing that listening to the students was the most impressive part of the evening. But is anyone really listening?

Isn’t student voice an opportunity for them to share their experiences and ideas in order to help the people who make decisions understand the issues that are important to them, then take action. It seems to me that there is a lot of listening and very little action.

Later this month our grade 6 students will be visiting the Junior High School for an orientation. On that day they will tour the school, meet their grade 7 teachers, and be introduced to the school community. Leading up to that time we have decided to give them an opportunity to write blog posts, asking questions and informing their eventual grade 7 teachers of how they prefer to learn. This year, under the watchful eyes of two amazing teachers, they’ve been exposed to Kidblog, Edmodo, Collaborative Learning, Layered Curriculum, Glogster, Twitter, Skyping, Voki, Email, Moodle, Destiny Quest Library, Student-directed Learning, and a variety of other 21st century tools and competencies. They want to let their next teachers know that this is how they want to learn. They want their voices to be heard. Once their blog posts have been completed we will send the links directly to the Junior High School and await their comments.

I guess the big question is: Will they really listen?

Categories: Community Engagement, Education Transformation, Inclusive Education | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a 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

Who’s Teaching Who?

I’ve been noticing some interesting happenings around my school this year. The long-standing relationship between teachers and


students is starting to change. In a slow way and in small amounts it seems as though there is starting to form a notion that the teacher is not the only source of wisdom, knowledge and information around here. As I walk through the school observing teaching and learning it is not uncommon to see student as teacher and teacher as learner. I believe this is because as teachers risk new approaches they look to these digital natives who have a whole different level of comfort with 21st century learning. Here are a few examples of what I’ve witnessed:

  1. Our grade 2 students were learning about a cool new App called Phototangler. I watched as the teacher started explaining how to use it, step by step. Within seconds students were getting ahead of the teacher so she changed gears and just let them play. They soon started showing her parts of the App that she had not figured out herself.
  2. One class was learning about Twitter. The teacher had recently set up a Twitter account herself and was using the school library account @stmarylibrary to show the students how to connect with others. One particular student was very knowledgeable about Twitter and the teacher allowed her to control the smart board and show the class how it worked. The student explained all about follows, hashtags, and chats and in the end the teacher asked even more questions than the students.
  3. A couple of weeks ago I sent the link to our grade 6 blogs out to my PLN to assist the students in receiving some quality comments. I’ve been very impressed with their posts and wanted to share them with others. Low and behold, a college professor from New York  @SocialAcademic responded to my Tweet, suggesting that perhaps our students could motivate hers to start blogging. In the following days many of her students submitted wonderful comments on our grade 6 blogs. Many of them, we hope, will start blogging as well. 11 year olds showing college students how it’s done. Wow!
  4. Aren from grade 6 has become our resident iPad expert. He knows and understands settings and configurations better than any adult on staff. Whenever we are experiencing a glitch with the iPads he either already knows how to fix it or he figures it out. Of course, our division techie is a bit leery about this. lol       

These digital natives that come to us every day are simply not wired the way we were as students.  We didn’t do much problem solving, decision-making, or leading in our own learning.  Those skills weren’t seen as important because when we left school and went to work most of us expected to be told what to do.  This is no longer the case. In today’s world there is more scope for autonomy and decision-making and our students are naturally put together this way.  We need to be sharing learning with our students, not just delivering it to them. I am happy to see that things appear to be moving in this direction.

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

Give Your Library Books a 90 Degree Turn

Last week we made one small change in our school library/media centre that immediately paid big dividends with student engagement. We’ve been spending the past few months transforming our library to one that better meets the needs of today’s learner, and along the way have been tweeking as we go.

During that time our paper collection has been downsized somewhat. Electronic material is definately increasing but providing a balance is the key. I have found that while our older students prefer electronic devices and reading online books through our Destiny Quest library system, young emerging readers still like to get their hands on books where their tactile senses can take charge. When these students visit the library we usually lay out a few books for them to choose from as it is difficult to navigate the packed shelves. We’ve been looking for a way to provide them with more flexibility and choice

So we decided to give the library a 90 degree turn. Now our younger students can easily browse and have the freedom to make the choices they want. It was neat to watch them the first time they encountered the new set up. The engagement level was amazing.



Categories: 21st Century Learning, Education Transformation | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Ask and Listen – An Inclusive Approach

We need to do a better job of asking and listening to our students.  Asking students how they would like educators to support them communicates respect and value for their choices.  All teachers would benefit from learning about a student’s preferred type of support; not just when learning but also in their social interactions at school.  By working with students to determine their need for support we are not assuming that we know exactly what the student needs.

This past week I was assisting my grade 5 teacher with a challenging student who was exhibiting some reoccuring poor behavior.  In the past we have tried various strategies, all of which involved the teacher and I deciding what we thought the student needed.  Each time, after a couple of days the strategies stopped working and the students’ behavior returned.  This time we decided to take a different approach.  We sat down with the student and asked him what he needed from us in order to improve.  At first he wasn’t sure but after thinking about it for awhile he came up with a few ideas.  Working together the three of us developed a plan we could all live with and will implement it next week.  We left the meeting feeling more encouraged than before.  Perhaps the simple gesture of asking the student what he needed will pay dividends going forward.  We’ll see what happens. 

Reflecting on this, I think educator need to specifically teach students the self-advocacy skills necessary for them to receive the support they need in school.  We also need to allow students to make choices about the support they recieve.  They are the most powerful resources in determining how to provide helpful support.  When students engage in behavior that is challenging, they are often trying to communicate something (e.g., I am angry, upset, scared, frustrated, or bored), or they have an unmet need (e.g., independence, control, power, or self-regulation).  The best response is to recognize the behavior as communication and work with the student to determine and meet the unmet need.

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