Tag: Innovation

Nobody Said It Was Going To Be Easy

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It’s the start of October, which means that last month was the hardest month of the teaching year. In September, is when I lay out the expectations, the groundwork and the flow for the learning in our classroom. With this comes the hardest and most frustrating aspect; getting the students acquainted with technology as a learning tool.

I have heard the gripes from fellow teachers and I myself used to say it too ” They don’t know how to log in! They won’t ever remember log-ins! How can I manage 25+ kids with different devices and access?” etc. The key I finally discovered was that it wasn’t hard for the kids….it was hard for ME. I switched my mindset around and started to focus on how to make it a smoother transition for all of us because I have seen first hand the powerful learning that can happen when a student is using a device as a tool to empower, create and explain their learning. It becomes second-hand nature to have that device ready to go when it’s needed.

I have been asked many times how I manage to get the kids ready to go so quickly and my advice is “Roll up your sleeves, and dive in.” It’s messy, it can be frustrating, it can drive you to insanity, but at the heart of it all you know that it is what is best for them and their future.

Here are a few tips I have experienced first hand that may help:

Use the expertise in the room

You are not the only expert in the room, and I am willing to bet that there are a few students in your class who have done this before or are quick and savvy learners. Put them to work helping their peers. I always tell my students “I am only but one Miss Ariss”, however there are some of you in here who can help me and your friends so we can learn this quickly. If you stand and deliver and expect every student to follow your exact move as you click on your computer…..you will be in for a world of mental anguish. I liken this to going to a PD session and the presenter hasn’t gaged the level of expertise in the room and treats us as if we are all beginners. I’ll be honest, if its something I know already, then I’ve started to tune them out. Our students are no different. You will have kids who know how to log in, who know how to make the @ symbol, and who know how to troubleshoot. Honour their expertise and build a collaborative, caring classroom community at the same time.

Set High Expectations

I know some teachers will print out their student’s emails or login info and passwords and give to them. I find that level of scaffolding to be great as a start….but at some point they will have to rely on themselves. With the exception of the students who I know need this scaffold, I post their log in info on the board and give them the responsibility of logging themselves in. At some point, after numerous trials and errors (with support by me,) they get it. Is it easy for them to memorize and copy their log in info, password and websites? Not a single bit, but they are learning perseverance, problem solving and building their confidence in doing this hard thing on their own. There will be tears, there will be stress, there will be anxiety…but there will also be triumph and pride.

Keep Everything In One Place

Let’s be honest…as an adult I can barely keep track of all of the websites, passwords, logins etc and I don’t expect my students to do so either. I start off small with logging into the computer system with their information and we practice going to our classroom blog. This in itself is a feat because learning that the Google search bar is not the same as the url bar when typing in a website address is just one big lesson. I keep all of the important links that they will need – Google Drive, Classroom, Creative Commons, School website, Government tests, et.- all on the blog for quick and easy access until we are at a stage where they are comfortable and strong enough in their technology use to type in other sites.

So yes, it might be easier to just hit print on the photocopier and hand each student a neat little packet without the hassle of the above, but is it what is best for them or for us? Are we living in a neat printed packet world or is our world digital, messy and requires us to push buttons and try new things?

Integrating technology in the classroom is not easy and it’s not meant for all tasks, but no one ever said anything about teaching being easy. We all just know that it’s worth it.

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Finding Strength Through Change

changeThe word “easy” has never been in my vocabulary as I continually seek those opportunities which lead me to be challenged and pushed to reach my highest potential. If those opportunities are not to be found, I often create them for myself.

This school year has given me those types of experiences, the ones which are challenging enough to grow me not only as an educator but also as an individual. I am not only learning about who I am as a teacher, but who I am as myself and how this influences everyone that I have the honour of working with and for.

I began this school year in a new city, in a new district, in a new school with colleagues I had never met and in a new grade with new students coming in from various other schools. To say that I embraced change would be an understatement, however I didn’t realize that when you leave yourself vulnerable and open to so much change, that it becomes about overcoming and learning from the challenges that come your way in order to truly grow.

The following excerpt was from my blog post entitled 2014 – My Year Of Change & Growth, I decided to include it here because it was the catalyst for me to finish off this school year strong.

“September 2014 – December 2014

When I first started this reflection I didn’t fully grasp or realize the amount of learning accomplished during the final half of 2014 until I started looking at the photos I had taken. I have grown immensely both personally and professionally in these past few months by being active in my new community and surroundings, by embracing the uncomfortable, by being honest and open about my strengths, strong passions and areas of growth but most of all in my own self-confidence as an educator.

I found myself surrounded by communities of support, expertise and varied experiences in an environment prime for growth. This is what I had hoped for and I knew it wouldn’t be an easy journey, but I have never been one for easy. I have come from close to 5 years of independent teaching in small rural schools. I have always planned, coordinated and constructed all of my own materials, units, and assessments based on my own student needs and most recently, students with whom I had looped with for three years and knew like family. I now was in a team of six grade five educators collaborating together on the learning for our students, in a school almost seven times the size of my previous.

Reflecting on the start of the school year, I see now that underestimated the transition into this. It has been years since I needed to share who I was, my true self, with other educators, as when working within a small district everyone knows everyone. My other collaborations have been with educators who follow me on Twitter or read my blog and have a strong sense of who I am. The individuals within my comfort zone, who are my rocks, all know my deep passion for learning, know how excited I get at the thought of planning a unit with my students and finding those connections for them, know that I am honest, genuine and will ask a lot of questions because I have a need to know the why behind everything I bring into my classroom, but that mostly I care…about everything and everyone all the time.

I learned that when working within a large group, fostering a relationship beyond work is essential for the dynamics because once everyone truly knows one another a foundation of trust and an environment where vulnerability is welcomed can be built, however that this also takes time. Effective collaboration doesn’t happen overnight, it needs to be built step by step by each individual party. My sheer optimism and strong will to ensuring meaningful things happen despite obstacles, is who I am however this is something that is shown over time through sincerity and action. I am learning how to communicate my passions, thoughts and ideas outside of my comfort zone and am pushing myself to hear (not just listen) and understand more and more.

These few months also taught me about the power of student connection and relationships. I had worried whether I would be able to connect with a brand new group, but as the weeks went on I started receiving hugs, drawings, jokes, stories from home, open discussions about their lives and genuine interest in mine, shared laughter and that feeling of knowing these are the amazing kids I am so lucky to know and work with every day. I love the community we have built and will continue to grow.”

The first half of this school year was a blur of learning and adjusting to everything that was around me. I felt lost and at times overwhelmed by the needs and expectations I had placed on myself to ensure that students were receiving the best learning, that my administration was proud of the learning happening in my community, that I was building strong relationships and that I was doing everything to the best of my abilities at all times. This type of pressure can be healthy if its pushing you to grow, but it can also become unhealthy if it becomes so much that you feel like you are barely keeping your head above water. My previous teaching experiences truly helped as I was able to find my balance and learned to create boundaries for myself. I began to make time for myself, to be ever mindful of my presence, to prioritize tasks based on student need, to delve deeply into one or two areas and alleviate the pressure  from others. Taking on a positive learning attitude without fear, worry or doubt (which can creep in when faced with a significant amount of change); to one with self-confidence and a focus on student learning will shift your perspective around.

The amount of learning the students and I had this year has been indescribable. Together we faced the challenges of being surrounded by “new” and grew wholeheartedly as a mini family. Any concern, issue, problem that came up whether in the world, at home or in class we discussed together as a group to solve. A level of mutual trust and respect was established between us and I am so proud of the work they accomplished this year. Their growth, happiness and well-being is what fuels me to keep pushing myself because in facing my own challenges I was helping them to face theirs.

As I had stated in my last post Forging The Path, I have grown a considerable amount this year and my focus has been on learning for students and for myself. I needed to take the time to be hands-on getting messy and experiencing everything that life was bringing my way in order to be authentic in my sharing and in my teaching.

So what new learning did we accomplish together you ask? Here is a brief list of everything we dived into this year all of which were new to my students and many new to me as well:

1. Chromebook use & integration as main resource and access to modes of learning for all students

2. Utilizing the Edublog system for blogging and creating individual student portfolios

3. Accessing Google Drive and creating individual student subject folders

4. Students learning how to blog, connect, use google apps for education, embed items into blogs, create links, group chats and copyright usage

5. Google Classroom facilitation for both students and myself

6. Book Clubs with audio recorded reflections which were then embedded into blogs

7. iMovie Book Trailers and summary videos

8. Multiple feedback loops across all subjects and projects

9. Use of in-depth authentic mathematics projects

10. Inquiry-based Problem of the Week projects for mathematics with detailed reflections and criteria

11. Socratic Circles in Social Studies on which region of Canada is best to live in

12. Full inquiry in classroom chemistry with the use of outside experts

13. Story writing in google docs and publishing to iBooks using Book Creator

14. Global Citizenship through Drama where we teamed up with Trickster Theatre on student research of child soldiers

15. Conducting deep research using media literacy skills and citing digital and print sources accurately

16. Paper Slideshows detailing impacts of Immigration

17. Experiencing the power of innovation and freedom to dream through Innovation Weeks and our trip to the Innovation Lab at our local library

18. Students utilizing metacognitive skills to purposefully reflect on learning

19. GoodReads for reading goals, reviews and connecting reading communities

I’m certain I’m missing more and when I look back at it now, I am in awe of what we accomplished this year. We took risks, we had many technical difficulties, we persevered when projects were taking long to finish, we asked for help when we couldn’t find the answers, we took breaks when our brains and bodies needed them, we cried from frustration at times but looked to the support from others around us but most importantly we faced these challenges and grew with and from them. They changed us for the better and we wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

 

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The Chemistry Of Baking Bread

Groups made cinnamon buns, chocolate chip bread sticks, white bread, gluten-free cinnamon bread, garlic cheese bread and tic-tac bread!
Groups made cinnamon buns, chocolate chip bread sticks, white bread, gluten-free cinnamon bread, garlic cheese bread and tic-tac bread!

One of the best parts of teaching for me is finding ways to make learning relevant to student’s everyday lives and future.

We have been learning all about classroom chemistry this term and the topic itself is one of the most engaging and exciting units we have delved into so far. The students are learning about chemical and physical reactions, solutions, mixtures and the three states of matter through various hands-on experiments. One of the main outcomes for this unit was:

  • Produce carbon dioxide gas through the interaction of solids and liquids, and demonstrate that it is different from air.

So, the most relevant way for students to understand this concept was for us to get messy and bake our own bread! And just for additional learning, we also incorporated measurement and math understandings while in our Foods Lab by converting oz to ml, g to cups and differentiating between teaspoons and tablespoons.

My students were so eager to learn about cooking and baking because they see it everyday but have not been able to be a part of it yet and most importantly understand the chemical processes that occur when creating a meal.

Their main focus going into this lesson was observing and creating different chemical and physical reactions, solutions and mixtures while working on everyday life activities such as baking a loaf of bread. We learned and brainstormed together prior to engaging in the Foods Lab and students wrote down their hypothesis and their understandings of the criteria. Each group was provided with the same basic bread recipe and they asked if they could add variations. They worked in groups to determine what variations they wanted to include and how that would affect the reactions they were looking for.

Adding and observing the chemical reactions between yeast, warm water and sugar.
Adding and observing the chemical reactions between yeast, warm water and sugar.
Measuring, observing and kneading. Students were fascinated how dry ingredients came together to form dough.
Measuring, observing and kneading. Students were fascinated how dry ingredients came together to form dough.
Rolling, mixing and kneading.
Rolling, mixing and kneading.
Amazed by the carbon dioxide bubbles which allowed their dough to rise.
Amazed by the carbon dioxide bubbles which allowed their dough to rise.

The were absolutely amazed watching the tiny yeast granules activate with the warm water and the sugar. The shock was even more so when their loaves began to rise and through the glass pans they could see the carbon dioxide pockets.

Here two videos of a few of my students sharing their bread with fellow teachers in our school and explaining their learning:

Sharing with Mr. Letendre:

Sharing with Mrs. Krefting:

When we went to cut their loaves, I heard comments like ” It looks exactly like store-bought bread!” and “This is the best bread I’ve ever had!” I told them it sure is…because you made it yourself!

They also all blogged their reflections and observations on our classroom blog: www.psdblogs.ca/dariss

Next up for us is a Bake-Off Challenge this week with three executive chefs where students are going to be provided with $25.00 and will have to make their own food creations that feature 2 chemical and physical changes and 1-2 mixtures and solution.

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Classroom Learning – Feb. 2 – 13, 2015

February is a short month to begin with and we’ve added a lot of events which have also made for some short weeks. However my students know, a short week means even harder work and effort to ensure we continue learning.

Here is a brief overview of the past week’s learning and what we can anticipate coming up!

Language Arts

Student reading groups have been created and they have collaboratively chosen a book they will all read and reflect upon together. Reading time will be provided in class in addition to our daily Drop Everything And Read Time as I truly believe we need to provide our students with not only time for directed reading but also time for reading books of choice to build their love of books. We will be co-creating assessment criteria this week for their reading groups and get started! They have been so excited to begin and seeing this makes me realize that they love to read!

They have also been doing an incredible job updating their GoodReads and also sharing, reviewing and recommending books they have read. Keep it up guys!

We have started reading Wendell The World’s Worst Wizard together, which is a very detailed, descriptive Fantasy/Science Fiction/ Adventure book. This is a harder transition for students who are used to the more general Fiction reads and so we have  reviewed the characters and their roles as well as the settings of each section together to gather understandings. It is essential for students to connect to concepts in books in order to comprehend so its been quite interesting to hear their take on this story so far.

Our narrative writing pieces will start this week based off of Wendell. The students will brainstorm their characters and create brain cloud maps with descriptive details of their character. They will then create a draft outline of their story. This will all be in their Language Arts folder in Google Docs.

Mathematics

We hope to finish our Resort Report this week or early next week. This includes all of the student’s multiplication equation work in their duotangs as well as their reflections. Their entire completed project will be in their Google Docs accounts and also posted to their blogs along with their reflection on their learning and understandings of multiplication. I am so very proud of their work so far and some have even begun multiplying 4 digits by 4 digits using the strategy they feel comfortable with. However, any additional review of those facts at home would be immensely helpful! We will tie in this learning with Division which starts following the completion of this project.

Science

We’ve had a blast mixing and creating liquids and solids. The students engaged in multiple hands-on experiments last week and documented their findings in their Science folders.

Here are a few photos from last week:

Mixing liquids to observe what happens.
Mixing liquids to observe what happens.
They were excited to document the changes.
They were excited to document the changes.
Working together and discussing hypothesis of whether liquid and solid combinations will dissolve.
Working together and discussing hypothesis of whether liquid and solid combinations will dissolve.
We'll reevaluate our findings of the solutions this week.
We’ll reevaluate our findings of the solutions this week.

This week we will be working on an a project experiment called Fill’er Up where students will have to create a device, mechanism or find a way to move liquids across a solid.

Social Studies

We completed our See, Think, Wonders about both the Arctic and the Great Lakes Lowlands regions and these can be located in their Google Docs Social Studies folder. They were fascinated by Niagara Falls as well as the sizes of the Great Lakes. Each student then created two separate Google Presentation documents with each slide titled with a focus question, which they will have to answer with their research:

Examples:

  • How does the land shape life in the Arctic?
  • What are the challenges of developing natural resources in the Arctic?
  • How are Inuit ways of life traditional and modern?
  • How does climate influence quality of life?
  • Why does this region have the largest population in Canada?
  • What makes this region unique?

This week students will be shown how to effectively conduct research using the internet, how to cite their sources and we will review copyright practices and plagiarism. They will also be provided with written texts from which they will be required to pull information and re-word in their own words to ensure they are able to find the information they are looking for but also to create their own understandings of it. Their individual and completed presentations will then be posted on to their blogs.

Art

Art is one of our favourite subjects. We get to be creative, wacky and representative of ourselves. We have been working on a drawn piece called ‘Falling Backwards’. Students had to trace their hands and feet, in which ever perspective they chose,draw themselves, and then decide what would scare them the most if they were to fall backwards into something. They then outlined their drawing with a Sharpie and learned how to use watercolour paint to create texture. Their results are awesome and I can’t wait to showcase them with you once they are completed. Here are a few pictures of their work in progress:

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IMG_0941Stay tuned for more from LC5B!

 

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LC5 Made The Front Page!

Our learning community’s partnership and visit with our local Spruce Grove Public Library to introduce our students to their brand new Innovation Lab was featured in the Spruce Grove Examiner this week.

Here is the article written by reporter Karen Haynes:

Ella Morrison didn’t seem shy as she belted out the lyrics to her favourite songs during a tour of the Spruce Grove Library’s Innovation Lab on Jan. 16. Morrison was using the library’s GarageBand technology to record her voice. - Karen Haynes, Reporter/Examiner
Ella Morrison didn’t seem shy as she belted out the lyrics to her favourite songs during a tour of the Spruce Grove Library’s Innovation Lab on Jan. 16. Morrison was using the library’s GarageBand technology to record her voice. – Karen Haynes, Reporter/Examiner

The Spruce Grove Public Library’s (SGPL) Innovation Lab is open for business and students from Greystone Centennial Middle School know first hand just how cool this library addition really is.

From Jan. 13 to 16, Grade 5 students from the Spruce Grove school toured the library’s Innovation Lab, testing its virtual reality program, Lego robotics, GarageBand software, 3D printer and circuitry systems.

“Libraries are not just about books anymore and they haven’t been for a long time,” said Leanne Myggland-Carter of the SGPL.

“We are a community hub — for many ages and stages in life… We have intergenerational learning going on. Kids come with their parents and grandparents, and they are helping each other. It’s a community based learning space,” she said.

Dana Ariss, a Grade 5 teacher from Greystone said the partnership between the library and the school was a prime opportunity for students to learn about the technology and resources that are available to them.

And it perfectly complemented the school’s recently completed Innovation Week, which finished right before the Christmas break.

“It was such a valuable experience for the students to see what there is. For them to have one-on-one building time, creation time and play (time), that’s where they construct their own knowledge. To give that to our students is something that is an absolute must,” Ariss said.

From Dec. 15 to 19, Greystone students participated in their fifth Innovation Week. For four days, students are challenged to question, investigate, process and create a final project in an area of deep interest to them.

“They go through the design making process. It helps students to have an understanding of themselves as learners and how to share their learning,” Ariss said.

Focusing on some of Alberta Education’s cross-curricular competencies — knowing how to learn, think critically, how to identify and solve complex problems, and how to create something innovative — students started their projects by zeroing in on what they are passionate about.

“It’s unbelievable the amount of dedication and perseverance these kids demonstrate. It’s something that is important to them,” because they take ownership of their projects, she added.

The projects included sewing, clay animation, creating special effects and make-up art for film, robotics, stop motion, caricature drawing, and others with a focus on engineering, horticulture and baking.

“The main focus is not just on the final project but also on the process: how did they get to this point; what did they learn; where did they fail; and how did they learn from the problems they faced.”

Greystone Centennial Middle School will host its sixth Innovation Week in the spring of 2015. At the end of the week, parents will be welcome to visit the school and see what the students have accomplished.

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