Tag: Twitter

Forging The Path


I’ve always been a very reflective individual; a deep processor of information. Sometimes I see that as one of my best qualities and other times it feels like a large burden. It is when my thoughts overtake my ability to gain new insights, to grow and to be creative that I know I need to pull away and focus on other areas to maintain that balance.

I have been surrounded by such an incredible amount of learning this year that my focus has been on just that: Learning. My presence has been felt most in my classroom by my students, time with co-workers, on the field coaching and with myself as a life-long learner. My online PLN has contacted me numerous times this year wondering if I was ok, or if something was wrong because the one area I have pulled back from is being constantly connected.

I have learned that in order for me to be the best educator I can be for students and to also foster change and innovation in my passion, I have to grow in other areas outside of my online educational world. I have spent this year reading more than I ever have in the past and pushing my mind to think in different ways. I have implemented new ways of inquiry learning, unit planning and assessment along with my love of technology for authentic teaching practice. I have grown tremendously as an educator by maintaining a strong focus on one area of my career: what is best for kids.

This year has brought me to a point where I am realizing the importance of focusing on one thing and truly dedicating myself to deep reflection and evaluation for growth.  I have found that we as educators rarely ever take time to just learn, stop, reflect and evaluate, myself included and so that is what I have been doing. Reflective time is of the most importance and I have chosen to be mindful in how I spend that time in order to become an educator who will have a large impact on the lives of all students that I encounter and learn with in my career.

So while I continue to have an active social media presence, sometimes in full force and other times quiet just know that I am always there; learning, absorbing, applying and processing. The learning process is one of give and take and I’m now readying myself to not only give but to give authentically based on learning experiences.

Sharing what I have learned is my next step because I truly believe in transparency, openness and authenticity for true growth, however I want to ensure that what I share is relevant, true and something I am truly passionate about. In order for this to happen, I need to teach; I need to be active in my classroom; I need to see and witness the learning process first hand and grow through it. I cannot lead, nor can I seek growth or ask for authentic feedback, if I myself, am not walking the path. I have learned not to deny the world around me as in the Seth Godin quote, but to engage wholeheartedly in it to not only describe my vision for the future of education, but to start on the path of creating it.

Dear PLN…. do you also find yourself attempting to balance your time between absorbing, applying and sharing new learning? How does that balance look for you?



Classroom Learning – September 15, 2014

Today was International Dot Day! A day to celebrate creativity, courage, collaboration and individuality with a focus on making your mark on the world. We celebrated by reading the book The Dot and then letting our creative minds free through a large collaborative group art project.

Mrs. Cameron joined us to celebrate creativity on Dot Day!
Mrs. Cameron joined us to celebrate creativity on Dot Day!

This was so important as it allowed students to connect with one another and also to let their imaginations be their guides. It was really amazing to see how students started with just one dot or circle and then expanded their ideas. Our final project showcased abstract art, Kandanski circles, chocolate chip cookies, beach balls, 3-D images, jersey numbers using pointillism and finger painted dots. It is a beautiful reflection of all of our creative thoughts and ideas.

Our final project! It will be hung up in the Purple Pod.
Our final project! It will be hung up in the Purple Pod.

We also had a guest speaker connect with us and all of the LC 5 community to talk about the importance of Digital Citizenship. Constable Lucas of the Edmonton Police Services face timed us and answered our many questions about using the internet and our technology in positive and appropriate ways. This was an extension to the many daily conversations we have in our classroom about the power of being connected and the best use of social media.


We then reflected and shared our learning with other students on Twitter.

Reflecting on the use of social media and the internet.
Reflecting on the use of social media and the internet.

“YOU” Can Be The Expert!


Lego self-portrait by one of my students.
Lego self-portrait by one of my students.

Our school year began last week, and for both my students and I, this marked the start of many new things. As grade five students they were embarking on a new journey and transition from elementary school to middle school; while as their educator, I too, was experiencing the very same thing.

After looping with my previous students for three years and knowing what their goals and expectations were, I was unsure as to what my new group would need and what I could do to assist them this year.

As our first week unfolded, our focus and direction soon became apparent when our class discussions started to centre around learning, knowledge and expertise in different areas. One of my students said ” Miss Ariss, you are the teacher. You are smarter than us.” To which I replied. ” I may know more things because I have had more life experience, but that doesn’t mean I am smarter than you. You may have more experience than me in many areas, and because of that, you have a lot to teach me.” They pondered this and I wondered if they truly believed that they could be experts in an area that their teacher, who in their eyes, knows everything about everything all the time, was not.

We started an Art project where I asked them to represent themselves as Lego figures. As I walked around and began to assist my students, my eyes turned to one drawing. My student was effortlessly shading, detailing and bringing out his personality in his figure in a way I had never seen before. It only took a few seconds before everyone was huddled around his artwork. I took this as an opportunity to refocus them on the concept we had discussed earlier, that every one one of them can teach all of us something. That every one of them has an area of strength that can be shared with others. We had found our resident artist who has a deep love and passion for artistic interpretation and creativity.

The week progressed and student’s strengths were slowly emerging and not only that, they were starting to see them. Those who were strong in technology were helping those who were struggling to connect and learn while those who were code masters were assisting those who had trouble to unlock their locker locks. The best part to see however was that they weren’t doing the work for others, they were teaching and working with them. They were implementing their strengths.

One afternoon, one of my students said to me ” Miss Ariss, I don’t think I’m an expert at anything.” I replied, ” I know you are, but we just haven’t found out what yet.” I didn’t realize it then, but this stuck with him all day because as the home bell rang I noticed him lingering around the door. I walked over to him and he started to talk to me about the things he would be doing this weekend and then he said he loved to build robots in his room whenever he could. I asked him what kind of robots and what he meant exactly, to which he proceeded to explain to me just how he uses wires, cardboard, light switches, batteries, light bulbs and anything he could find to build and take apart things in his room. As I stood there listening to him and watching his face light up, I was amazed at how passionate he was about this. I stayed silent and listened when all of a sudden he says ” Miss Ariss… I think I’m an expert at making things. Can I make you a robot? ” I looked back at him unable to contain my smiles and just said, ” I can’t wait to have my own robot!”

On Monday he came to school carrying his tools and showed me the most incredible moving car that he had built for me:

My student's homemade part robot-car.
My student’s homemade part robot-car.

He had used a cardboard base, a light switch, batteries and wires to create this amazing robot and he made it for me. His excitement, that what he loved to do was relevant and meaningful, overtook him and he just wanted to share his creation with everyone, especially our AP Jesse McLean who he knew loved electronics. The class was riveted watching him make it run and he was beaming with pride after showing Mr. McLean and having other students ask him to teach them how he built it. He realized that he was making an impact and that his talents and strengths are important.

Most would have been happy to have reached this point, that being an expert means you are finished, but when you are dedicated and passionate about something, your learning never stops. My student went home tonight after watching this Vine video that Mr. McLean took, to refine his machine and try to see if he can alter the wiring to make it do spins.

This is only the start of our journey and I cannot begin to express just how excited I am to help my students to find out what they are experts at or what they would like to work towards becoming an expert at this year. I want to bring out their strengths and help them gain the confidence to grow and truly find their passions. Most importantly I want them to know that they matter, that I will support them and that expertise is something that is constantly evolving as they learn and share with others, that learning and expertise is a process of growth.


More Questions Than Answers

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I used to believe that professional development meant finding answers. That as an educator, I was meant to attend professional development conferences to gather ideas, however the more professional development I attend, the more I realize that for me, it’s about the questions, not the answers.

This weekend I am attending Innovate West, a conference that gathers networks of innovative educators from across western Canada and the US hosted by the Connect Charter School.  I was introduced to Innovate West last year on Twitter and was amazed by the learning that was happening and so made it my mission to attend this year. Now, not only am I attending, but I am honoured to also be facilitating a session.

Today was a whirlwind of activity that has left me full of questions. Questions that I do not have answers for yet. Questions that I know will fuel my passion for education and guide me in growing my teaching for the betterment of my students. Questions that are swirling in my mind with no intention of going away until I find a way to answer them.

The day started with a student-guided hands-on tour of the active learning happening at the Connect Charter School. We were able to walk into classrooms to not only witness learning but to engage with students and learn directly from them. I met with an incredible group of  sixth grade students who were programming an educational video game using Scratch based on Ancient Athens in Social Studies. They had divided themselves into working collaborative groups with each member contributing to the project based on their own personal skills and passions. There was a programmer, story boarder, music composer, story writer, artist and leader. This was incredibly powerful to watch as each student owned his role and because it was centred around their individual strengths, the group dynamic produced an equal and distributed sharing of knowledge. This was when the first of my questions began:

  • What if we were able to tap into each student’s individual strengths and highlight them in such a way so that everyone succeeds, learns and grows?
  • How can we combine student passions and interests with current curriculum in fun, innovative and engaging ways but also ensuring it is relevant to skills they require in the real world?
  • If this can be created in this way in Humanities, how can this be implemented for other subjects?

We continued on with our tour and entered a grade four classroom. I was immediately drawn to the large four-table-long display of what looked like plaster. The amazing student I spoke to explained that they were studying Canada’s ecology layer and building a model of it using a combination of drywall compound, flour, toilet paper and water. They had researched the layer and elevations using the ArcGIS program and were moulding and sculpting it by hand to present it at city hall later this month. More questions:

  • How can we make abstract concepts more concrete in such a way so that students connect to them?
  • How can we collaboratively create something that benefits our community and grows our learning at the same time?

Our tour then took us to what is called the Collaboratorium which is a room for thinking, sharing, reflection and learning. I am a huge advocate for alternative learning spaces which allow students to be comfortable in an environment conducive to their learning needs. My favourite part of this room is that it had Idea Paint or whiteboard paint on the walls so students were free to reflect. Even more questions:

  • Why aren’t all classrooms “Collaboratoriums”?
  • What are the ways in which I can assist my students to create a culture of collaboration and reflection in our classroom?
  • Is our room set-up conducive and reflective of this?

The day led to evening where we had the opportunity to learn from three amazing keynote speakers: Michelle Baldwin, Joshua Hill and Brad Ovenell-Carter. Following their presentations, I was left feeling inspired and hopeful for the amazing learning and opportunities our students can have, but once again I was also left with questions:

  • If curiosity is what drives students to learn, how can we foster their natural desire to question and allow those questions to guide their learning?
  • Is our learning environment one where struggle is not only ok, but a growing and learning opportunity?
  • Do we provide enough time for our students to truly reflect on what they have learned and more importantly what they think they need to learn more of?
  • Are our students cognizant of how they learn best? How can we provide them with these skills?
  • How can we provide our students with more opportunities to experience learning first hand rather than reading about someone else’s experiences?
  • “What if we let our students do work that they care about and want to create because of it’s potential contribution and effect on the world?” – a question from Will Richardson used in Joshua Hill’s presentation.
  • Are we as educators reaching out to our students to find out how effective we have been in teaching them things they can’t find online?
  • We can teach our students to curate information they find, but are we teaching them how to create it? Are we providing them with the tools to be contributors and creators of knowledge instead of just consumers?

As the evening ended, I’ve realized that these questions have been building within me for the past year as I grow in my teaching and being in this learning environment today just propelled them to the forefront of my mind and practice. These are my guiding questions.

Professional development isn’t about finding answers, but about learning to find the questions from which you will grow.


Flexibility Leads To Authentic Learning

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Double checking the continents!

“The best things in life are the things we don’t and ultimately can’t plan for.”

I find this to be especially true for the learning in our classroom and yet as an educator, planning is something that almost becomes an innate sixth sense. As I grow in my teaching, I have learned that the key to having a learning environment that is authentic, purposeful and connected to the real world, an educator must be flexible. Plans are great for back-up, but for me, they can never replace experiences which may suddenly arise that could enhance the learning in our room.

Real life is happening when we are in the classroom and as educators we can either ignore this fact or embrace it and welcome the events of the world into our room. With everything we learn, I try and find connections to our lives and invite my students to find and create those connections as well.

This year, we have been learning about world geography with a curriculum focus on India, Peru, Tunisia and the Ukraine. Our school is located in a tiny rural hamlet, and so for my students to really grasp just how large our world truly is, we have been researching and learning about as many cultures and countries as we can and tying them back to our lives. We’ve connected with classrooms in a wide variety of countries, had guest speakers Skype with us, tried foods from around the world and are becoming global citizens.

Imagining the world and its vastness can be a very difficult concept to grasp. I also know that some of my students still struggle with trying to fully understand this and so when I saw today that Google was pulling off an ingenious April Fools Day joke that could actually help my students search the world, I jumped at the opportunity to have some fun! The Google Maps Pokemon Challenge asks the world to find 150 hidden Pokemon characters all around the world using Google Maps.

Students divided themselves into groups, each with a self-created role (country researcher, landmark researcher, typer, Pokemon catcher), with one iPad and one laptop per group. We created a Google Spreadsheet called @Gr34bears’ Pokemon Challenge and each group logged in to record what Pokemon they found and where in the world they found it.

What transpired next was just incredible to watch! The learning and connections we have been involved in from the start of the year came out and I heard them working together saying phrases like:

  • “They must have hidden them in capital cities! What is the capital of the Ukraine? Kiev! What is the capital of Peru? Lima!”
  • “I remember that in India there was a huge palace! Oh the Taj Mahal….look up the Taj Mahal!”
  • “The biggest city I know is Edmonton. Do you think they came to Canada? Let’s see if they are near us!”
  • “What country has the most people? They would definitely hide them there but we need to find out its biggest city too.”
  • ” San Jose, California… my favourite hockey team is the San Jose Sharks….where is that? How close is it to me?”
  • ” Let’s remember the Olympics …what country and city were they held in again? Sochi, Russa!”
  • ” Google is in the United States, so they must have put more there. What is their most popular city? New York! I know the Statue of Liberty!”
  • “I did my research on Australia. I wonder if they placed some in Australia? Let’s go look!”
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Atlas, iPad and laptop on the go!

They were collectively using iPads, laptops, world maps and atlas’ and making connection after connection. I didn’t even have the heart to tell them we had to stop as it was lunch time. They had already located 73 of 150 Pokemon but they had looked at almost every country across all of the continents and had no intention of stopping. We were also watching the hashtags #GoogleMapsPokemonChallenge and #GottaCatchThemAll on Twitter and they knew so many people around the world were also searching and discovering new places with them.

As I reflect tonight, I am so thankful for opportunities like this. They allow me to witness first hand just how incredible my students are and just how much they have learned and continue to learn every day. The “plans” we had for that period couldn’t even come close to this experience and what they learned and showed me.

I continue to strive to bring the best of the world to my students and if that means being flexible enough to change, switch, or toss those plans out altogether for the sake of true learning, then that is what shall happen.