Breathing Life into History

Walking in downtown Charlottetown is like being part of those Murder Mystery board game where everyone dresses up and assumes a role.  Actors dressed in period costumes assume the roles of the a Fathers of Confederation and Victorian women and wander around The Province House area where the notion of a Canadian Dominion was conceived in 1864.  The Historic Queen Square walking tour was well worth the $5.00 and the young actress playing the daughter of George Coles, the 1st Premier of P.E.I., gave a good sense of the politics of the day.  She also took us into the Confederation House Art Gallery to see the historic 1765 map of P.E.I. on loan from England.

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The surveyor-general of North America at the time,  Samuel Holland, made the map from his base camp at Observation Cove and a boat travelling around the island which matches the satellite images today.  So very difficult to fathom.

I also loved the follow up film in the Confederation a House.  The dramatization credits the inspiration and vision of Sir John A. Macdonald in Upper Canada and Sir Etienne Cartier in Lower Canada  in being able to broker a deal for a unified Canada in what started as a conversation about a union of Maritime provinces.  It also acknowledges the problematic absence of the voice of Aboriginal people and woman.  Overall a great model of how we can tell the stories of our past in a way which fuels the imagination.  Last year we celebrated Sir John A Macdonald’s 150th birthday at our school.  This year I have several ideas bubbling!

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Anne with an “e”

imageAs a little girl, I do not have lots of memories of bedtime stories and being surrounded by books.  I had Beatrix Potter books from our dear friend, Mrs. Patrick and a collection of Little Golden Books.  I had a set of Children’s Encyclopedias with actual colour pictures of Pinky and The Blue Boy.  School provided Janet and John, Lucky the dog, Buttons the cat and a father that went to work and a mother who stayed home.  Basically the bulk of my reading had no connection to life as I knew it.

Fortunately the librarians in my life helped me to become a reader.   I was introduced to series of chapter books.  I fell in love with Trixie Belden and stayed up late into the night with my flashlight terrifying myself with the possibilities.  Nancy Drew, Donna Parker, Henry Huggins, Beezus, Ramona and the Hardy Boys also held my attention.  However when the librarian in the Marpole Public library introduced me to Anne of Green Gables, I learned what it was to have a kindred spirit and that living with imagination was a good thing.  My mother was delighted when I brought the first book home and waited for me to finish reading the book so she could reaquaint herself with Anne with an “e”.  In fact I read the series so quickly because my Mom was always in line to read the next book.  My mother did not have a lot of spare cash as a single mother, but she always belonged to the Book of the Month Club and frequented the public library.  The fact that she wanted to read my books filled with me with a huge sense of pride.  She’d make a pot of tea and we’d chat about the book, the characters, the importance of pretty clothes and that people actually die in books and in life.

When my husband was planning our bike trip to Prince Edward Island this summer, my one request was that we do ” The Anne thing”.  I bought the book to reread it during the journey.  And yes, I did take it for the photo op in the garden amidst all of the flowers that she so adored.  YES, I do realize that Anne is a fictional character.  Yet, what L.M. Montgomery was able to so aptly do was write about what she knew from losing her mother as a toddler and growing up in P.E.I. with stern grandparents and a doting but far away father.  Clearly she was able to take her experience and recreate it in the mind’s eye of a kid growing up in Vancouver and little girls growing up in Japan.  The walk down Lover’s Lane and through the Haunted Wood is just what I expected.  She was also able to create such a vivid character that could have been real and would be loved and remembered into adulthood.  When I woke up to the poplar’s rustling wildly in Mount Stewart at the Water’s Edge B&B, I knew that Matthew would be warning Anne of imminent rain and packed my Arteryx jacket for the day’s journey💧.   I can’t wait for the long running musical in Charlottetown!

ProD Inspiration

Professional reading on the topic of professional development largely espouses the view that much of professional development for educators is not worth the time or money. Large-scale conferences or filling the room with a speaker does not serve the attendees in the room. This has not been my experience. I am a whole-hearted enthusiast of professional development in a variety of forms largely because I’ve experienced the direct benefit.

I have actively engaged in “teacher research” or “reflective practice” or “inquiry based practice”, since it was introduced to me under the label of “qualitative research” at Simon Fraser University in pursuit of my MA. I was in my Kindergarten class, creating a body of research with my questions and my students. Maureen Dockendorf popularized this process for wide-spread participation of teachers in Coquitlam.  Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser’s work and subsequent book, Spirals of Inquiry (2013), has continued to provide a philosophical frame and structure for educators to find answers to their questions while maintaining a focus on student learning. There is no limit to the power of asking questions, focusing on our classrooms and engaging in a conversation with colleagues about our practice and the implications for student learning.

Implicit in the asking of big questions, is the quest to find the answers. That doesn’t just happen in the microcosm of our classrooms. Some of my recent questions have come out of the work with the Grade 3/4 class I enroll on Monday and Tuesdays and my computer classes with intermediate students.   I’m working with a small group of colleagues trying to integrate digital technology into our practice to develop language proficiency and extend thinking skills. Our inquiry group has been supported by Audrey Van Alstyn and the VSB PILOT initiative – Professionals Investigating Learning Opportunities using Technology.  We have had access to planning time, regular practical instruction, discussion of pedagogy and the SAMR model with Dr. Reuben Puentedura, the support of literacy mentors in our classrooms and the opportunity to learn from others involved in PILOT via Speed Geeking and The Digital Fair.   The learning curve has been steep, and at times daunting, but always exciting. However the learning does not happen in a vacuum. We are constantly drawing on the background knowledge and ideas of specialists in the field.

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Much of my thinking has percolated on the ideas from professional reading, professional development and the subsequent conversations in person and via social media. I am energized by professional development and I have been involved in many different forms. I would like to discuss the impact of three professional development opportunities that would meet the criteria for a stand and delivery professional development.   Even though interaction is built into the presentations, according to popular research, it would render this style of professional development as obsolete.

LEARNING AND THE BRAIN CONFERENCE (May 2014):

The research on the plasticity of the brain opened up interesting conversation with my father, a retired neurosurgeon and fueled a fascination with the implications for education. When faced with the opportunity to attend a Brain Research Conference in New York, I jumped.  The power of neuroscientists and educators coming together to define best practice is probably one of the most powerful opportunities at our disposal today. Yes, I was one who lined up to have my purchases signed by the “rock stars” of educational research. And yes, then I proceeded to read the books and look for connections with my practice and applications in my educational context.  I have even participated in the follow-up monthly online chats.

INTERNATIONAL READING (NOW LITERACY) ASSOCIATION (July 2014):

I first became involved in The International Reading Association as a beginning teacher in Abbotsford. Level of involvement fluctuated throughout the years, but my role, as a literacy teacher and learner remained constant and the International Reading Association has always been the “go to” place for practical application of educational research. The International Reading (now Literacy) Association Leadership Convention in Tampa, Florida brought together literacy leaders from North America and beyond to share our work with our provincial /state and local literacy councils. I attended in my capacity as the Provincial Coordinator interested in supporting research based literacy teaching.  The connections made with colleagues of like mind has provided a bank or ideas and support to continue with my work in literacy learning and leadership.

PHI DELTA KAPPA – UBC CHAPTER

My involvement in PDK has come out of a love of the cross-pollination that comes from engaging in conversation about educational leadership with people engaged in a variety of education contexts, from a range of school boards and educational institutions. PDK is a professional organization that is founded on the premise of research, generally organizing 3-4 dinner meetings and featuring a speaker or panel to discuss an area of interest to our members. In April (2015), George Couros and Jordan Tinney presented a session: Report Cards and Communicating Student Learning: Leadership & Learning in a Changing World. The room was filled to capacity within the week and the waiting list started to grow. Tinney and Couros engaged participants in a discussion of the possibilities for innovation that exist in the educational context in B.C. to engage and empower students as well as teachers, utilize social media and create digital portfolios to document student learning.   They created electricity in the room. Ideas were also processed via twitter (#PDKedchat )during the presentation and allowed people outside the room to participate as well.

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In each of these contexts, people of like mind and a growth mindset flocked to sessions to discuss the ideas and make sense of the presentation in light of their own educational context. The conversations would continue long after the actual presentations within professional networks, in blogs and via twitter. The connections with other professional development was be processed, questioned, discussed, embraced, dismissed or implemented in hybrid form.

James Paul Gee presented a talk called: The Anti-Education Era: Creating Smarter Students Through Digital Literacy at The Learning and the Brain Conference in New York in May 2014. I was inspired and had a template to build my understanding of what digital literacy needed to look like in my context. At a breakfast meeting in Tampa with Marcie Craig Post, the Executive Director of International Literacy Association, the discussion continued about the need to provide students not only with the scaffolding so they can learn to talk, read and develop thinking skills but the importance of “talk, text, and knowledge (TTK) mentoring” required to use digital tools effectively for literacy development. Tinney and Couros pushed the card with the possibilities for implementation of meaningful assessment and evaluation practices.

When presentations resonate with educators, the conversation continues. Listening to a presentation brings a depth of understanding that doesn’t always come from reading the book, a blog or a twitter post. When people I respect recommend titles of books, I read them or at least aspire to read them! When they ask a question that captures my attention, I think about it. Perhaps I use it to frame my next inquiry project.  I have been lucky to have many opportunities to learn new ideas, consolidate old ones and ask questions. I’ve had the good fortune to listen to amazing professionals with breadth of background knowledge and experiences. They stood, they delivered, they engaged the audience and made me think.   I left the room with new tools, more questions, a sense of efficacy and the inspiration to act. I strongly believe the appetite for this mode of professional development is not going away anytime soon. It represents one necessary part of my professional development appetite.

Book Review: Nine Words Max By Dan Bar-el

Written by Dan Bar-el
Illustrated by David Huyck

Tundra Books 2014 

Dan Bar-el brings his strength as a storyteller to audiences of young children to his work as an author.  He works magic captivating young listeners.  Max, the main character of his story, is every bit as verbal as the author but less successful at captivating his audience.  Maximillian, is a young prince with many questions, the background knowledge to draw on and the tenacity to drive his brothers crazy.  A magic spell limits him to quick jolts of only 9 words at a time.  Sometimes less is not more and the book opens the discussion of the power of language.  David Huyck’s love of cartoons is evident in the illustrations of the book.  The illustrations provide as much information as the text.  Good fun  and lots of laughs for capable primary readers and intermediate students. IMG_0085

Book Review: A Brush full of Colour: The World of Ted Harrison

By Margriet Ruurs and Katherine Gibson

Pajama Press 2014

In the foreward of this gorgeous book, Ted Harrison urges his readers to keep on reading, writing and painting to make the world a happier and more creative place.  Katherine Gibson and Margriet Ruurs tell the story of Ted Harrison’s life and inspiration for his work.  Photographs from his family collections, recollections, drawings and painting  trace his life and work from childhood in England to his eventual move to teach in the Yukon.  He explains that it was the “free lines of nature” and northern lights and reflections that inspired him in a way that has become synonymous with the North.  To quote Ted Harrison, “Art must be part of every child’s education…Painting is the last great freedom.  You can paint what you like.”  This book is a powerful example of a biography, an art book and a celebration.

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Book Review: Taan’s Moons A Haida Moon Story

By Alison Gear
Felt Illustrations by Kiki van dee Heiden with the Children of Haida Gwaii

mckellar & martin Publishing Group Ltd. 2014

This book made me want to go back to the Haida Gwaii.  It is a beautiful book and a celebration of the children of the Haida Gwaii who helped to make it.  The felt work is unique and a fitting representation of the BC Northwest coast.  Alison Gear has lived on the Haida Gwaii since 1996 and tells one version of the Haida moon cycle.  Each page has text in English with titles in both Skidegate Haida and Old Masset Haida.  It is very cool that there is a full written translation and audio recording in the Skidegate Haida dialect upon request.  Initially the book looks like a book appropriate for early primary but the poetry of text makes it just as appropriate for use with older students.  I shared this book with Grade 3/4 students.  They loved the artwork in the illustrations and how you could “almost feel” the texture.  They also liked how the animals that they know quite a bit about, followed the cycle of the moon.  The students currently researching British Columbia and the Haida Gwaii were also thrilled that they were able to garner information to include in the books they are currently writing using BookCreator on the iPads.  Taan’s Moons is an amazing way to consider Aboriginal ways of knowing and understanding that are evolving into written text after being passed down through oral traditions for centuries.

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Lit Circles Meet iPad Revisited

My grade 3/4 students were given a new assignment posted on Showbie.  I love being able to post the text and then add the voice note.  The assignment was inspired by the article “Literature Circles Go Digital” by Karen Bromley , and her several grad students at Binghamton University in New York, ” in the November 2014 edition of The Reading Teacher (Vol.68 Issue 3).

I’ve have usually framed four roles for Literature Circles: Discussion Director to encourage global understanding of the text; Word Wizard to focus the reader on vocabulary; Friend of a Character to encourage a focus on characterization in the novel; and Connector to activate background knowledge and relate to the text. Each reader would prepare for one role for the literature circle. The next time, he/she prepared a different roles until all roles have been experienced.

Karen Bromley et al, offered a greater range of roles to their students:  Discussion Director (3 thinking questions); Illustrator (picture, diagram or graphic organizer with at least 5 words as labels to show something that happened); Investigator (Find information about the story, setting, author, illustrator or something important); Literary Luminary (funny, favorite, powerful, or special parts to read aloud); Mapmaker (create an action map or diagram that shows plot or describes setting); Connector (connections between the book and the outside world); Vocabulary Enricher (find interesting or unfamiliar words and find the meanings in a dictionary); and Summarizer (Write a paragraph or make a list that is a brief summary or overview of the main ideas and events in the story).

Leila Khodarahmi, my teaching partner (Wednesday to Friday) has worked extensively with our Grade 3/4 students using R5 strategies to respond to text.  I have worked with students (Monday, Tuesday) on developing their ability to express themselves in the writing process.  My expectation was that with the motivation of the technology, they would be excited about generating a response that was thoughtful and perhaps even “better” than what I would generally receive in a typical response log.  My goal was to prepare students for small group discussion by completing tasks to deepen their comprehension.   The technology allowed them to quickly generate a response that took a small piece of the text and generate a response, that may or may not have involved critical thinking skills.  For example,

Response 1:  Literary Luminator

Text is cut and pasted into BookCreator.  The student reads the text aloud and downloads pictures.  Their is no rationale for why the piece was selected  or why it is important to the global understanding of the text.

Response 2:  Illustrator

The student draws a picture on Draw and Tell.  The audio is used to briefly describe the picture.

Response 3:  Discussion Director

The student uses WORD to write three questions about the text.

Response 4:  Connector

There is one phrase written on BookCreator loosely referencing a personal connection with the book.

Response 5:  Vocabulary Enricher

Several unfamiliar words are listed with dictionary definitions and downloaded pictures.

During the literature circles, the responses on the iPad were presented to the group and students were impressed with the features of the technology but the responses did not generate discussion.  The response was generally “easy, peasy, done”.   I prompted students to share their thinking and make connections to the text.  It wasn’t clear whether all of the students had read all of the text or understood it.

My intention was to utilize technology to achieve a greater amount of engagement in the task which I hoped would result in a higher level of critical thinking and understanding of the text.  This was not the case.  Students took the path of least resistance to do the minimal amount of work to fulfill the assignment.  They reported they liked doing responses this way because “It was really easy” and “It was SO fast.”  It did not reflect an understanding of the text or an engagement in the task.  They were proud of their responses because the technology included audio or pictures that they could use the technology to get the work done and they thought were pretty impressive.  The focus was using the technology rather than understanding the text.

Dr. Ruben Puentedura and Dr. James Paul Gee have both given me a good starting point for reflection.  I have heard Dr. Puentedura speak on the SAMR model twice.  Although the academic description was interesting, it was having Dr. Puentedura working through the possibilities of applying the SAMR ladder to a series of lessons that I had completed, that was most thought provoking.  Essentially I had not redesigned the literature circles with the technology in mind.  Although students were familiar with the APPS and with responding to text, their focus was on completing the assignment.  I had simply substituted written response with APPS.

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Dr. James Paul Gee has done a lot of writing and presenting about creating smarter students through digital literacy.  Gee discusses the importance of “talk, text, and knowledge (TTK) mentoring” required to use digital tools effectively.   Obviously I need to provide more scaffolding for students to learn about creating meaning in the digital world.  The question is how?

What are the applications that will require my students to use technology to create meaning in complex and thoughtful ways?

What will allow them to create connections with others to help them in finding the answers to their questions or ask new questions?

Are my expectations of digital technology based on the best responses that I was able to cox out of my most responsive students during Lit Circle?

The process of learning continues…

ABC Research Reports

My Grade 3 students in the GR 3/4 class I teach on Monday and Tuesday are doing research reports using BookCreator for The Celebration of Learning at our school.

The teacher librarian in the school has created a strong collection of books on Canada at a variety of reading levels to support the high number of ELL learners in our school. She has also developed a unit of study on Canada to teach research skills to late primary/ early intermediate students. Students used a collection of books on each province and territory to answer questions, develop mapping skills and complete tasks in the library. In the classroom, they used databases to find information.

Once the students demonstrated their ability to find and record information accurately, the Grade 3 students each chose a province or territory to research and share their learning at The Celebration of Learning.

I shared several ABC books that had a specific theme and shared content area knowledge, including:

Campbell, Janis and Collison, Cathy(2005). G is for Galaxy. An Out of this World Alphabet. Sleeping Bear Press, Chelsea, MI.

Napier, Matt (2002). Z is for Zamboni. A Hockey Alphabet. Sleeping Bear Press. Chelsea, MI.

Thornhill, Jan (2012). The Wildlife ABC. A Nature alphabet Book, Owlkids Books, Toronto.

Students Were already familiar with BookCreator and airdrop through our work with Joanne Carlton and Zhi Su, our Technology mentors. Students were given the task to create an ABC Picture Book about the province or territory that they had chosen. The title of the book title was to include the province or territory and the first letter.

ie. Y is for Yukon
B is for Beautiful British Columbia

The challenge has been helping students to choose facts that are backed up with research and specific to the province or territory. “B is for brown houses in the Yukon” does not help us to learn about the Yukon, even though it may be a fact from picture cues in a book. The huge advantage of using BookCreator is the ability download maps, flags, pictures, illustrations from drawing pad and add audio clips. Students find images and share them with each other via airdrop. The challenge is to keep them focussed on the task of using the images to support research.

I’m looking forward to see how this project plays out. I’ll keep you posted.

Book Review: If Kids Ruled the World by Div.11 Inspired by Bailey and Huyck and iPad minis

Written by Linda Bailey
Illustrated by David Huyck

Linda Bailey has created another fun book to engage young readers in reading and writing. Just like the Stanley series, it pulled my students into using their imagination.  Linda Bailey has played with rhyme.  We used the Draw and Tell app on the iPad minis to speculate about exactly what students would do if they ruled the world. Each child saved their pictures into the Draw and Tell App.  They had some great ideas:

If Kids Ruled the World…

It would rain $50.00 bills.

Everyone would get to go to the beach everyday.

It would REALLY rain cats and dogs.

Everyone could have All You Can Eat instant noodles for breakfast. lunch and dinner.

Crustaceans would be pets.

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Student Led conferences via iMovie

Student led conferences with a twist this year.  Joanne Carlton, our VSB iMentor was fortunately available to come to the classroom to guide our learning in Division 11.  She has a considerable amount of background knowledge in literacy instruction and technology.  As luck would have it,  Zhi Su, the VSB iMovie expert was also available to come as well.  We had planned in advance of their arrival so we could make the best use of their time.   The previous week, I has attended a session for teachers and administrators participating the iPad Cart inquiry with my inquiry colleagues.  Although I’ve had some experience with iMovie, the facilitators broke down the process so that we were able to take photos and a short videoclip, then add voice and a music track.  Very impressive for an after school professional development session.  I posted the assignment for students (the list of photos and videoclips for students to collect) on the Showbie APP and explained the purpose with a voice note.  Most of the kids are now able to log onto their Showbie account independently. With student led conferences on the horizon, my Grade 3/4 class were excited about sharing the Winter theme books they had created with their photos from the playground, their winter sense poetry, downloaded images and audioclips.  However I decided to tap student interest in the iPad technology and allow my Grade 3 and 4 students to use the iPads to demonstrate and talk about their learning this term with their parents.   Many parents at the first conferences of the year had expressed they wanted their children to spend less time using technology.  I very much wanted them to understand the importance of being deliberate with time spent on screens.   Students had each collected:

  • a photo of himself or herself
  • a photo with the friends he/she particularly works well with in class
  • a videoclip of himself/herself doing gymnastics
  • a videoclip of himself/herself reading a favorite passage from the book he/she was currently reading
  • a photo of a piece of writing from his/her Thinking Book or Writing Book
  • a photo of the the province/territory or Aboriginal group he/she is researching

Zhi took the leadership of stepping the students through the process.  The first thing he did was show them how to pull up the picture of himself or herself and write their name on it.  Students learned to share group photos via airdrop, add music and shorten video-clips.  Many of our students attend Chinese School and decided that their Chinese calligraphy had to be part of their iMovie.  The more proficient students in the class have been teaching the others Chinese writing to create Lunar New Year cards to deliver to the mostly Asian business owners down Victoria Drive on February 19th.  Many students were proud to share their skill with their parents. We had lots of adults in the room helping the students and inquiring about their learning.  However the sharing between students was readily apparent.  If one student in a working group had music, then it was likely all of them did.  Myles LOVED the ability to airdrop and single handedly taught most of the class.  Jason, a big ‘”Frozen” fan downloaded an image from the movie as the final frame of his movie with the caption “Bye”.  One group of students downloaded applause for their iMovies.  The process was not without it’s glitches.  However everyone had a movie and one more way to open up the conversation about their learning with his/her parents.  Fortunately Henry emerged as our Grade 3 techno-wizard in the process of getting everyone ready for conferences once the mentors were gone.  He became the expert on downloading from iMovie to Showbie so we could share the iPads with our other inquiry classes on conference days.   Parents were simply amazed at how smart their children are and how much they have learned.  As the teacher, the iMovies helped me to learn about my students and determine some of the focus areas for learning.  The possibilities are endless and exciting! IMG_0246