Saturday, November 8, 2014

Comfort with the Unknown

Over the last few days my students have been using the Chromebooks to explore their GAFE accounts. The only instruction I provided them with was how to create a new Google Drawing and that I wanted them to explore and experiment with Drawing.

As they dove into the task I provided them with, I backed out of sight and observed them. What I heard and saw was astounding. I watched my students log into their GAFE accounts without too much difficulty - and the ones that did struggle (usually a typo with all the numbers they have to input) got help from a classmate.

They all started by creating a new Google Drawing, as I instructed them to do. One student asked if he could share his drawing with me, I said yes. Then others wanted to share their work so he started showing them how to do it. It was exciting to see the students teaching each other - great examples of initiative, leadership, and independence. Then they started telling each other how to do certain things like naming their document, creating shapes, adding colour, using the research feature to embed pictures into their drawing, how to change fonts, and size of fonts, etc. Some students even decided to leave their drawing and create a Google Document! When one student asked another what they were doing, they replied by saying "I'm exploring!". 

With permission to explore, to make mistakes (and deal with them their way), and minimal parameters set for them, the students were in a natural state of inquiry and quite content. As I walked the room and talked to the students I could see and hear the learning that was happening. I could see them building the foundation that will provide them with the ability and confidence needed to take on tasks that will challenge them but ultimately help them build on their knowledge and skills. 

My experience tells me that the students need time to become comfortable with the tools they use to help them learn and demonstrate their learning. Although the students learn how to use engaging and interesting tools quite fast, they still need to familiarize themselves and learn how to troubleshoot. This means that they have to be somewhat comfortable with the unknown and be able to systematically work through obstacles that present themselves. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Bringing the World to my Classroom

My students and I recently completed a great learning activity where they had to identify countries of personal or familial significance and locate them on a map, analyse information relevant
to their investigation, and communicate the results of their inquiry using appropriate vocabulary.

The students had to talk to their parents, grandparents, or other relatives who could provide them with information about a country or two that have personal significance to their family. Students were encouraged to get as much detailed information as possible. After gathering the relevant information the students and I used Google Maps Engine to "go to" the countries (and specific addresses) that were provided.

The time we spent working on our map was a wonderful experience. Here are some of the highlights:

  • each student got the opportunity to share their country of significance with the class - which allowed them to inform the class about how/why what they were sharing with us was significant
  • students got to see, up close and personal, some of the important places that are part of their classmates history
  • students were provided with a perspective of the world that they would not normally be provided with
  • students were engaged and interested in the activity which we completed over several days
  • students had a natural curiosity about the different world locations and analysed the visuals that were presented to them
  • students were open to, and encouraged each other, to share thoughts/ideas about what they were hearing and seeing
  • students got to learn how to use Maps Engine in a way that connects to their lives
  • the world was brought to them - into the classroom - and they were able to manipulate it to benefit their curiosity and learning
  • they loved being able to zoom in and out on the map so that they could see countries from a birds eye view and then zoom right in to a specific location
  • they wanted to play with the different features available on the map (e.g. style, data, labels)
  • they want to revisit the map as we continue to learn about the world and how it connects to our class. They know that they can create different coloured markers so that we can colour code our learning depending on what we are talking about
Please feel free to visit our Map and see the places around the world that mean something to us!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

It's About Progress, Not Perfection

My students learning how to use the Chromebook.

Yesterday my students finally got their hands on the Chromebooks. They were very excited, probably too excited!

Working with a small group, the students learned to do the following:

  • log on to the Chromebook using their GAFE account, 
  • choose a profile picture, 
  • use the Omni box to search for our D2L site
  • go to and bookmark our D2L site
  • zoom in and out to make objects/text on their screen larger and smaller
  • sign out and shut down
By the end of our session the students had accomplished a lot - and I was completely exhausted. Even in a small group situation, there are a lot of things going on and trouble shooting (with students on the computer and those assigned other tasks) always seems to be part of the equation. 

In the middle of what I would refer to as organized chaos, I recalled a quote I had heard earlier - it's about progress, not perfection. 

The beginning stages of preparing students to use the device to assist with critical thinking, creation, and collaboration  involves learning new user names and passwords and the intricacies of the device. The students need to feel comfortable with the tool and have knowledge of common issues that will arise in order to take the focus off of the technology and on to the learning. The comfort and fluency I am referring to comes with practice and experimentation. 

Working away at becoming familiar with the device.

My students last year accomplished many great things with respect to their leaning. It is not fair to compare where my new students are at to where my students last year ended up.

Start up that involves learning how to use a device that has never used before with young children is a tough task. It can be frustrating and discouraging but the key is to focus on practice and progress. Building capacity is never easy but staying the course will lead to amazing things. People who visit my classroom tend to see all the good things - the fruits of our labour, a labour that involves a lot time and emotion. For them to visit and see disarray and confusion would be beneficial to get a feel for what they might expect with a class of 7 year old  children but that isn't what 99% of people want to see and experience.

The purpose of this post is to acknowledge the many difficulties that come with progress and fluency. The pain is short term, the gain is long term. My class and I are in the middle of the "pain" component of our journey but I know that it won't last forever and that is a part of the process that will benefit my students and myself.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Throw a Tablet into the Mix!

One of the amazing things that came out of my time at the Google Teacher Academy was the opportunity to pilot the use of a Nexus tablet with my students. Today was the first day with the tablet in the hands of my students. They showed great interest in using the device and they ended up having a lot of fun.

I started things off by showing them the tablet and giving them a brief introduction on how it works. I used our document camera to project the tablet screen to our white board. When I say brief, I mean it. I showed them the apps they could use, the ones they couldn't use, how to return to the home screen, how to close apps, the volume controls, and the power button.

For its inaugural use, I loaded three math apps - Math Duel: 2 Player Math Game, Math Maniac, and Math vs Undead: Math Workout. I chose to start with math because:

1) it has been my experience that young students require lots of practice when it comes to the basics of addition and subtraction;
2) there tends to be a lot of variety when it comes to basic facts/addition/subtraction regardless of the device/operating system being used.

Another factor that I considered when looking for apps was the fact that I have a lot of 'high energy' boys in my class. It is tough to keep them interested in anything for long periods of time (which tends to be true with many primary aged students) so I wanted to 'hook' them and really get them turned on to the fact that they would be having a lot of fun while working on math basics.

Mission accomplished! They enjoyed playing the games - boys and girls. The feedback they provided me with was quite helpful. Many of the students enjoyed the competitive nature of the games - one game allows you to go head to head with another classmate while the other two apps have time limits. They said that they really had to focus in order to answer questions correctly. They said they had fun and they wanted to continue to have fun. They even said that when they didn't answer questions correctly they would continue to try because they were enjoying themselves. This is key information for me as I continue to get to know my students and plan interesting and engaging activities and experiences for them.

Here is a quick video of two of the students playing Math Duel. They were playing on an easy setting and were quite focused. They played several games and told me after that they would make the math harder next time. You can hear them answering the questions out loud as they work to process the questions as fast as they can. It really is awesome to witness this first hand.

Another student decided he wanted to use the Math vs. UnDead app. I must admit, I wasn't sure about this app because the point of the game is to stop zombies from getting to you by correctly answering addition/subtraction questions. After playing it with my son before introducing it to my students I quickly realized that its cartoon form was harmless and that the students would not be offended by it. This student told me that he liked that he was given multiple choice in answering the questions. He admitted to making lots of errors but that he would improve by playing more often.


In this last video, the student is using the Math Maniac app. This one was voted the 'toughest' by the class. In the bottom left hand corner is a number - the player has to select numbers in the middle of the screen that add up to the number in the bottom left hand corner. There is a timer counting down at the bottom of the screen. The grid of numbers in the center of the screen allows students to get to the answer in a variety of ways.

They called it 'challenging' and said that you really had to think in order to answer the question and beat the timer. One student even said that it involved more than two-three steps to actually get to the answer! I was blown away by the way they were describing this app. Watch the video and pay attention to how the student talks her way through the problem and her reaction when she is wrong and when she is right.

We have had a great start with our Android tablet. The students and I are looking forward to having it mixed in with our Chromebooks. I can already see its positive potential in our classroom community and I look forward to using it to engage my students and meet their particular needs. This is not the first time I have integrated technology like this in my classroom but it is the first time that I am excited at the challenge and opportunities of having only one tablet for my students to use. 

I am excited to be part of this pilot project and can't wait to share our learning with you!  

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Empowering Students One Step At A Time

With the new school year well underway, our classroom walls are decorated with charts that we have created together to support and guide our learning and success. The charts are wonderful artifacts of what we are talking about and our journey thus far. As I looked around the room I wondered how I could have used the digital tools available to me to construct the same artifacts while teaching my students about the tools that they, in due time, will be using to create, communicate, and collaborate.

My wondering and reflection was also sparked by the fantastic work that my son's teacher, +Barbara McCourt, is doing. She had recently shared a Google Presentation that she and her students had created to share their learning about how to engage in doing good research. As I looked through the presentation with my son, I noticed how engaged and excited he would become when talking about certain parts of the presentation. He was providing me with information about the process of the co-creation and the back stories to the learning that was discovered and then recorded.

As a teacher I see this excitement and engagement in my students, but as a father I had not yet seen this in my son with respect to the blended learning that my son is experiencing in his class. The presentation and his excitement and engagement flicked a switch in me and told me that the start of the school year is over - it's time to take the teaching/learning in my class to the next level and provide my students with some digital literacy and further their learning opportunities.

In Social Studies the unit we working on "Heritage and Identity: Changing Family and Community Traditions". We were looking at expectation A3.1 - identify and describe different types of
families. After some discussion and guidance we had created the following chart:

Now that we have identified and described different types of families I asked the students if they wanted to create a digital version of our chart - their response was unanimous yes (they LOVE using the computer and interactive whiteboard)! I told them that we would be using Google Slides/Presentation and that we could focus a little more on how the app works since we did such a good job with the content.

I started by logging into GAFE and going to my drive. The students have already seen me do this many times, but I believe that it is important to provide them with as many opportunities as I can to see me do what they will be doing soon enough. They have also been exposed to Google drive many times because that is where I keep a lot of the things we have been working on in class. They have a familiarity with it and I want to continue to expose them to it as much as I can (gradual release of responsibility).

As we worked together to create a digital version of our chart on different types of families, the students were formally taught how to
  • create a new Google Presentation
  • choose a particular theme for a presentation
  • change font/font size
  • add slides
  • add images
  • create text boxes
  • re-size and align text and images
  • share their work with others
  • the opportunity to create something using technology
As we worked together to create our presentation I could see the same excitement and engagement I witnessed with my son at home. The students love to use the interactive white board and the computer to learn. They assisted in creating the following presentation by physically entering the information and doing the things I mentioned above. This presentation was co-created and all the students that wanted to participate were given the opportunity. 

I look forward to watching their engagement and excitement move to empowerment as they are exposed to the endless possibilities that digital tools and the Internet provide them with. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Journey Begins

I formally introduced my students to GAFE today. They know about the Chromebooks in our classroom and for the last week they have been staring at the charging cart and approaching it as if it holds magical powers. Having experienced and seen the great things that happened last school year, I can't blame them.

They have been asking me everyday if today is the day that they will get their hands on a Chromebook. I am very pleased that they are eager and ready to jump in. They are great models for my colleagues who are still holding back. I am excited about their enthusiasm but I can't let that get me carried away. They require some basic instruction and time to practice in order to be competent and comfortable with what they know.

Today they practised logging in, opening the Chrome browser, doing quick and easy searches using the omnibox, closing tabs/windows, logging off, and then repeating that entire process all over again. I enjoyed watching them practice what I taught them. I collected a lot of data about who was comfortable using the technology, who required enrichment that would provide them with healthy challenges, and who required support to work through the basics that I provided them with.

The next steps will include teaching them how to access and navigate our D2L site. Last year we were 2:1 but this year we will be 1:1. We are still waiting to receive the Chromebooks that will bring us to a 1:1 ratio. Until they arrive the students will work 2:1 which I believe is a great way to start as they support each other as they experiment and play with the technology.

Stay tuned and journey with us as we grow into dynamic and empowered learners!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

"Boom! That just happened" - My Experience at the Google Teacher Academy

David Theriault, one of our many amazing lead learners.
Photo courtesy of Brian Briggs.
My time at the Google Teacher Academy in Mountain View (#gtamtv) was nothing short of amazing. The learning, the people, the food, and the Google campus all contributed to a unique experience that I will not soon forget. Two days of PD went by quick, but the fun isn't over yet. In fact, it has just begun.

Having read about the amazing professional learning I would be part of at the GTA, I thought that I was mentally prepared for the barrage of innovation that I would be immersed in. I am happy to report that 1) it didn't disappoint, and 2) I was still overwhelmed (in a good way) with the learning sessions that were planned for us. 

Without further ado, here are the top ten things that I heard several times, in one form or another, and seem to have "stuck" with me:

1) Challenges can be daunting so it is important to find something that I can connect to within a challenge, something that I am passionate about, and start from that point by taking a risk. 
2) My learning/work space, and that of my students and colleagues is important and requires as much consideration as all of the other things that are considered when working on solving problems.

A panoramic view of Google HQ
3) I need to continue to lead by sharing how I am innovating and the good, bad, and ugly parts that go with it. Show people the beginning, middle, and end of a learning process and the incredible outcomes that can be achieved by stepping out of the 'comfort zone'.

4) Creative leaders find others like themselves, are engaging, and work on sustaining the energy needed to learn. Creative leaders work hard to provide resources and support to sustain the community that they are working with. 

A photo of "Stan", the T-Rex on Campus.
There are flamingoes all over him...Google encourages its employees to have FUN at work. 
5) I need to do what I can to help establish/foster a culture of innovation and a growth mindset - one that focuses on building capacity by iteration (initial learning, improving learning, and trying again until a desired outcome is reached).

6) Get inside other peoples spheres - see things from their perspective and then support them as they start small and establish a growth mindset.

Lunch at one of the campus cafeterias - the food was fresh, flavouful, and unique. 

7) Engage students, empower them, and then ask them to take responsibility for supplementing their education outside of the four walls of the classroom.

8) We live in an interactive world where anyone can acquire knowledge/information - increase focus on higher order skills - for myself, my students, and my colleagues. Technology is not the be all and end all to learning - it exists to influence and augment learning.

Google looks like this all over the place.
9) Perfection is not always required: try something, see what worked and what didn’t work, then adjust based on new learning. It’s a nice learning cycle that ensures action rather than worrying about being perfect.

10) Don't forget about the power of relationships. Rapport and trust can take a team far when working on daunting tasks. People who trust each other are more likely to share their wonderful ideas and take risks!

I noted above that the professional learning was amazing, so how do I describe the people I met and worked with? Amazing times 10! Everyone, including our lead learners and organizers, were kind, passionate, and motivational. Before our arrival, +David Theriault (one of our lead learners and the one who referred to the Canadians as #Maplesyrupedu) suggested to us that we meet and speak with as many people as possible during our time in Mountain View. Boy oh boy, was he right. I took his words to heart and took every opportunity to introduce myself to whoever crossed my path. Everyone else took him seriously as well, as I observed people connecting with others and experienced being approached by many members of the cohort. I am grateful for the ‘risk’ they took in seeking me out and look forward to the collegiality and growth that will most certainly come from the connections that were created at the GTA. I am inspired and honoured to be part of this group of educators.

After reading many of his blog posts and tweets, I finally got to meet David Theriault.
JR Ginex-Orinion (standing) and Jon Corripo (red shirt)
leading us through the "Are You a Google Iron Chef?" session. 

The Teacher Academy wasn't all about work, there was a lot of play as well. We certainly had fun throughout our two days together. There were lots of laughs as we worked together and learned about each other. 

The slide in the main entrance foyer!

One of the many Google bikes around the Mountain View campus. Employees are dropped off on campus and then hop on a bike and get to their particular building/work area. 
Michelle Armstrong and I grabbing a snack from one of the many Micro Kitchens before heading to our next session. Michelle is also CANADIAN!
With a little bit of free time at lunch we decided to have a seat in one of the many outside areas set up for reflection and or collaboration.
Canadian Google Certified Teachers, Mountain View 2014.
Google Teacher Academy, Mountain View, 2014 Cohort. 

With over 70 people in the room, I never felt disconnected from the other participants - it felt tight knit and intimate. Not sure what the secret is, but they should bottle it and sell it.
Speaking of tight knit, in walks +Jaime Casap to sit down and chat with the group. I wasn't going to pass up the opportunity to speak to him and get a photo. 
When I found out that I was going to be a participant at the GTA I blogged about it. I commented in a tweet that getting into GTA would be like winning a golden ticket to Willie Wonka's Chocolate Factory. When they finally let me into the "Factory" I made sure to say hello to +Danny Silva, aka Willie Wonka!

Meeting everyone at GTA was special, but meeting Danny Silva, the Director of the Google Teacher Academy was out of this world. 

As I wrap up this post about my experience at the Google Teacher Academy I can't help but reflect on the family that I am now a part of. As a Google Certified Teacher I am recognized as an 
  • Educator with a passion to use innovative technology to improve teaching and learning.
  • A leader with a desire to empower others in my local community and beyond.
  • An ambassador for change, life-long learning, collaboration, equity, and innovation.
My hope is that I will continue the tradition of being open to and supportive of the people who seek me out, just like the GCT's that I have, and continue, to seek out with questions and ideas. I also hope that the people who come into contact with me don't get too upset when they find out that I will be learning as much, or more, from them as they will be from me. 

It's official, certificate, pin, and photo.