Category Archives: Teaching

Our Mystery Hangout

I’ve wanted to try a mystery video conference ever since I first heard about it on Twitter. As you may know, it involves two classes from different places asking yes/no questions about each other’s location and trying to figure out where the other is from. This game offers so many opportunities for learning that I just had to try it with my students.

So I researched it further and started laying the preliminary groundwork for myself and my grade six students.  First, I got on Twitter to find a teacher that would be willing to try this with us. Once I found a willing participant, Kari Schroder, we agreed to take some time to prepare our grade 6 classes.

In order for my students to start thinking about specific locations in a way that would force them to zoom in from the largest land mass they are on (continent) through to the next (country, region, city), I introduced an activity I call ‘Google Earth Photo Story’. Students had to choose a location, then use Google Earth and Power Point to create a slide show that showed what continent, country, region, and city the location was in. The final product looked like this:google earth

Next, we did a couple of mock ‘mystery’ conferences where students first had to question me then each other about a chosen location. At first they were getting stuck pretty quickly, so we started to developed strategies to overcome that.  We started to think more critically about the questions we were asking and how we were wording them.  We looked at a map of the world and talked about what other features (other than political division lines) we could use to help us zoom in on a location, such as lines of longitude and latitude or using the first letter of the name of the country (“Does it start with A-M?”). We had to talk through what getting a yes or no answer meant for many of the questions, about what we could eliminate.  For example, if the country’s name did not start with the letter A-M, they could deduce that it had to start with N-Z. So their next question could be “Does it start with N-S?”, and so on.  Students soon started developing their own strategies and ways of keeping track of the answers.

The day finally came when we were supposed to have our first Mystery Hangout. I assigned roles to each of the students based on the strengths I observed they had during our mock sessions.  We had a greeter, questioner, answerer, two runners/communicators, photographer, two recorders, and the remaining students chose to be either Google researchers or part of the think tank that sat on the carpet and looked at the wall map, globe, and atlases we had available.  Because of timetables and different time zones, the two classes only had 20 minutes in common. Soon after we made contact we discovered that the other class could not hear us. We tried to troubleshoot and get the technology to work but we just could not get them to hear us. Disappointed, we had to wave goodbye.

Two weeks had passed before I saw this class again. Since that morning, students from this class have been coming up to me and asking if we were going to try another Mystery Hangout. Thankfully, although I secretly questioned whether the students would still be excited after the flop two weeks earlier, I did arrange for another one (through Twitter, with Jessica Weber). This time we would have more time (about 40 minutes), and I made sure the microphone was working properly. The kids wanted to do another quick mock hangout, but I soon discovered that they did not need one. They remembered their roles and worked well together to communicate information and come up with questions. We only got to Province/State in out mock hangout before we heard back from the other class that they were ready. It was show time, and we were super excited (and me – nervous). I spoke to the other teacher for maybe 5 seconds before we turned it over to the students, thankfully all the tech cooperated this time.

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Then I stood back and watched the magic happen. It was incredible, they were so engaged and eager. Everyone knew their role and did their best, and supported one another.  Even though we had a few students get overly excited at times, calling out their question/answer or frustrated when they felt like they were not being listened to, they were quickly able to follow my non-verbal cues to pass on their messages to their respective ‘runners’ as we practiced during our mock sessions. I was so proud watching the students work together researching the location on the computers, helping each other along. They pointed out facts if someone made a suggestion that contradicted them. They re-grouped and backtracked if they got a ‘no’ answer to their question. Most importantly, they worked together with very little interference from me.

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So What Did I Learn That Day?

  1. Student enthusiasm does not fade easily if given a chance to do something they are really interested in.
  2. Adopting a “Growth Mindset” is just as important for teachers as it is for students. Had I given up after the first failed attempt at a Mystery Hangout and not scheduled another, the students would have been very disappointed and we would have missed out on a great learning opportunity.
  3. Giving up control and trusting the students to take charge can lead to magic.

Here are some student reflections of what they learned:

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This post was originally published on the Peel21st Project 188.

Cecil and the Question of Human Entitlement

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image from: Wikipedia.org

 

What happened with Cecil the lion is a great tragedy. Children worldwide are sure to notice and ask questions about it. It is the perfect opportunity to tap into this natural curiosity and work on developing their questioning skills, as well as have some great discussions about needs vs. wants, human entitlement to the earth’s resources, and the reaction and effects of social media in its aftermath.

Lately I have been giving a great deal of thought to questioning skills and how to engage kids to ask deeper questions, particularly those that will inspire them to want to find out more and start an inquiry. Some of the strategies I’ve used in the past included playing 20 questions, doing a mystery Skype, using visual prompts or a mystery item and the Q-chart. However, those strategies usually failed to elicit that deeper questioning I was after.  I came across two great picture books, “The Mermaid and the Shoe” by K.G. Campbell and “I Wonder” by Annaka Harris that help to introduce the concept of questioning for the purpose of inquiry and to illustrate its value.

Then I came across another picture book, “The Cloud Spinner” by Michael Catchpool, that made me think of Cecil the lion. In this book a boy is able to spin delicate threads out of clouds to later make into fabric. He is wisely taught by his mother that “enough is enough and not one stitch more”, so he makes enough thread to meet his needs, to make a hat to protect his head from the sun in the summer and a scarf to keep him warm in the winter. All is well until a greedy king noticed his scarf and demands that he make him one that’s just as beautiful only much longer. Despite the boy’s reasoning that the king does not need a longer scarf, the king insists. He later demanded that the boy make him a cloak and dresses for his wife and daughter. This leads to a cloudless sky and a big drought in the kingdom, until the king’s daughter returns the garments and the boy is able to spin them back into the sky.

It’s easy to see, from an educator’s perspective, why I fell in love with this book. It offers so many opportunities for making analogies to our own lives, to what is happening in the world, and asking deeper questions that will hopefully lead students into rich inquiries. Making the connection to Cecil the lion would provide students with a real life example of what can happen when humans feel entitled to take more than they need or deserve, simply for their own twisted sense of pleasure.

For more resources, feel free to visit my Pinterest boards or share some of yours in the comments.

Cecil the Lion

Questioning

Needs vs. Wants

Using Picture Books to Teach Tech, Part 2

A while back I wrote about my love for picture books, and how I’ve used them to introduce various concepts (especially ones related to technology) in a post titled Using Picture Books to Teach Tech.  Since then I came across several other great books that I have used in my tech program  (or that I can’t wait to use soon) that I wanted to add to the list of Great Books to teach Tech.  Here they are:

But I Read it on the Internet by Toni Buzzeo

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This book is about evaluating, verifying, and citing sources.  Although it deals with primary, print and online resources, it focuses on website evaluation and provides a handy checklist for that purpose.  It also explains the meaning and importance of URL endings (.com, .edu). It’s a great book for introducing kids to online research.  For more about this topic, see my earlier post: I know it’s true…I read it online

The Dot by Peter Reynolds

TheDotThe possibilities are endless for using this book by Peter Reynolds.  It’s about motivation, determination, creativity, believing in oneself, and ‘passing it forward’.  In my tech classes I have used it to inspire students to create their own dot pictures, as seen here: Grade 2 Dot Day Art

It Looked Like Spilt Milk by Charles G. Shaw

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Although not new, I recently discovered how this gem of a book can inspire young artist to see and create different objects from ‘spills’.  Take a look at how we have modified this classic with my students, giving it a different spin: It Looked Like Spilt (Chocolate) Milk

 

The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt 

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In this fun book, the different colours of crayons write a letter to a child about why he should use them more or less often.  Students can have a lot of fun writing a response letter to a crayon of their choice, explaining why it’s needed and why it shouldn’t quit.  See our grade 1/2 example here: Dear Crayons

 

 

 

The Student or the Lesson Plan?

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Our resource centre is in full Forest of Reading mode, with everyone super excited to read the new books.  One of the nominees for Blue Spruce this year is Oddrey by Dave Whamond (@DaveWhamond).  It’s a story about a young girl who’s a little ‘odd’, but very creative and surprisingly positive despite the fact that she does not really fit in at school.   I instantly fell in love with this character and was reminded of some of the “Oddreys” I had the pleasure of teaching over the years.

However, the reason for this post is not Oddrey, but her teacher.  This is the second picture book I’ve read in the past couple of months (first one being Al Yankovic’s My New Teacher and Me!, another great read) where the teacher is portrayed as unsupportive and discouraging of the child’s creative ways.  This made me reflect on the teaching profession, past and present.  At first I thought that these authors may be writing from experiences they had at school when they were students.  Surely, the teaching profession has moved above trying to get kids to conform at all costs.  We have long since realized the value of play based and experiential learning.  We know that drawing on our students’ strengths is the key to their success.  We encourage creativity and divergent thinking.  We do, right?

Allowing students to express who they are and build on their interests in class often leads us off our path and requires us to give up some control.  Are we always comfortable doing that or do we make up excuses so we don’t have to?  We’ve all been there; curriculum needs to be covered, units need to be finished, progress needs to be evaluated and reported.  It’s not that we don’t want to encourage creativity in our students, it’s the conflicting demands of our job.

So what do we do?  Do we make the curriculum and the tests our priority, nurturing student creativity only when we have the time to do so? Or do we make students the priority, encouraging their curiosity and creativity while allowing the curriculum to take second place?  What struck a chord with me in reading both Oddrey and My New Teacher and Me! is how detrimental the former is to the students that we serve, to the teaching profession, and society in general.  I used to think that the most important role of a teacher is to instill the love of learning in his or her students.  I now realize that children do not need us to learn how to love learning; being naturally curious, they love it already.  Our role as teachers is to feed that love through our encouragement, our support, and our guidance.  To paraphrase Sir Ken Robinson (How Schools Kill Creativity), our role is not to kill it with content they are not ready to learn and practices that promote conformity instead of exploration.  In her book Wonder, R.J. Palacio wrote: “When given the choice between being right, or being kind, choose kind.”  Similarly, I would propose that as teachers, when faced with the choice between adhering to our lesson plan, or nurturing the creativity of the students we teach, we should choose students.

My Year as a Blogger

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Photo by: Cortega9

As I welcome this new year, I find myself reflecting on the old and all it had brought with it. 2013 is the year I started blogging. It wasn’t my idea though, I needed a push. Thanks to Dean Shareski, I already knew it was important for me to share, and that I probably had ideas worth sharing. But I was already doing that on Twitter, wasn’t that enough? When Jim Cash asked me to write about my first year as a technology teacher to help others new to the role, I decided it was the right time for me to start a blog.

I’ve been contemplating it for a while, but being a busy teacher I needed that extra push – the dreaded topic. Thank you Jim for providing the first one for me. I didn’t need to do any research for my first post, I was writing about my own experiences so I figured it should be a piece of cake. Surprisingly though, it still took me a while to publish it, I think I worked on it over most of March break. After all; I had to choose what blogging platform to use, decide on a name for my blog, choose a layout, and the format for my posts. Then, I had to reflect back on the year and the things I’ve done in my role as a tech teacher. As I started writing, I was surprised at how much I have accomplished over the year. Not only that, I also started to see a clearer picture of what else I wanted to do and how I could improve my practice for the next year.

When I was finally done, I was excited to share it with Jim and to post it on Twitter. Not only has it been a great experience to write, as it allowed me the time to reflect on my practice, but it was a great opportunity to share and potentially help other teachers just starting out in a similar role. You can read my first blog post here: Tips and Tricks from a First Year Tech Teacher

As happy as I was with how my first blog post turned out, I really did not have much hope for following it up with another anytime soon. Time was the main factor; but also, I didn’t really think that I would have much to write about. I’ve been getting many of my lesson ideas through my Twitter PLN, people who have done really remarkable things in their schools. What I was doing seamed like small potatoes in comparison, what could I possibly contribute? Yet, here I am – ten months and eight posts later. Here is what I wrote about:

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My blog has been viewed in 47 different countries, and my posts have had over 3000 views so far, so maybe I have contributed in some way. Maybe someone out there has delivered a lesson to their students that was based on one of mine and saved some time not having to re-invent the wheel. Maybe they have been inspired by one of the topics I have written about and had a meaningful discussion about it with their students. That is my hope, at least. Regardless of whether or not I have been successful in ‘paying it forward’, I know that writing a blog has helped me become a better teacher. It has forced me to reflect, organize, and even to plan ahead (as was the case with my latest post: I know it’s true…I read it online)

So if you are thinking of starting a blog, stop thinking and just start it. If you’re thinking you don’t have anything worth sharing, think again. What have you got to loose? Whatever time and effort you invest in it, it’s worth it. Besides, you just never know how far your efforts will travel and who they will impact.

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