Tuesday, 22 April 2014

#EdCampSWO Take-Aways: Afternoon

Here's the second half of my experiences at EdCamp South Western Ontario on Saturday, April 12. ICYMI, you can read about the first half of the day, too.

Even lunchtime at an EdCamp is informative! I found some new people to dine with and we chatted about some of the sessions I'd missed (excellent apps for Music teachers, for example) while enjoying a yummy meal at Rose's Family Diner.

After lunch there was a lot to look forward to - door prizes (thank you Tech Smith, Wonderopolis, and all the other generous sponsors!), and the keynote address by GECDSB's very own Doug Peterson (@dougpete). Those of us in Greater Essex have enjoyed learning from, and with, Doug over the years in a variety of different ways. His expertise in many things tech has always been appreciated and it was great to get to learn from him again.

The Keynote

Doug talked about The Best PD. He summed up his talk on his own blog post by saying, "My talk, to the choirs in Tilbury and London, was about the changing nature of professional learning.  We’ve certainly come a long way from…
… to taking full control over our own learning.  There are so many good, contemporary ways to do that and my call to action to the group was to ask them how they were going to make this happen.
He began by asking us to tweet about the best PD we'd ever experienced. Since I was obviously following along with #EdcampSWO it was cool to see the tag light up with interesting and relevant stuff. My best experience was undoubtedly #EdCampDetroit last year where I was exposed to this style of the "unconference". I wasn't surprised to see many people citing today's event or other, similar types of "differentiated" professional learning and collaboration as their best PD experiences.  Unfortunately, I seem to have lost the ability to find most of those great tweets (so much learning, so little time for blogging), but here's a few tidbits:

Personally, the best thing I learned from listening to Doug was all the different online reading and sharing apps and sites he uses. The Zite app has since become a staple in my digital diet, along with Diigo and Packratius. I concur with his idea that "if it's worth reading, it's worth sharing", and I appreciate him providing suggestions of tools that help us do just that!

Doug's Reading Flow

Genius Hour

My first session after lunch was an open call for learning "Who Knows About Genius Hour?". A lot of people joined us who hadn't really heard about or done this in their classroom, but there were a few seasoned Geniuses in the room that I was able to glean from. A lot of discussion centred around explaining what Genius Hour was all about, as well as whether it was something that teachers should/could assess and the value of it in the classroom. There were some secondary teachers among our ranks and it was interesting to hear about the different pedagogical focus in high school and note the challenges different mindsets pose to integrating technology in innovative and relevant ways in the classroom. They were not convinced that Science and Math teachers in Grade 11 & 12, for example, could actually integrate technology or independent study time due to the heavy test/grades/numbers/"is this a credit that will get my child into University?" focus at this level. There were also some Faculty students present, and I think we were all dismayed (but not surprised) that upon asking them if the Faculty was presenting these kinds of cutting edge concepts we were told that they "hadn't heard of these things until today". This mirrors the concept my colleagues and I were discussing during our School-Based Math Learning PD last week wherein best-practices in pedagogical change seems to be "bottom up" - beginning in the elementary schools and being pushed into high schools and universities. It was wonderful to be able to introduce so many educators to this concept. I look forward to future EdCamps where the number of teachers experienced with Genius Hour is greater and therefore deeper learning and collaboration will naturally result!

To learn more about Genius Hour, check out this wonderful Live Binder by Joy Kirr (@joykirr).

A Speedy View of Skype in the Classroom

The final session (which we all concurred should be scratched next year - brain and time overload!) I attended was for those interested in learning more about Skype in the Classroom. A few of us gathered together and again, there were not many present who had used this wonderful tool, so it turned into a very fast teaching session on my end. 

This year, as part of my Annual Learning Plan, I had determined to dive into the world of Skype with several classes of students and see what happened. It was very intimidating in the beginning, because I had never used Skype personally, but I found that there were many more wonderful opportunities and resources than I had first imagined. And once I got my feet wet and figured out all I needed to do was hook up the laptop to the projector and speakers and make sure the camera didn't cut our heads off, I was ready to rock. 

My number one resource has been the Skype in the Classroom website. It introduced to me to the three ways to use Skype in education:
1. Collaborate with other classes,
2. Find guest speakers and,
3. Participate in virtual field trips.

We discussed the wonderful collections they provide for teachers to find and book Skype lessons of all different types and I shared some of the interesting things various groups had experienced with me this year (storytelling with The NightZookeeper, talking with dolphin experts all the way from the Seychelles, taking part in a virtual field trip with four other classes and tours/lessons for various grades by costumed tour guides and teachers at the Jamestown settlement in Virginia, planning & sharing their designs for the green ships of the future, etc.) 

My number two resource has been the priceless community of educators on Twitter, especially those sharing with #mysteryskype. Mystery Skype has been an amazing experience this year. I am addicted and so are the students! I am certain Skype will continue to play a major roll in my classes, regardless of content, because of the broad spectrum of quality, real-world experiences it offers. I hope those who joined me in this last session will be able to report back next year and say the same. 

Make Visiting an EdCamp a Priority

All in all, this was a fantastic event with great engagement and learning. Here's the interactive version of our white board with each session linked to a shared GoogleDoc where everyone was invited to add their notes from the day. A definite score for learning vicariously in lieu of using Hermione Granger's time traveling watch! 
Choose the level of engagement and the kind of learning you need. Come and experience the best kind of PD. If you care about education and technology and you're within reasonable driving distance of an EdCamp, whether American or Canadian, invest a Saturday. Wherever you're at in your journey to integrate technology in education, join us and get involved. You won't regret it.
Layers of engagement. 
Image via Twitter (@mrwideen)

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Math PD During Our School-Based Learning Day! Focus: Open Response & Open Ended Questions

The launch point for today's PD

Today we had a 1/2 day PD session for most of our staff. This year our focus at Parkview is Math. We got to sit with Tara Fuerth, our school's math consultant. I don't normally have an opportunity to participate in school-based PD so it was a treat to get to sit in today (Thanks, Mr. Huggard!).  We were talking about using open questions in our math classes. I don't specifically teach math this year, but I appreciate decent PD so to be sure I walked away with some value for my time, I thought I'd blog while we went and perhaps some of you who DO teach math on a regular basis can gain additional value from my afternoon. Here's some quick notes about what went on.

There was some discussion about how teachers have started clarifying with their students that when using the I-chart (the part when it says "understand") isn't as much about saying whether you understand the question or not, but rather first they need to identify any of the words in the question that they don't understand. This made me think - Wouldn't it be interesting to use Padlet or something else to collect this kind of vocabulary and thinking as they go?

My favourite part of the afternoon was reading about the four strategies for creating open questions in math (from the article Beyond One Right Answer by Marian Small). 

We discussed parts of the article we agreed with and areas of challenge this sort of thinking presents. There was some conversation about how EQAO does not match this shift to "many answers, many questions, same concept". If this is where they're putting the money in support of the research then how is the province helping real learning occur with its continued focus on the scores from a test that is all closed questions? And what happens when they enter high school? Is there open-ended learning happening in the high school math class? Doubtful. It would be nice, but the majority of high school teachers we've chatted with are definitely NOT doing these sorts of things in their classes, particularly the senior grades because "preparation for post secondary". 

"Change in learning is bottom-driven. It always has been," one of our seasoned teachers noted. "Elementary teachers and students will push the change into the high schools and from there into the colleges and universities." I have certainly noticed that pedagogical change seems stymied because of the "prepare them for University" mantra and that University is definitely NOT following the research of what makes for the best sort of learning for students. But I'd never thought about it quite like he said it. I hope that's true, so the change moves up eventually, but I think it's sad in some way that this is the case. 

"There is no 'wrong' way to present mathematical learning to students," Tara said. The concept was there is not one "right" way of teaching, only ways of delivery of differing effectiveness for each student, and we probably won't do open questions all the time and that's okay. Flashback to that quote from Chris Moore I heard at EdCampSWO, "You can be where you are, but you can't stay there."

Doing an open problem at the beginning of the unit allows us to have a diagnostic of where the students in the class are and informs differentiation for the rest of the unit. It's an idea several of us have used: Have the text book for the upcoming year available for students who can already prove that they know this stuff so they can move on, etc. 

Rather than sending the fast finishers and Level 4s to "help other students who are struggling" (who is the trained teacher here? the 10 year old or you?) instead have them plan and use technology to create a tutorial or a lesson or a presentation explaining that concept or the big ideas etc. (plug for tech integration #2) ;)

As always, more time is required for deeper learning to occur. (There's a video here but it may not appear if you're viewing this post on mobile). 

Creativity takes time. 

If an open question does not always have to have more than one answer or more than one fact set, but can simply have more than one strategy then ANY math question can be made into an "open" question by asking for several strategies. But this is generally not the way we define an open question in math. "Think about how your brain was engaged for each question," Tara told us. Open ended questions allow for deeper levels of thinking and (gasp!) creativity, while most closed questions rely on shallower thought processes.

Two questions: One open, open closed.

I also shared this great poster I found on Twitter since it seemed to connect.

 Instead Of... via @sbruyns

All in all, it was an afternoon well spent. 

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

#EdcampSWO Take-Aways: The Morning

Last Saturday I had the pleasure of attending my first Canadian EdCamp. I'd first been exposed to the EdCamp movement last year upon attending EdCampDetroit and I was blown away by the quality of the PD (teacher-directed) and the vibrant community that existed in our area and, through Twitter, around the globe. I hadn't heard about the previous EdCampSWO but made the determination then that I would definitely be in attendance at upcoming EdCamps.

This years EdCamp for South Western Ontario met at Tilbury District High School. They coordinated to be able to connect with EdCamp London, happening at the same time. It was great to have one session as a Google Hang Out with participants in London, as well to stream the keynote address by Doug Peterson from our location to theirs.

For those of you who might not know how an EdCamp works, it is a gathering of technology-using educators and education stakeholders who gather for a day to attend or facilitate a variety of professional development sessions. The topics are decided day-of based on the interests, needs, and knowledge of the attendees. A whiteboard grid is posted in a central location with a handful of session rooms listed and a time-slot. Participants select whichever of the multiple sessions occurring in each time slot they feel they're most interested in and show up to learn. Because we are all grown-ups and we can change our minds and learn at different rates and not hurt anyone feelings when we're honest about that EdCamps are free-flowing, giving participants full permission to get up and leave mid-session and pop in to another one as they see fit. Participants may choose to become presenters or facilitators, as well, simply by adding to the whiteboard the topic they feel they can contribute something in a discussion about. Furthermore, if they're hoping to learn something in particular and don't see it on the board, they can write up a session and state "want to learn" or "who knows about...?" and others who wish to learn as well as those who feel they have some knowledge to contribute can show up for that session.

Image from Twitter via @trev_martin

The biggest problem, of course, is that you can't attend every session, especially if you're facilitating. That was the case for me this year; there were several topics I was hoping to learn more about that I didn't see on the board so I volunteered to facilitate them but that meant that, although we had some great discussions, I felt I'd missed out somewhat on a lot of the other great learning happening at the same time that I couldn't just pop in to.

One of the best things about this experience was getting to meet some high quality tech-loving people from our neighbouring school-board, Lambton-Kent. It was very interesting to hear how a different Board was approaching technology in education and see the good things they were doing.

Here's what I took away from this very enjoyable Saturday...

Session 1: Augmented Reality 
This was facilitated by Colin Pattison (@colinjpattison) a teacher in the Lampton-Kent District School Board

"The Future of Augmented Reality" video showed the possibilities of this virtual world hidden in regular objects. Ie. hold your phone up to the sky and load the weather data, with related graphics.

Colin told those who hadn't heard of AR that, "Augmented reality is like QR codes on crack." Then he showed us two different apps that he uses regularly in his classroom: Layar and Aurasma

I had heard of Aurasma for the first time last year at EdCampDetroit (surprise) and was impressed with the concept but had some trouble with the app so never went further in implementing it with any of my students. It was wonderful to see an example of a teacher who was making it work and to pick his brain about things that were tricky before. At the end of the session we had time to play with Aurasma for ourselves and make a quick Aura as a test.

I learned some valuable things for making Aurasma work:

1. Make sure your Auras are set to "public" if you want others to be able to see them. (You can make a channel and follow others' channels too.)
2. The app will open to the scanner. If you want to make a new Aura, you need to touch the Aurasma icon below the scanner and then the add button, etc.
3. You will be making your "overlay" (the video, or whatever, that will be augmenting the reality) first.
4. Then you will be capturing the image that the Aura will be layered upon. Images have to be crisp, preferably colourful, and unique or they won't take. Also, the image won't take until the little tri-coloured slider bar below the screen slides into the green.

In Mr. Pattison's class, all students create in Aurasma under the same account. This allows the teacher to manage everything students have made because choosing to make an Aura "public" is literally open to the world, as expected. This led to some discussion about whether that's safe or not. The conclusion was that it was, (provided the video and images of students have a Media Release already filled out) - random people scanning and watching the video would have to be in the building to scan the poster or have access to the book cover etc. themselves. (To view book reviews and other interesting Auras check out his channel: Tecumseh8). He also told us that a very short time limit and file size limit exists in this app, about a minute. Great for ensuring that we make every word count! There was also some suggestions for using this app for students with ESL to increase vocabulary by having it speak the name of the object when the object is scanned.

We also talked about Layar. I had never heard of Layar. This is a little more user-intensive than Aurasma. Mr. Pattison told us about how he pastes a poster, for example a title board of the Narrative Success Criteria he developed with his students, to each of their desks and then the students use the Layar app to scan the poster and they get all the content he posted, most recently updated. I thought this was fascinating! His students all bring their own devices to school, mostly iPods, and he has printed a simple colour poster, using it as the marker link and then students get access to all sorts of things they would use to help them fulfill their success criteria, including videos, quiz vocabulary, a slideshow presentation in HaikuDeck, and more!

Screenshot of one of Mr. Pattison's Layars

Seeing this in action feels well beyond me, right now. But it is certainly something I've added to my "things to look into in the future" list! As an added bonus, this caused me to reconsider the usefulness of HaikuDeck as a whole. The slides were beautifully and professionally done. We discussed how the purpose of HaikuDeck is to "force" presenters away from creating slideshows containing pages of 12pnt font that the audience has to read (or worse, is forced to listen to THEM read!), and instead use the slideshow the way it should be - as a series of powerful images with FEW items of text that a presenter then TALKS to us more about. Sounds good to me!

Session 2: Hour of Code - Encouraging Logical and Digital Thinking for the Future

I was surprised that no one had added this topic to the whiteboard already. Maybe it wasn't as well-known as I'd assumed? More likely, it was because EdCampSWO was smaller than some of the more well-established EdCamps (for now). Regardless, I decided to throw my hat in the ring and see if anyone wanted to learn and talk about this. I was pleased to get to chat with about 10 other people, and even more pleased when their wonderful tech people helped me rustle up an adaptor so the Mac could connect to the projector.

No one in the group seemed to have really heard of the Hour of Code initiative and I was pleased to be able to share what I knew about it. We discussed the laptop programs and iPad apps that Parkview's 4-8 students are working on, and discussed the positive results and challenges we've seen with this sort of learning thus far. I'm still developing a previous post about Hour of Code that you may wish to visit and check back on every once in awhile to get some of those details.

There was some discussion about what some of the earlier games had to do with "actual" computer programming since they are designed as drag and drop blocks rather than using coding language. Hopefully, we cleared the confusion up when we discussed how these apps were designed to introduce children to the logical thinking required for programming and slowly scaffold them in to understanding more difficult concepts, such as repeating loops, if/then and if/then/else statements, and streamlining the amount of instructions to fit within smaller parameters. After that, students move on to more "traditional" coding apps that use certain language and numbers to program objects to do certain things. At higher levels, control is released even further and students are encouraged to "code something amazing" to share with the class. This provides a sense of purpose and momentum as they work through the lower levels.

We discussed where this was taking us (better thinkers, independent problem-solvers, and oh yeah, jobs), and how I hoped to introduce the students to programs and apps that actually allow them to create their own games or apps that can be shared with a wider audience. We also talked about plans to introduce Dash (a free, web-based program that teaches students how to use html, java, and css to code webpages).

Session 3: What Makes a Good Leader? (Google Hang Out with #EdcampLdn)

I joined this session already in progress and it was interesting to hear the thoughts of the teachers and administrators from both London and Tilbury discuss what makes a good leader. The overall consensus was that a great leader is much more than just a "manager" and respects the professional capacity of the people around her/him and gives them the autonomy to do as they see fit.

Feel free to check out the Storify I pulled together (quickly) of tweets related to the leadership hang out.

And then it was lunchtime!

More to come in another post about the take-aways from the afternoon sessions...

Doug Peterson's keynote about the best kind of PD

Sharing genius hour ideas

Discussing Skype in The Classroom

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Hour of Code - Extended!

We've introduced the concept of Hour of Code to all classes in 4-8 and they absolutely LOVE it!

There are a bunch of browser-based programs that half the groups are working through on the laptops and a smaller number of iPad apps that the other half are enjoying. I am continually amazed at how well the students are doing overcoming their initial frustration with limited or no instruction from "The Front" and figuring things out on their own. The fist pumps and excited exclamations when they figure things out far outweigh the grumbling when I won't let myself or others just tell them what to do when they're stuck.

My mantra has become, "The beginning of learning is curious confusion and frustration." This week several principals toured our school to check out all the great math learning happening in different classrooms and it was wonderful to have them visit our Grade 8's working on their Hour of Code projects. Perhaps some of the pictures they took will appear where we can see them or better yet, their schools will implement some of these ideas to bring their students from end-users to digital designers.

Stay tuned for more details!

Let's talk about the iPad apps I've found to introduce critical digital thinking to our students. These ones are all free, so that's an added bonus!