Sunday, 8 November 2015

A reflection on #bit15

Amidst putting the final touches on my progress reports and beginning my major paper for my course due Monday, I was able to get as much as I wanted out of the one day I attended #bit15 this year.

Once again, I was blessed to have been able to share what I'm doing in my classroom. Here's a link to my presentation. I've reflected several times over the past year or so whether or if I'm ready to leave the classroom, and the answer is a resounding "no." The work I share at conferences would not be possible if I wasn't a classroom teacher. It would not be possible without the support of admin, parents and without the hard work of my students.

I'm not usually able to talk to my colleagues at my school about what I learn at conferences, they are just not there yet (slowly but surely they are getting there though!) I tend to turn to twitter to digest and think about what I can take back to my classroom and school. Doug Peterson's blog post today got me reflecting on Friday's learning and urged this blog post.

I think that the biggest piece I took away from Heidi Siwak's closing keynote, yes I was one of those people taking all those pictures, is that teachers in Ontario need classroom teachers like Heidi to share the message: innovation is happening in classrooms right here in Ontario! Education is changing one classroom at a time! Teachers like us, have the power to do that. If you want it to work, it will work! Like Mark Carbone's final words to us: what is your next?

My next is helping a colleague set up her OneNote classroom, helping my students access their first assignment and of course to keep preaching the message, that it's not about the technological tools but rather about transforming learning.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Using the #GRA15 to cover Ontario curriculum 5-7

It's not easy to embark on new adventures, especially when you might be on your own, so it's awesome when you find a partner in crime.

For full video from Bernd Geropp ▶ 1:53
My wonderful college @mrsjacker4 is going outside of her comfort level with this task. She is one of the best teachers I've ever worked with and I want to make this experience as worthwhile, and assessment rich for both of us. We are focussing on oral communication expectations as well as reading strategies and we are hoping our students meet their learning goals.

We will not be able to blog with other classrooms, although we could use the blog feature on D2L for our students to blog with each other. Since I have the 6/7 and she has the 5/6 we may have some takers who want to connect with their friends from the other class. After some diagnostic assessments, I found that as a class, my students need to work on using evidence from the text to prove their predictions and connections. They also need some explicit lessons on genre, which I hope to cover using the independent reading incentive monthly reading log in our D2L discussion forum.

From the Ontario Curriculum, the overall oral communication expectations are exactly the same across all grades 1-8.

Looking at the specific expectation more closely we get this. We are hoping to Skype with other classes as well as connect via Twitter. We will also be doing small group and large group discussions. While the students listen to the story, I will ask them to jot their ideas on sticky notes and they may also respond to this. There are also several documents floating around in social media with other ideas. I may extend it for my grade 7s by choosing other oral texts describing the refugee crisis and events happening right now.

Here's the weekly breakdown. We will be reading Fish and the author has already connected with us via Twitter. Thank you @LauraDron! Before we decided on anything, we had to check with our librarian to ensure the book was acceptable to use with our classes.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

The organizational theory of my classroom

It is ironic that my first course of my post-graduate is Constructions of Organizations not just because I remember a course much like it when I was taking my Bachelor of Commerce but because I always joke with my students that I would get an S in organization. I'm very inefficient when it comes to paper, and there is no paper filing system at home or at school that I'm able to keep up with, hence my need to turn to technology to help me in those inefficiencies. As I'm preparing to present a seminar tomorrow on the birth of scientific management, I always look to other sources to help me understand and I found this video.

I started questioning some of the inefficiencies in my classroom and which strategies I use to increase the productivity of myself and my students, such as

  • Ensuring students follow entry and entrance procedures, silent entry gives me more time for my lessons
  • Having a morning routine for students such as "bellwork," so I can collect the paperwork and check agendas
  • Organizing my classroom - it's a Science lab so if ever anyone needs to find anything, everything is labelled
  • Putting students in rows so there is minimal disruptions and distractions during my lessons and independent work
  • Establishing clear rules, procedures, expectations and consequences for when they are not followed...

But wait...I'm not a production manager manufacturing widgets, I'm a teacher.

If my goal is this:


Then why would my classroom look like this? Why would I try to make everything one size fits all?

Images labelled for non-commercial reuse

Equal isn't fair and fair isn't equal, there may be a student who is not able to follow the same rule or procedure as another, and the consequence will not be the same. I won't photocopy and assign a class set of Math problems because there may be a student who feels stress and anxiety when seeing that many multiplication/factoring/square root problems. Or they are not working at grade level yet and will not feel successful with that work. Or I know that I need to do some pre-teaching for that expectation before they can meet or exceed the success criteria. Or there may be a student who has mastered multiplication/factoring/square roots, for a few years now, and that worksheet will just make them feel less engaged in my classroom. We no longer read whole class novel studies perhaps due to not all students being at the same reading level, or perhaps they won't have the same level of engagement towards that book. There is choice during Language, where I conference with students and together we come up with a personalized goal for writing, reading, and word study. I no longer give a percentage, I give descriptive feedback which on average takes me twice as long to write than marking it wrong or right and putting a fraction/percentage/level at the top.

Sorry I can't remember the original source...

In order for me to personalize the learning of every student in my room, then I need let go of some of the strategies that have worked for me in the past that increase our productivity. But yet I'm a mother, a student, a commuter, I need to make my time at school as efficient as possible as there is no other place where I can meet my productivity goals. Perhaps I shouldn't do extra-curriculars? Maybe I need to work through lunch and recess or not spend that extra five minutes at the end of the day chatting with my grade partners. This in turn will bring down my morale which will in turn decrease my productivity and I will not meet the widget quota for the week...or maybe I will but my quality of life will decrease. I'm not sure, I think I know enough about my mental health to prevent myself from going down that path.

The bottom line is, as much as we try to organize classrooms, schools and the education system, students are not a production line. 

I was very blessed last year, I had 20 bodies in my grade 7 homeroom, it wasn't perfect (always room for improvement!) but I was able to do as much as I could for every single one of those kids. This year I have 24 but it's a 6/7 split. That in itself would make me less efficient as it's double the curriculum. I don't doubt I will have a good year, I'm experimenting with spiralling Math, and personalizing learning goals for them, I'm confident I will be the best teacher for them and I'm up for the challenge. I've taught both grades before, which also decreases the extra time I would spend "teaching" myself the curriculum. But I'm already finding myself going to some of the tried and true strategies, such as giving them notes and practice problems, which I didn't do as much of last year.

If four more bodies and the added Grade 6 curriculum already has me going back to my scientific management roots, how do other teachers out there survive with 30+ kids in their room? I recently read this post by @zbpipe and I can't even imagine what 42 bodies would be like. My biggest class size is 32 this year for Religion, and it is currently being very teacher directed but I do hope to open up the floor to more student centered activities.

I joke about going into the business of education and I wouldn't be doing anything else. I just hope this year is as productive and efficient as the rest.

Friday, 18 September 2015

I love when Grade 9s come to visit!

When I was a primary teacher, I felt like once the kids left my room, they forgot about me. Very few of them would say hi again, even in the playground, even after we spent all this time together, they just move on to bigger and better things. Then I began teaching Grade 8s...and stayed put at a one school. It's so lovely for them to come back and tell me all about high school!

This year especially I keep asking them to report on how they feel about Science. Those Grade 9s had minimal hands on experience before coming into my room last year and it took us a while to get into the routine of designing labs and then using the conclusions from our observations to prove or investigate the concept. They wanted me to give them definitions and then test them on it. They eventually became impressive risk takers and by the last strand they were designing and testing their own original labs. I continue to be curious about whether I prepared them for the challenges in high school.

I'm feeling the same stress again this year. I know it's self-inflicted as the students enjoy hands on and the majority of them use the experiments to explain the concepts, but how do I know for sure unless I'm giving them a quiz? There's 29 of them, how can I possibly check for understanding by just having conversations with them?

It is possible. After six 40 minute periods, after half have performed their lab and observations, I'm confident that most of them are understanding properties of fluids. Even the ones that are still designing their lab are able to explain to explain to me what property they hope to test and what knowledge they are basing their hypothesis on. They did take some notes today on the definitions, but only so they could apply it to the lab they performed yesterday or will be performing next week.

Above  group tested density using boiling point and heat. The group below tested density of oil vs. nail polish.
Since knowledge building online works so well with this group, they continue to post their lab write ups on the discussion boards so they can give each other feedback and see each other's areas of improvement.

I used to think I wanted to teach high school, but I realize this is the place for me. Now to work on my new batch of 6s and 7s and getting them confident in the scientific inquiry process.

On another note, off topic but not, I began my journey as a learner and embarked on my Master of Education this week. I'm registered for it to be course based, but I'm really thinking an action research thesis, if possible, would be more use to me, and perhaps even more interesting...I'm not sure if I can handle that, I have some months to think about it. I do love research and self-directed learning. I can see even graduate education is becoming more of what we want our own students to experience. Any advice for me?

Monday, 7 September 2015

We're ready! Happy first day of school!

Well it's back to school time. I've been planning, making lists, lessons, pinning ideas on amount of preparation can ever make me feel ready for back to school.

My classroom last Monday.
All it took was for me to walk into my classroom last week, that after much anticipation, I will be welcoming my new batch of learners tomorrow. I can't wait! I'm excited! Thankfully, I've been wrapping my head around many ideas over the past few months and the mess I saw when I first walked in was not as overwhelming as it has been in the past. I don't feel as much pressure anymore around perfect bulletin boards and prepared photocopies for the first week. All I had to do to make my classroom feel ready was organize the desks and count enough notebooks. Since I didn't stay late the last day of school, I did have to put things away and do a little bit of organizing.

Last year, we were supposed to get tables so I could replace our desks. Unfortunately, they didn't arrive and I'm going to start with desks in rows for at least the first week but eventually turn them around so they could be "tables." The only thing I could control is saying goodbye to the teacher's desk. Surprisingly not at all hard to let go of, it took two minutes to clean out and push out the door. My teacher area now looks like this.

As far as my lessons for the first week, I still haven't decided what our first read aloud will be (it's between Wonder or Out of My Mind) or the first about me art activity. I'm very tempted to put it to a vote, maybe I will, but the kids might appreciate at least the illusion that I'm well-planned and in control. Since there are two students in my class that I taught in Grade 5, I feel like I have to do brand new things. In order to establish rules, routines and procedures, we will be co-creating anchor charts during our Language blocks. New this year will be the "Learner's Notebook." Formerly the "Writer's Notebook" I may keep all my homeroom writing/reflections in that book.

As a mom who is sending an SK and a Grade 2 back to school tomorrow, to a brand new just-built elementary school, I'm confident they will be in good hands. There is so much anxiety this time of year from parents, kids, teachers (maybe it's just my house?) I wish everyone a great first day back.

The best advice I gave the brand new teacher downstairs last week is, there will always be something on your to do list, but you also want to not burn yourself out. As I embark on a challenging year in the class room (it's a 6/7, EQAO and confirmation!) with the biggest class size since my first year, plus I'm beginning my Masters of Ed this year to boot! I don't want to lose the wonderful things that are on my to-do list...but I will not be my worst critic should I not get to them.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

For the love of reading...

Ontario Overall Reading Expectations

Thank you Aviva @avivaloca and Pernille @pernilleripp, you've got me thinking about reading.

I've always loved to read. Much like Pernille recollects during her Ignite at Nerdcamp, I don't even remember proper instruction until much later. My mother recalls that as an early reader, I taught myself to read before starting school, my aunt had me read her Economics text book to prove it to them both. Although I'm sure they both had a huge part of my developing brain and Science can back me up on that.

Even when the reading homework was at its height, AP English Grade 12, I would spend hours, reading every page, annotating every thought in pencil as I didn't want to deface the book with pen, excited about the things I would bring up during our class discussions. Then during the discussion, I would take notes, which I still have to this day in case I ever get an opportunity to discuss those particular books in my own classroom. Reading is my favourite leisure activity.

My first year of teaching ten years ago I had a 7/8 and we were still doing the whole class novel studies. We read six novels that year for which we read aloud together, discussed, did some sort of written reading response, and a project at the end. Since as a student I had enjoyed conversations about books so much, my Language program was mostly that. The last two novels we did were in Lit Circle format, which was a rather "new" thing back then.

Fast forward to becoming a mother I chose to return from my maternity leave and teach Grade 1. I wanted to learn to teach kids how to read! Our class discussions were now based on picture books, which I read out loud to them every opportunity I had: Religion and Social Studies, to writing mini lessons and of course small group guided reading. How I loved seeing it click! It was magic: first letters and sounds to words and sentences. When my oldest daughter started reading on her own last year, I was so proud it came as easy to her as it did me. We continued to work on reading strategies with the same level of book coming home each week as well as with her library books. Since she was reading at grade level with proper fluency and comprehension, those levelled books did not return to school on a daily or even weekly basis, but that didn't mean we weren't doing lots of other reading at home - just for fun!

Last year I was teaching grade 7 again and I was shocked that in general my class didn't share my love of reading. I laugh when listening to Pernille's ignite. I gave plenty of options for self-selected reading, including reading on their device, eventually some did start to read for information but the unstructured reading time did not go well for quite a while. I wrote a post about how enthusiastic they eventually became. I wonder if it is the list Aviva writes in her post, of things teacher's do, that caused this disdain for books in this group. I also had a "struggling reader" who often would not get reading done for homework, but was the first to find information for any fact checking challenge I would throw at the class.

For the love of reading, like Pernille says, let's become "reading warriors" and not turn reading activities into written follow ups. Let students read what they want if possible, regardless of their "reading level." Make time for them to read and discuss their books with peers. There can be rich assessment from recording "book talks" and not just from written reading responses. Let's not have them make connections or predictions or inferences for every passage in every book. Let them experience the love or reading.

As a rotary team next year, we are hoping to assess reading in subject areas such as Science and Social Studies as that easily covers the first three reading expectations. I also hope Genius Hour will be an integral part of my Language program.

I do worry about them. I'm glad I'm not teaching Grade 8, not sure if I'm preparing them for high school. I'm glad I don't teach Grade 6 or 3, as I'm not sure I'm preparing them for EQAO. However, maybe in high school they will have a teacher who was inspired by this post by @JCasaTodd. If they leave my classroom loving to read again, I feel like I've done my job.

Last year's Christmas gift from a student who  "gets" me
and is herself a voracious reader.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Just keep connecting, however you can...

It's true, we've been saying it for a long time: conversations help us learn. Here's what students are saying. I'm sure there's Science behind it, neurochemistry of sorts, here's an interesting article about that. I know for me, meaningful conversations, however the venue make me feel good.

Yes social media has done wonders for my teaching practice but so have the face to face conversations I've had with colleagues, especially colleagues whom I have worked with in the past where we no longer teach in the same building. I'm a little bit intense, not all my former colleagues like to reminisce about what it was like to work with me, and if the conversation doesn't lead to teaching practice that's ok too, you need know your audience. I also talk to friends/acquaintances who are teachers and somehow the conversation leads us to our jobs. For example:

  • My neighbour, going back to work full-time with three very little ones at home, excited to talk to me about what social media she could do with her FDKs next year, what would the parents want? What would her purpose be?
  • Another busy neighbour, also a mom to little ones, thinking about starting blended learning with her high school students and perhaps something like remind for parent communication, but she's told me we will talk about it late August, she's not ready yet. Although if my iPad had loaded a bit quicker I think she would've politely looked at all the apps I had to show her...
  • A car ride to a 40th birthday party in Niagara Falls, where two of us decided to forego the party bus, so we could "talk shop" and I loved listening to her tell me about how Genius Hour was working with her grade 5s.
  • Visiting a former teaching partner on maternity leave, and somehow getting to the topic of how she was involved in a primary inquiry project and she can't wait to try innovative strategies when she goes back to work. Just this week, we had another conversation about how a small school is probably why I was able to just "run with things" as there wasn't so much pressure (from parents/admin/colleagues) to do what the other four teaching partners were doing. I really hope she's able to find support for what she wants to try.
  • Being at a board showcase/presentation last winter, just before Christmas break, on the verge of thinking that my intermediates were perhaps too old for inquiry, when a Curriculum Consultant, my very first itinerant teacher, took out a paper copy of the Science curriculum and told me not to stress about all the content as she showed me two thirds of the curriculum is the same every year. That's all I needed to just put expectations in front of that group of students and see where it went from there. I will be performing a similar exercise for parents, I just have to find my paper copies of the curriculum.
  • Family members who are retired teachers, some long retired some just retired, I always wait for them to bring up the topic. But a few weeks ago, I was telling one of them about the inquiry based FDK and she says, oh they're going back to that and went on to describe how she was taught that method in teacher's college. Forever the teacher, she's constantly working with my girls on their letters or their reading.

Even though I know people get tired of my shop talk, yes you would rather talk to me about your baby/kids/spouse/news/sports. That's ok. I also love listening, I like asking questions and finding out about people's passions. But, if you've been thinking about talking to me about your teaching practice, open up the flood gates!  I love having those conversations, in whatever venue is possible.

On twitter, I'm a self-proclaimed teacher on a mission to become a better educator #bignerd and #proudofit. Even though I haven't taken a course in seven years, I haven't stopped learning. Social media has been a huge instrument in that for me. Thank you to those who continue to engage in that professional dialogue with me.

Friday, 31 July 2015

I'm doing it...Skype!

Now that I'm becoming more comfortable with inquiry based learning, I wanted to start planning Skype guests for my students, but, it will have to wait until they decide how and if they want to learn that way for the specifics.

There are so many reasons to use Skype in the Classroom

I will hopefully begin with #MysterySkype and cover Language expectations (students writing interview questions, taking notes during the call, etc). We will try to connect with authors, there are so many who kindly volunteer their time to talk to students. If I were teaching Social Studies or Geography, I would do it more often and use it as a way to explore mapping skills and global connections. My goal is to tie it into Science curriculum as well. I would like to connect with Scientists from around the world (specifically tied into our strand). I've signed up for some Skype lessons already, and will need to plan my Science units around that. Ideally I would like to Skype about Math as well. I also hope to tie it into Religion, since we are a Me to We school, I would love it if my students connected that way. With other Me to We schools maybe, a collaborative fundraising effort? The possibilities are endless!

My concern is around parent permission, I found this sample letter that I will rework for my class. I would like to start with people we already know, I'm hoping parents will volunteer to Skype with us from work and maybe there will be family members who would also video conference with us.

Now that I know Google Hangouts works in a similar way, I have that as an option.

Any tips for Skyping/Video Conferencing in the classroom? Would anyone like to share a parent letter?

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Make your presentations interactive!!

Once upon a time when presentations were from the "sage on the stage," I was satisfied with a PowerPoint or Keynote I had saved on my computer or USB and presented to a group of people, be it my students or other teachers. Rarely was I asked to share it, although it was a very huge email attachment! Fast forward just a few short years and I'm more interested in creating presentations that can be interactive and more easily shared...what better way to know your audience is engaged?

I chose the following four presentation programs because they could be used on any device and they are free.


People are calling Sway the alternative to PowerPoint. The more I explore, the more I'm itching to try it out and let my students use it to show their learning. It's collaborative and has some interactive aspects, such as the way charts are viewed. There is also an option to "remix" already created Sways. Hopefully my students will be collaborating on presentations with Sway this year.


Once you explore the Nearpod site, you can see that there are many options for interactive presentations. Teachers can "remix" already created presentations as well as run reports for students, and could easily be used as formative assessment. This is the presentation I'm hoping to do as a Get to Know you activity, as a BYOD incentive for my class.

Google Slides

My method of choice in the classroom has been primarily Google slides. Last year, I had hoped to make it interactive by students adding comments and/or editing slides, however due to my students not yet necessarily participating the way I had hoped, they are mostly informational and help me keep track of my lessons. Here's an example of the first one I made last year. It is very text heavy, I realized later in the year the students much preferred the information in the text book, so I began using the presentations to help me keep track of lessons and resources. This is the last one I made. It is possible to make Google Slides interactive and I'm hoping I can do more of that in the coming year. I found this great lesson on how to do that.

Smartboard Exchange

Last year I had a panic attack when I realized I had a mounted Smartboard in my room. Although I have yet to create my own lessons, thanks to the generosity of teachers posting lessons on the website, I have a few USBs full worth of lessons that I've either remixed or used straight off the site. There are countless games and activities and opportunities for learning.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Sample letter about the flipped classroom

Since we do the bulk of our online work on D2L, this is the type of assignment I would give to my students on a discussion forum. The intermediate students at our school are allowed to bring their own devices, phones are the device of choice for most, with one or two with iPads, laptops and/or surfaces. Any student that wasn't able to watch this video at home, would be able to watch it at school on their own device. For this assignment, students could write, type, speech to text, etc.

Last year as an intermediate division we had an issue with homework completion. Whether it was Math practice work, research, watching a video or posting on D2L, there were a handful of students that didn't do their homework. I would spend the bulk of my recesses and lunches catching them up, or I would have to show the video again in class, while those that had done their work did enrichment tasks. Or if they did complete the work, it was far below the expectations and success criteria simply because of lack of effort. As a divisional team, we are still struggling with how best do address this, not just for flipped classroom activities. My teaching partners assured me it was the age, but in turn, I reduced the amount of "homework" and increased the amount of "classwork" and I told them the harder they worked in class the less "homework" they would have. This worked really well with my group last year and I foresee it being the same with this coming group, as I have taught them before in the past. For this activity, I would probably group them in homogeneous groups eventually and I would work with the small groups to develop and self-assess their questions.

I really struggle with the idea that, for example Grade 7 students should be doing 70 minutes of homework a night when they just did a full day of school. Granted, if they are not using their time at school purposefully, or if they need to review concepts, "homework" is ideal. Having two young children at home, I know my husband picks them up from the bus, rushes home to get dinner ready, they usually play during that time. I arrive after my long commute, we have dinner and then it's the bed time routine. They are only in Grade 2 and SK, but I don't know where I would fit in time for "homework." Of course, should there be homework I would ensure they completed it. Hopefully my parent community would see the value of this activity and my students would be able to easily meet my expectations.

Sample flipped lesson:

Dear families,

In an effort to maximize our lab and collaboration time in class, I'm asking that you support our Science students by allowing them to watch Science videos at home. I usually provide the students the slide show for the unit in advance and I add points, thoughts, and questions that come up during our time together. Please refer to the big ideas and overall expectation of the unit, as well as the content from the textbook.

The textbook is a wonderful resource, but since Science is all around, I like to include current events and local issues in my lessons and that is possible with your support.

First up, please watch The Water Brother's Episode - "Water in all the Wrong Places." The video is about 26 minutes long, as you watch it, students need to be writing down thoughts/questions/connections to water issues in Ontario. Please write down the time on the video as a reference. Remember to pause the video as you write down your question/note. It is much easier for students to do this independently as not all students would have to pause at the same time, which would be the issue if we watched the video together during class.

Example: 0:58 What are the fruits/veggies that California exports to Canada?

Once you have finished watching the video, circle the questions you think will lead to the best discussion. Please reference the questioning circle as you hi-light your best questions. We will be using these questions during our discussions throughout the unit.  Please have the questions completed by the beginning of class next Tuesday.

I will be assessing the following expectations during our discussions in class:
  1. use appropriate science and technology vocabulary
    use scientific inquiry/research skills to investigate local water issues
    investigate how municipalities process and manage water
Thank you for your continued support!

Your partner in education,

Mrs. Skibinski

Unit Slideshow

Friday, 24 July 2015

So many apps, so little time...and some green screening!

Today's iPad screen shot
Just some of my apps

I've explored image manipulation programs in the past, apps that write text on pictures, apps that do collages. I've downloaded them, especially if they were free, played with them for a few days, showed them to my students, and kept on trucking. The potential in the classroom is limitless! In my continued investigation recently, I came across  Mr. Peters' website whose purposeful curricular use of many of these apps is admirable. I like how he's organized it, and I will definitely continue to explore it.

This is my to do list of projects for students next year, so far:
  • Video lab reports, with or without green screen
  • Memes of Science safety rules, or classroom rules
  • Musical parodies of concepts, such as the Particle Theory or the Parts of the Cell or Order of Operations
  • Mrs. G mentioned History news reports using the green screen (I would help by giving some Language periods for this as well)

The problem with these lofty goals, is that we have limited technology available at the school and it takes time for students to develop the technological skill set to create those products. For example, the musical parodies last year took all term to make. The Science videos took most of the unit. I felt like I didn't cover as much content, because we spent so much class time creating the product.

My solution became assessing the process, such as the script and story board for the video as well as making projects as cross-curricular as possible (Science, Oral, Media, Writing).

In the end it was worth it. We were proud of the Science videos, we shared them and viewed them several times. I don't think a final exam would've had the same effect.

Next year as we continue to explore creating complex media products, these are the more useful tutorials I found to help us as we experiment with green screens.


Windows MovieMaker

Should we have more than 8 iPads available, we may be able to use DoInk, as it seems to be the green screen app of choice, and if you follow them on twitter, teachers are posting some fantastic examples.

How do you make time for creating? What are your challenges as you create and cover curriculum?

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Reflection about using audio tools

I don't think I was ever tested on the type of learner that I am, although the more I learn the more I realize I like to read information and I like to see a picture of a concept that I find difficult. For example, I had to watch several videos of osmosis and diffusion last year before I did the lesson with the grade 8s. I suppose this all makes me a visual learner.

However I do realize that I have to teach students who are audio learners and I have used audio tools in the classroom. Here's my audio reflection and even though I would prefer to write a blog post or do a Powtoons, or read off of a presentation with a screen's just the Audio Reflection and the script (in case you are like me and you like to read along).

With technology making it so easy for students to edit and create audio products, here's a complex media product that I hope we can make for Science concepts this year.

The most important thing for teachers to consider is, that since we are catering to many different learners and preferences, differentiation of content and product is key. Just like I told my Grade 8s this past year, as students, you need to ensure that you tell your teacher how you prefer to learn and show your learning. As teachers, we need to listen to these voices, even if we need more than just the audio.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Our Journey with Podcasts

Last year, the fabulous Mrs. Ciarloni and her husband, long time fans of The Vinyl Cafe stories with Stuart McLean,  thought it may be fun for the intermediates to analyze podcasts and write their own. Between the three rotary teachers, each one of us picked two shows and we wrote questions for students to answer while they listened to the podcast and then discuss after in groups or as a class. Some of the stories are not K-12 appropriate, but this one I did we could probably use with 5 and 6s as well. Pet's Podcast with Questions and Answers (Google Doc)

As an extension, I thought kids could find their own podcast, write their own questions and I could put it in our D2L discussion forums for my early finishers. But after six weeks, we were ready to move on.

We also had an opportunity to see Stuart McLean live and attend a podcast in December. Yes, we took a busload of intermediate kids to downtown Hamilton and it was a blast! Several of the parents were jealous of our adventure.

After the listening unit, we then wrote narrative stories. Here's a blog post about that process. I had encouraged students to submit their stories to the show, but I left it up to them. Lastly, we created our own podcasts. I didn't keep any samples of the students' podcasts, but we did play them for family who came to be our "audience," and if they couldn't attend, they had a digital version they were able to share with them. I received positive feedback from parents.

Here's my podcast created on Garageband. The podcast is written by me and the songs I have purchased and are stored in my iTunes library. It's not perfect and as a class we had a bit of a competition to see who could give the most feedback for me to improve. It only took me about an hour to do, but when they created their's at school, we used Audacity, iMovie and a combination of several devices as well. Some recorded their parts at home and brought them to school to compile while others took their group's recordings home to compile. It took my students about a week to create the podcast, but the writing of the podcast really did take several months. Here's a link to the assignment and rubric.

This ended up being a yearlong project that took us until close to the end of June to finish and I'm glad I stuck it out with my class, as the other intermediate classes finished their podcasts shortly after Christmas break, I didn't want to rush ours.

Thank you to Stuart McLean and CBC for the inspiration!

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Tech tools I want to try.

These are the three new to me tools I will be trying next year.


Created by Brian Aspinall, this website intrigues me because I've been looking for a way to report on the learning skills more efficiently to parents. For example, currently I use a homework book where I write down the missed homework on a sticky note, then I have to write them down on their homework page and then, I have to photocopy that homework page after 10 missed assignments or once a month, which ever comes first. I could award a mettle for no missed assignments and I could also make a note on Edmettle every time there is a missed assignment. Plus, we can add teachers to our class and comment, since we do a lot of rotary in our division. Once teachers have awarded mettles on the learning skills, I can download a word document and possibly use those comments for report cards. Parents have access to those comments as well as the website provides a parent code. Here is a guided tour from the creator.

No Red Ink

After the success I had with Prodigy last year, I realize students like using games for review so I thought I would give this a try.
I assign minimal homework on a daily basis, but some parents do ask me for extra review, and I would be able to track student progress, without necessarily using it for assessment. Hopefully their grammar skills would improve as did their Math skills when they would play Prodigy. Plus, since I will have the split again, this is something that could be left for my early finishers while I'm working with small groups.


This blog post really spells out why OneNote would be a great asset to my classroom and students. Since students already have Microsoft accounts, whereas my Google accounts would need to be created and managed, I could start using this right away in September. We have several laptops, surfaces and of course we encourage BYOD and OneNote is device agnostic and can be accessed on or offline. OneNote would be the perfect place for students to keep track of their inquiries and questions as well as any rough drafts of writing assignments.

I'm really looking forward to using these tools with my students next year!

It's Delicious!!

I recently joined the social bookmarking site Delicious. In my investigation I ran into some how to videos and a great article from one of my favourite websites, Edutopia. However, this article is from 2007 and the video I found is from 2012. A more recent blog post from @bloggucation does bring up some interesting points on how to use Delicious as well. I've added the button to my favourites and I'm ready to start bookmarking websites and tagging!

I could see this as an alternative to twitter. I would continue to use the hashtags I use to organize resources for my classes. Since my teaching partners are anti-twitter, we could create an account and add bookmarks to it together (although we've done that before on Google Docs). Plus, I'm spending a lot of time tracking my websites that I do retweet, it would be nice to tag them in one spot.

I started adding some resources from this Hoax website list onto my Delicious account (@omskibinski). When we do our first research lesson with the students I'm going to have them pick one of the #acsnsci research articles that I've tagged and to use Science to prove the information is wrong. What better way to show their Science knowledge and their critical thinking!

After using the hashtag #hoax to search on Delicious I was able to find even more I could stop and add to my list and even tag as #acsnhist or #acsngeo for my teaching partner. I look forward to continue to explore Delicious.

Put your critical thinking caps on!!

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Google vs. Microsoft...I remain neutral

First off, I'm mostly a Google Aps user. I keep my teaching documents/resources on the Drive and I'm loving the Google+ forum. We recently received approval at my school to start using Google classroom in the fall. We also have the option of using Microsoft 365. I have been wanting to try it since James Gill's @jagill presentation at Connect last spring. Although, Andrew Campbell's @acampbell99 thoughts on "Five Reasons NOT to use EdTech" also had me thinking about labelling myself or my classroom with a brand. I think I will continue to use the D2L LMS environment for now, since when it comes to EdTech, I seem to continue to be a jack of all trades and a master of none.

As far as my Google Aps usage, I put all my lessons on Slides and my assignments on Docs and link into D2L or twitter. I haven't used GAFE as collaboration tools with my students, mostly because I didn't have admin approval until now, but I have with my teaching colleagues for the past two years. I was able to figure out how to collaborate using D2L discussion forums, although it may not be to the same extent as GAFE.

A few general pros and cons of Google vs. Office 365
  • Office 365 will prompt to reenter the password when accessing sensitive information, I often must log off other people from their Google account
  • There is more storage on Google Drive, Office 365 OneDrive has 15G as well, but any Google Doc or slide (what I use) counts as free storage 
  • I much prefer Outlook over Gmail, probably out of habit, but from my iPad or iPhone they are both the same
  • Office 365 may be accessed offline, not so much for Google Drive, but you could download any documents for offline use
  • They are both just as easy to collaborate/share documents with using links
  • Either is a good option for students to have cloud storage (no more lost USBs!)
  • Excel survey seems to be the alternative to Google Forms
However, I keep hearing about Sway:

I will be definitely trying Sway out with my students in the fall. We currently have four first version surface tablets that I'm hoping I can use for this, but we can also use the laptops or ipads. Here's something that one of our fabulous teachers, Miss Dorland @MsD_QOH did with her Grade 2 students using Sway:

Not only is Skyping one of my next steps as well, but wouldn't it be amazing to collaborate this way with another classroom?

In the end, it's all preference and accessibility. What's your best tool for the purpose?

Monday, 13 July 2015

Did you know...D2L and the OERB

The OERB, one of the best resources around for Ontario teachers!

If you try to log into the OERB and you get this screen

You may need to contact your local school board to gain access.

But if you are already using the D2L LMS and you log in using this screen

you are already have access to all the wonderful resources available!

Embedding OERB content

As mentioned in this previous post, the D2L LMS, also known as elearningontario, gives great opportunities for differentiation. I like using the interactive learning objects in the OERB as stand alone activities for my IEP students. Here is an example of how it can be embedded into a widget or discussion.

I had the pleasure of working with Mr. Iaoce for a CODE project last spring and he mentioned to me he had some lessons on YouTube for loading content onto D2L so his links are below as well.

Mr. Iacoe's OERB video
Mr. Iacoe's content video

He does it a bit different than my video above. I would imagine that if you download any units from the OERB into a file, you could follow the second video to load it onto D2L.

There will be more posts coming about using ministry content in the OERB for your D2L. I was once asked if you could have access to this content without having the students log into D2L, unfortunately my short answer was no, because once I started using D2L and realized how easy it was to give my students engaging content, I didn't look for another alternative. Have you used the OERB resources without using elearningontario?

Sunday, 12 July 2015

A thank you to (some of) my favourite edubloggers!

My bookmarks as of today
I do love reading edublogs, mostly because of the great ideas I can use in my classroom. I've taught six grades in four years, it grew out of necessity and the fact that the people in my building couldn't necessarily share the same things with me as at one point or another, we would both be teaching the same group of kids. I would find an idea on Pinterest and it would lead me to an edublog, where I would find a lesson or a resource. Or I would find someone on twitter and it would lead me to their edublog. But the following edubloggers I've had the pleasure to meet in person and have pushed my practice just at little bit at just the right time!

The Principal of Change by George Couros

I saw George speak as a key note at the "Connecting with Others in a Digital World." Among his many wonderful messages, he showed us an image similar to this one. I reflected on how I primarily used technology to connect with my family and friends overseas, who happen to be most of my family. I used to email my grandpa fifteen years ago shortly before he died, who taught himself this new technology, so that he could stay in touch with us. If he had been around to do Facebook, he would have loved it! I was new to blended learning and I really liked the discussion forums, but I had encountered some negativity at my school about using BYOD or other tech, George gave me the push I needed to continue to use technology to enhance learning in my class, despite what other voices around me might say. His clear message, "technology will never replace great teachers, but technology in the hands of great teachers can be transformational."

Brian Aspinall, CV - Dork. Teacher. Blogger. Speaker

I'm not sure how I began to follow Brian Aspinall. He does some really exciting things in his class with coding, which is still a next step for me, but he is not just a coding teacher. Although thanks to what he's posted on his YouTube channel I have a better idea of where to start in September. After I heard him speak about "Rethinking Education" at Connect last spring, he really made me feel confident in some of the strategies I was using with my students, such as giving more feedback than marks and showing them the curriculum, and have them tell me how they want to learn it and how they will show me what they've learned. Teaching intermediate students has become more of a conversation where they can voice their choice and I work collaboratively with them. I only wish I could've been at #MSFTcamp21 to see the live sketch note be created!
By Liisa Sorsa @thinklink

Edublogs as Resources

Last fall, I was brand new to inquiry I didn't know how to get started. I didn't know of any colleagues who were either doing it or if they were, they weren't sharing. I attended Jo-Ann Corbin Harper and Aviva Dunsiger's presentation at #bit14 about inquiry and I've never looked back! I love reading Aviva's blog and I have referred some of my primary colleagues to it as well, and if I ever do go back to teaching primary, she will definitely be who I want to be!

Mr. C's ShareEase, I'm not sure he qualifies as an edublogger, it could possibly be a class website, but I just adore the activities that Peter Cameron @cherandpete does with his students. When I heard of my assignment next year, I told a few colleagues that's who I wanted to emulate! As mentioned in this post, the truly post-modern moment for me was giving a presentation, about how his ideas inspired me and he was sitting in the audience. He posted an activity he did with his students explaining the SAMR model that finally helped me understand it.

I'm so very thankful for the wonderful administrators who continue to support my PD by allowing me to participate in collaborative inquiry projects and to present and attend such inspiring conferences that continue to push my teaching practice! I'm really looking forward to presenting at #bit15 next fall, I wonder what new ideas I will take away this time?

Friday, 10 July 2015

A Reflection on the Standards of Practice

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to post this privately on the forum or right on my blog, but as I reflect on both the Ethical Standards and Standards of Practice I think this is the best way for me to show care, respect, trust and integrity. Afterrall, this would be a conversation I would openly have with parents, administrators and colleagues.

What is my responsibility as both an educator and learner to uphold these standards?

Commitment to Students and Student Learning

I strive to "treat students equitably and with respect” and I’m “sensitive to factors that influence individual student learning” for example, I need to teach the way they learn and continually individualize my practice to ensure that I’m doing that.

Professional Knowledge

I’m also responsible to “strive to be current” in my professional knowledge and how it relates to my practice. Worksheets, drill and kill, memorization, although they are “old” methods, don’t they benefit some students? Am I not taking away from the students that do learn this way? Just because inquiry based learning improves engagement, if I have a class that keeps asking me to read from the textbook and answer questions, don’t I owe them the sensitivity and respect to teach them that way as well?

Professional Practice

I’m meant to refine my professional practice through “ongoing inquiry, dialogue and reflection.” What if I happen to be in a building where there is little dialogue and reflection happening about my teaching practice and my students, should I not seek it somewhere else? This is why I found twitter and edublogs and haven't looked back.

Leadership in Learning Communities

I’ve never considered myself a leader, I’ve had to personally redefine leadership. I know that every single grade partner I’ve had, sometimes just one (or half), has appreciated me as a colleague and co-learner. I would question and challenge and voice out new and sometimes crazy ideas even though most times I was new to the grade curriculum. Since I’m committed to professional learning and I’m informed by experience, research and collaboration, what am I to do when teachers don’t want to dialogue with me? What if some colleagues would see me coming down the hall and walk the other way thinking, “what new/tech/innovative teaching practice will she try to push on me today?” I think being a leader in this profession is knowing when people want to hear my message and being fine when people don’t. Sometimes, if the conversation allowed I would say, oh you could try this this them! But they know their students best, who am I to tell them what to do? Don’t I trust that they are doing their best and upholding standards as best as they can? Just because they weren’t ready for the message just yet, I can continue to lead by example.

Even Mrs. C needs a break from me ;)
How fantastic is it that these standards encourage innovation, risk taking and on-going learning! Not only that, but I have the potential of a global audience to collaborate and dialogue with.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Being open to experiment with blended learning

I've gone from being extremely excited and enthusiastic about blended learning to being completely on the verge of giving up. My biggest lesson was as with anything in education, what worked well with one group of students, may do quite the opposite with another. As mentioned in this previous post, blended learning continues to have its ups and downs for me, but it's important for teachers to give students a voice and choice in the way they blend learning. The following examples are available through D2L, which is the LMS supported by my school board.

Primary - Grade 1 Math

A simple search in the OERB led me to this activity. The link will work for you if you have access to the LMS through elearning. I did not use the LMS when I taught primary, but I also didn't use much online content (shock!) at that time. I've seen primary teachers use D2L as their one stop shop, for videos, ministry content, other links such as Prodigy and Dance Mat. 

This example would enhance learning and teaching as it would give students extra review of Math concepts, at home or at school during a centre. I've also used activities from the OERB with IEP students who have a modified program and embedded the learning object right into my D2L widget. If I conditionally release the widget to just that student, no other student will be able to view it.

The following examples are from a presentation I've shared about getting started with blended learning using D2L.

Junior - Grade 5/6 Lit Circle discussions

My class two years ago loved doing lit circle discussions online, possibly because both D2L and lit circles were new to them. They were very engaged, did their work in class and I assessed it as part of their reading comprehension mark. I envisioned them going online at home and discussing the book, but they would usually work on it while I was doing small group instruction. The discussions can be conditionally released to just that group. I would pop into the discussions and give them focus questions and/or feedback about supporting their ideas. Although it could be done face to face, it made everyone's thinking visible and they were also able to more confidently build on each others ideas, especially for those introverted students.

Intermediate - Formative Assessment and Peer Feedback

As mentioned in this previous post about my writing process last year with my grade 7s, using D2L dropbox for writing tasks gave me the opportunity to provide timely feedback all year. Towards the end of the year we experimented with peer feedback in the discussion forums. The example below is how I modelled the revising and editing process, but my students were able to give each other excellent feedback and I was quite pleased with the final products.

Blended learning has been the best thing that's happened to my teaching practice and I hope I continue to be supported by administrators and parents next year!

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Creative Commons: A Conundrum

Last year we really focused on creating media products to show our learning. My amazing teaching partner Mrs. Ciarloni did several lessons on plagiarism, the Creative Commons, copyright, etc. My huge focus was on giving credit when credit is due and the use of photographs in their own work.

Here's Julia, Abby and Josh's parable from last year. The script was written by them, during my Religion class, from an assignment created by Mrs. Ciarloni. They used their voices using my Sock Puppet app that I purchased on my iPad. I uploaded it on my youtube channel and since it was three clips, I did the final editing and put it together for them. I asked their permission to share it and they said yes. Who owns the video? Can I still share it even though they are no longer in my class?

The school sends out a permission form at the beginning of the year where parents sign off on displaying student work and photographs. The first time I posted student work on my blog, I asked the parent if it was ok and she did say yes. Does this permission form cover tweets, youtube and other media?

Since we will have more iPads next year, I will show them how to put watermarks on their photographs. I'm hoping they will create more than consume and take credit when credit is due.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Shifts in Teaching and Learning

I could write a book about how and why the role of the teacher and learner is changing in the 21st Century.

I began teaching in 2005, I've only been an educator in the 21st century. The fact that we are 15 years into the 21st century means that "21st century teaching and learning" should just be teaching and learning. New research and science is continuously coming about the capabilities of the human brain and sometimes the education system follows through, for example small class sizes in primary and the use of guided reading. Even the ideas about the new Math, real world problem solving, and how homework should be purposeful review and not drill and kill have been readily accepted by some but questioned by others. Teachers are bravely jumping in with both feet, doing what is best for their students the day after they heard about the idea at a conference or on twitter. But just because teachers aren't using those strategies yet, it doesn't mean that they are not continuously using their best professional judgement to educate the group of students sitting in front of them at that time.

When I started using technology in the classroom, it was because I found it easy and it helped my practice. I would forget/misplace papers/day plans/USBs so the cloud/google drive became my solution. My handwriting was messy, so I would give feedback online through the dropbox. I didn't like wasting the overhead film, so the projector seemed a natural tool. I didn't have enough laptops to use for research, so I let my students bring their own devices. I didn't like the youtube videos about the environment, so we made our own. I personalized my practice and in turn, I ended up giving students more choice. In pursuing my own inquiries, I became a believer of the power of student lead inquiry based learning.

With technology, I've stopped feeling so lonely at my school. I would hear those messages at conferences and on twitter, and knew I was in good company when I used "new" strategies with my students. I began collaborating with people outside the four walls at my school because one year a grade partner told me, "you don't have to worry about what I'm doing in my classroom." Yes students questioned why I didn't give them a test at the end of the unit, but it only helped me grow as a educator to show them, the other ways that they've demonstrated their learning in my class.

So where am I  in the process of an educator teaching in the 21st century? Following my path as best as I can.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Parent Letter Regarding Technology

Dear families,

Welcome to our classroom! Some of you I've had the pleasure to work with in the past, some students may know me from rotary or my having taught siblings in the past, and the last group, well we are new to each other and I look forward to working with you!

This year I'm hoping to continue with a few initiatives around technology.

We will be using the Desire 2 Learn online learning classroom. This is a ministry initiated, board supported blended learning environment. In addition to submitting paper assignments, students will be encouraged to submit work online. There is also an opportunity for students to do practice activities and review concepts, especially in Math and Science. This worked very well in my class the past two years and I hope the students will benefit from it again. 

We will continue the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) initiative again this year. Parents and students will be required to sign and return the contract to me before students are able to use their own devices in class. Devices are for curriculum purposes only and there will be severe consequences for any student not adhering to these rules. As per the school Code of Conduct, students are responsible for their own cell phones and electronics and are to be locked away safely in their lockers unless otherwise indicated by the classroom teacher. I usually encourage devices during Science class. I look forward to showing students that their phones are more powerful than the world's first computer and that they possess all the knowledge in the world, in the palm of their hands.

I will also be posting updates on our class Twitter page, so I encourage you to follow us! I like to celebrate what we are doing in the classroom, but I will not post pictures of student work or faces unless I have permission from both students and parents.

Last year I signed my class up for Prodigy, an exciting educational game and a fun way for students to practice their math skills in class and at home. This game is very popular with students and I hope to continue to use it again.

The last week of June, the Grade 7s and I began writing a blog about the happenings around school. We may continue to collaborate on the blog with homeroom and Science classes. The blog can be found here and continues to be a work in progress.

New this year will be Google Classroom. We will not be doing this right away in September, but we will be working on collaborating on documents, slide shows as well as many of my lessons and assignments will be posted on D2L in the form of these documents and slides.

As exciting as educational technology is, please note that the primary medium to communicate with me is through your child's agenda or to call me at the school. Thank you for your continued support. We are teaching students the skills they will need in the 21st century in order to become responsible digital citizens beyond their formal education years!

Your partner in education,

Mrs. Skibinski
Created using Bitstrips.