November 2009

I have developed a fantastic network of upper elementary educators.  We VC with our classes, share ideas, and of course work on projects together.

Our latest project is the idea of Zoe Branigan-Pipe, from Hamilton, Ontario.  We work together all the time.  I met Nathan Toft and Jane Smith in Brazil.  After the trip they met Zoe in person in Toronto and commented how much we were alike.  It’s funny how people are drawn to working together.

We built a collaborative Animoto project with three other classes based around the Ben Harper song, “With My Own Two Hands”

Each class listened to the song and created visual representations of what they heard.  My students loved it.  They commented that the felt like listening to the song and working with the lyrics felt like looking at a poem (and light bulb moment!!).  It was their idea to turn the lyrics into a wordle!   We tied it in with Remembrance Day.  It was a great way of starting a discussion on war, remembrance, change, and peace.

We worked with:
Mr. Turner’s Grade 5 Class from Glendale, Arizona
Mrs. Branigan-Pipe’s Grade 5/6 from Hamilton, Ontario
Mr. Poluck’s Grade 5/ from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario

P1010084I’ve posted many times about how I use GPS in the classroom, but I’ve never broken down how to set up a straightforward GPS activity for students.





What you need:

P1010080Handheld (not car!) GPS receivers – I like the Garmin etrex Venture HC.  It has a colour display, geocaching mode, it’s very durable, waterproof –ish (rain is fine, but don’t drop it in a pond), and it’s bright yellow.  The kids have a harder time misplacing something that is bright yellow!   I have 6.  With 27 students this breaks down to 4 or 5 in a group.



P1010081A camera for each group.  I use  a combination of flip and still digital cameras, whatever is around school







P1010079A clipboard for each group.  This way they can collect their clues and keep track of what caches they have found and what they have left to discover.







P1010066Caching containers!  I’ve written about some creative containers here.  The standard is just a plastic container, either spray painted or with camouflage tape (shop in the hunting section – it will be there!) to blend in to the surroundings.






cash cacheAn idea for clues.  Each cache has to have something in it for the kids to collect.  This is where you can tie geocaching into almost any subject.  Last week I had cace examplecolour coded clues to Canadian Animals.  Each cache had six coloured pieces of paper in it.  If you were the yellow group you collected each yellow clue and tried to determine what animal you had.  Each group had a different animal.  I’ve made caches full of money, with a decimal problem on the lid.  The students had to solve the problem and bring the answer back in money.  I added baggies to the clipboard to keep them organized that day.



Once you have clues in all of the caches you are ready to go and hide the caches around the school yard.  This is the fun part.  I often get students from other classes to come and help me.  You would be surprised with the creative places they come up with.

P1010068 P1010070






P1010077As you hide the caches, you need to mark the location using the GPS.  On the main menu you choose the mark function, give the cache a name (I usually just use letters), and confirm the co-ordinates.




P1010083 I use mapping topographical mapping software (a very simple, user friendly version comes with most GPS units) to download the co-ordinates to the computer.  Then I plug in the other five receivers one at a time and upload the co-ordinates to each one.  It takes about 5 minutes to load to all of the receivers.





GPS groups I set up groups for the students.  Each person has a job, and they rotate each time we go out.  They each get a chance to be the navigator (use the GPS), photographer (use the camera), recorder (track clues on the clipboard), and clue opener/replacer (open and put the containers back)

My first five years of teaching I was a humanities specialist, not teaching math or science.  Now they have become my favourite subjects to engage students in learning.  We learn in groups, we talk about what we are learning, and we use technology (of course!)

I want to showcase a lesson with practical ideas for not only teaching math in a hands on way, but to use technology to teach it.

My grade 5 students have been working on 2 digit by 2 digit multiplication.  I have had them working with base 10 blocks in groups to work through what multiplication actually means.

We are working through several steps to build not only skill in solving multiplication problems, but to develop a deep understanding of the concept of multiplication.  We work through several representations from concrete, to pictorial, to symbolic. I’ve linked to a WMV version of the file under each You Tube clip, just in case You Tube is blocked for you as well.

The first clip shows multiplication by making groups. They are showing how they worked with 12 x 14.

WMV Math 1 Video File

The students continue to solve 12 x 14 by regrouping with their blocks

WMV Math 2 Video File

The third clip is about the next evolution in the strategy, solving 12 x 14, but instead of using groups the kids are making a rectangle showing 12 rows of 14 to solve the problem.

WMV Math 3 Video File

23 x 24 using a rectangle to solve a 2 digit by 2 digit multiplication program.

WMV Math 4 Video File

We got steadily more complicated in our questions. Here we are working with 41 x 33

WMV Math 5 Video File

As we went through the process we would stop and discuss what we were doing and go through examples together using the Smartboard.

I set a hundred, ten, and unit base 10 block as infinite cloners and we could easily pull them over to show how to multiply by making groups or by building a rectangle.

The technology really enhanced the lesson. The students that were done called me over immediately and couldn’t wait to share what they knew on the flip camera. Groups started to bicker over who I would tape next. I also had groups that had completely the problem successfully build their answers on the Smartboard so we could go over them together as a class.

This shows a complete process of using technology to enhance a concrete, hands on math lesson.

The next step would be to take the concept to a pictorial representation used base 10 paper to draw rectangles. Eventually we will get to a symbolic representation of the multiplication problems in a more traditional way. But even then we don’t use an algorithm we break it down into how many thousands, hundreds, tens, and ones the problem has, then add it together.

I was at school yesterday viewing and uploading Marvin files to Moodle.

I went through them and picked the best.  I skipped around, and was it a bit of a hurry so I missed a few kids that had saved to the wrong place.

movieThis morning I went back to dig through a few more movies to make sure they had been rendered properly and I came across one last Marvin life story.

The student is autistic.  He struggles to connect with people and conform to social norms.  He communicates, but in a very simple, concrete way.

During pieces of Everybody’s Gotta Story he worked with a teaching assistant, and I helped where I could, but he can often get off task quickly, especially on the computer.

I watched his Marvin this morning.  In his own way he shared his values, his beliefs, and the things that were important to him.  He had a better grasp on the Marvin program than most kids in my class.  The lines of code or “instructions” as he called them completely made sense to him.  He told me he wanted to alternate talking and an animation.

He used animals as his avatars because “the people didn’t make sense to him” – his words.

I cried when I watched his movie, as I am now.   I realized that all of the planning, hard work, troubleshooting problems were all worth it.  I was able to see this student in a way I had never seen him before, what drives him.  He talked about his Dad, who isn’t in his life, he talked about how he believes in Santa Claus.  His motivations are so pure and uncomplicated, but his story is heartbreaking.  Everybody’s Gotta Story that would break your heart…

Thank-you Darlene for putting the project together.  Brazil was fantastic, but this is better.  Thank-you to Todd, Rocky, Gord, and the rest of the tech department for supporting us through all of the growing pains of the project.  It was really all worth it.

After a few philosophical (I was just as surprised….) and travel posts time its to get back to something practical.  I’ve been building a moodle course with a group of colleagues.  Our goal is to compile resources, activities, and share perspective on the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver.  As we built it, it took a turn to becoming an unwieldy string of resources that is hard to navigate and find anything in.

I’ve been working on reformatting it to make it easy to navigate and have everything accessible off of a main set of icons, hyper linked to pages organized by topic.  The secret to my organization is putting everything in one section or topic.  You can’t put everything in the first topic, in fact you should leave it blank.  If you hide a topic, the resources in it are blocked and inaccessible.  If you dump everything in another topic then change your settings to only have one topic, the activities can be hyper linked to, but are not shown on the main page.

In step by step directions:

Setup a moodle course with at least 2 topics
Add content (activities, links, resources) to any topic other than topic 1. Leave the topics as visible (eye icon open)
Compose a webpage under the Add an Activity option. On the webpage create hyperlinks to all of the activities, links, and resources that would have normally gone under one topic. Each activity you create has its own unique URL, all you have to do if copy and paste the hyperlink when a given activity is open.
Use the URL of the new pages you’ve created to hyperlink to an image or text on the main page. It is this hyperlink to a page with a set of activities on one topic that replaces an entire section on moodle. The main icon set can be one or two, or a table with a dozen choices. The main icon set, hyper linked to pages organized by activities, replaces a long string of moodle topics. It is much easier for students to choice an image than scroll through a long list.
To hide all of the activities so you just see the main icon set:1) Hide the first topic by choosing the eye icon to be closed (there should be nothing in this section anyway, and it must be there by default)2) On the main settings administration page choose for hidden sections to be completely invisible and for there to only be 1 topic. This makes the makes the extra topic sections disappear, but the activities can still be accessed by hyperlinks.
Hopefully my steps make sense. I often get told to quit speaking geek and to speak English, I’m especially bad when I get going on moodle. Let me know if you have questions!
Team Canada 2009

The time in Brazil was fantastic.  We were treated like absolute royalty (which suits my princess tendencies just fine) and the people on the Canadian team were fantastic.  We had 10 innovative teacher projects and 1 innovative school (Check out their project here)  It was by far the largest delegation.  I do not want to be ungrateful for the opportunity presented, but there are a a few glaring differences in the Canadian Innovative Teacher process.  Last spring through back channels and word of mouth my colleague Darlene received information about the Innovative Teachers program.  The Canadian regional lead works out of  Eastern Canada and the program is much more widely known in New Brunswick.  In fact 7 were from New Brunswick (all fantastic, inspiring people).  Nathan Toft learned of the program through a tweet on twitter.  It is not widely advertised or promoted.  When I tried to search for it on the web all I found were broken links and cryptic blog posts.  The Canadian projects had to use 1 of 4 programs/resources (Marvin, OneNote, Learning Essentials, or the Zune ).  I think this in itself really limits innovation and what can achieved by teachers.  I’m not sure how many applications there were, but 10 were selected to be implemented.

The idea is you apply in the spring, and complete the project in the fall, scrambling to get done for mid to the end of October.  I would have loved to be able to submit a project that I had been working on for a while and that had demonstrated success and innovation with students.  My work with GPS would have been a great fit, and I love to share it.  We didn’t get the Marvin software until the end of August and my tech department scrambled to get everything installed, running, and to troubleshoot the ongoing saga of audio issues.  They have been fantastic throughout the entire journey, and I owe much of my success to them.  I honestly don’t even know if they read my blog, but what you see here is always supported and made so much better with their encouragement.  I tend to get a bit excited (I know…shocking) and will jump right into things without always looking at all perspectives, they moderate me well – even if it frustrates me at times.

This gave us a two months to learn Marvin and use it with the students.  In early October we had to submit a proof of concept.  The idea was then the Canadian finalists would be selected from there.  Often Canadian projects are showcased at the Asia Pacific Innovative Teachers Forum, but this year it was the Worldwide Innovative Teachers Forum in Salvador, Brazil.  With a stroke of luck, combined with a deal on airline tickets, all of the 10 Canadian projects were invited to go to Brazil.

This meant in the last two weeks of October we had to complete our Project VCT (which we hadn’t even heard about until then), poster, get a travel Visa (oh my what a headache), and plan for a week away from the kids.  Busy – but absolutely worth it!

Out of the 10 Canadian projects, 6 of us were using Marvin.  This led to what seemed like many great ideas that ended up grouped together.  Two of the Canadians were selected as semi-finalists.  They picked the right two.  George’s project, having at risk youth created public service announcements with the mayor of Bathhurst on Marvin, and Genevieve’s work using OneNote to help motivate and organize students with Dyslexia, were innovative and inspiring.

We were using Marvin (with a bit of OneNote and Learning Essentials thrown in for good measure).  Marvin is a program I have learned to love and hate all in the same breath.  The potential is fantastic, but it is still in its early stages with many bugs to be worked out.  Yesterday as I was using it with my students we would have to ignore avatars that gave us script errors and restart frequently.  The great part of the program is introducing students to a script based programming environment where they can develop a list of commands to achieve a goal.  Read more about our project here.

That’s the scoop on the Canadian Innovative Educators experience.  Although it is a different process it exposed me to Marvin. allowed many Canadian educators to share their innovation and learn about the innovation of others, and the people I’ve met will continue to influence my teaching practice.

DSC03015When I went into teaching as a career I never thought is would open up the doors and opportunities that it has for me.  I love my job, I love being in the classroom, and I love being with kids.  I’ve again been traveling to exotic places to learn exciting new things and learn from fascinating people. The photos are from the Boiling Lake hike in Dominica.  I hope I can tackle the trail again this summer.  How lucky can I be!?  Maybe it’s not luck, I work very hard and look for ways to improve my own learning and assist others.

The next adventure is always around the corner.  I hope I can instill this spirit in my students.  Not only to be adventurous, but work hard for opportunity.

I teach my students with all of the enthusiasm and positivity I can muster.  I hope that they take this forward with them.

The teachers I collaborate with in my school, across my school division, and in Dominica are fantastic to work with.  I hope they are able to learn as much from me as I do working with them.

Take opportunity where you can get it, don’t be afraid to share and put yourself out there.  Trails are Optional.boiling-lake

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