January 2010

What so you get when you take 24 grade 5 students, 5 parent volunteers, 1 student teacher, and 1 slightly crazy classroom teacher and lock them in a school over night? You get one of the best experiences I’ve ever had as a teacher.

On Thursday, January 28 my grade 5 class slept over at the school to video conference with the world. We worked around a Winter Olympics theme breaking into countries to compete in sporting events, used the Wii to play Mario and Sonic at the Winter Olympics, and went geocaching in the dark!

We started by Skyping with two classes in Canada. The idea was to start close to home and talk to other Canadians about the excitement building around the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver in February. We spoke with @Hafy2009, Jodi Hafenbrak of Balmoral Hall in Winnipeg, Manitoba.  She was one of the Canadians I traveled with to Brazil in November for the Microsoft Innovative Educators Forum.  Then it was @zbpipe, Zoe Branigan Pipe, in Hamilton, Ontario.  We Skype with her class quite often, and she was the first teacher I ever videoconferenced with!
This got the kids off to a great start, and two VC’s down during school time, before the craziness of staying late after school started! Part way through the afternoon I got an email from my parents, who have been in Hawaii.  They are both retired teachers.  I thought Hawaii would be a great stop as we headed west with our Around the World trip so I gave my Mom a quick Skype call and we connected!  In a happy accident moment, I managed to plan our sleepover on Pajama Day at school, so the kids were very prepared for our sleepover, and wore their PJs (me too!) all day!
After school we got into some of our activities, including incorporating the Winter Olympics theme.  We painted our faces and made flags for our team countries.  We had teams from Norway, Sweden, Germany, The Netherlands, and Great Britain.  They students were very patriotic.  As the host of the event, I was of course Team Canada!
Some of our Olympic events were in the gym, or hallway.  We had a figure skating event, which was the Michael Jackson Thriller Dance, which we learned and performed at Halloween.  Each country had to perform and see who could best remember or make up new steps the fastest and work as a team.  We raced bobsleds (in the form of two students sitting on scooter boards) down the hallway, it was one of the highlights for me.  The students loved it!
Other events we played on the Wii, including ski jumping and curling! We used the game Mario and Sonic at the Winter Olympics
We met with @robinthailand, Rob Newberry, and his class from Thailand.  They were shy, but we talked about weather, different sports in the two countries, food, and beaches!
After speaking with Thailand it was time to run around outside! We went geocaching in the dark. It was our “torch” relay. Each cache was a different city across Canada that the torch visited and they had to name the province or territory it was in. They used their flashlights or “torches” to guide the way
Next on the agenda was a Skype call from Austraila. Rob Sibaglia, an IT specialist met with us, and had a colleague read us our bedtime story which was about how the kangaroo got its tail!
Just before bed we got a second call from @zbpipe.  It was Zoe’s second time to talk with us, but this time she was in Philadelphia!  Nothing like having the same person meet with use from two different countries!  The students thought it was fantastic! Then it was off to bed! The kids did not sleep….well maybe about 2 1/2 hours! The girls’ room was full of giggling and gossiping. It was especially interesting when they thought I was asleep. The boys’ room was full of, well, methane!
We even remembered to brush our teeth, and the parents were really great about organizing healthy snacks, fruit, cheese, crackers, and meat! There was a healthy supper of lasagna, salad, veggies, bread, meatballs, rice, and perogies! Not all of the toothbrushes made it back home, I found this casualty on the hallway floor!
The next morning at 5:30 I was up and energetic, but the kids were a bit…sleepy! With the worst bedhead I’ve ever seen, smeared face paint, and questions about when they got pancakes, we met with @gillpenny, Gillian Penny, and Gavinburn Primary School from Scotland. This was the one connection that didn’t use Skype. We used Glow, the Scottish VC Intranet system. @olliebray worked very hard behind the scenes to get everything going on both ends. Thanks to my tech department for opening ports and solving a few last-minute snags. We had a bit of sound trouble, but we worked around it, and did get everything connected in the end. We shared all about the Olympics as Gavinburn is working on a big unit all about the Winter Olympics and are using Mario and Sonic at the Winter Olympics as well! There may have even been some curling rivalry talk!
After pancakes and some very Canadian maple syrup, we had our last connection of the day with @bligoben, Mags from Wales and the year 6 class. We walked all about weather and what we had in common, and what was very different. My students enjoyed hearing that even students in Wales like Justin Bieber, a Canadian Pop Singer!
After cleaning up and sending all the kids home, it was time for me to head to Vulcan (the town, not the planet) for a professional development/teacher meeting day. It was kind of a blur, with a great deal of coffee. I did bring the Wii and Mario and Sonic at the Winter Olympics with me so other teachers could try it out and several plan to use it with their class. We were looking at it for measuring with decimals to thousandths. Thousandths are a hard concept, and timing of races was almost the only context we could think of that they were used, which our students would find relevant. Not only do Grade 5 student have to use and understand decimal places to the thousandths, but they have to order and compare them as well. What better way to order and compare that collect race times on the luge, bobsled, skiing, or snowboarding runs, then compare and order them to see who won, and the order of the competitors!
The night was a huge success, thank-you to all the parents, our Skype and VC partners from Around the World, my student teacher Mitchell for putting up with the boys all night, and to the students for having a fun, safe time!

I’m always looking for ways to engage my students. We have been learning about the Canadian Shield in Social Studies. My student teacher has taken over the unit, but I had to suggest an activity to get the kids motivated and thinking.  We backchanneled with our grade five class while they watched Survivorman.

Survivorman is a program where Les Stroud is dropped into a wilderness situation and has to survive for 7 days.  I use it to teach geography is many contexts.  It shows the land, Les is a fantastic wilderness photographer, and what resources are available.   His arctic episode is great for my unit on the north, the swamp episode perfect for wetlands, and the Costa Rica episode is wonderful for Rainforests.  He even has one where he is lost at sea that would tie into teaching about oceans.  The list could go on…

The idea of backchanneling is one I’ve seen blogged about before, and I was very intrigued with how it might look with elementary aged students.  The moment I showed them Today’s Meet they couldn’t wait to get started.  I chose to use Today’s Meet as my backchannel tool because it is very simple, clean, and not distracting.  The students focus on the message and the information being presented, not ads or flashing banners.  It allows the students to enter a simple name and they are in the chat instantly.  It also displays their name so I can easily track who posted what comment.  Perfect!

My student teacher and I posted discussion starters such as this to get the kids focused in their comments:
The students were fantastic.  They shared ideas, asked questions to each other, and had some very insightful thoughts:
This comment tied the Social Studies lesson back to the novel study we had just completed in Language Arts – yeah!!
This comment showed the point we were trying to make about Northern Canada – trees!!  It’s great when the students can point out the main idea and reach the important conclusions!
The students started to put themselves in the situation:
Another great question!  (Remembering I’m in rural Canada and using animals for food is very much a part of normal life for my farm children)
This was one of my favourites!  A student threw out a fantastic question that led to all sorts of discussion!
Even the basics get taken care of on the backchannel!
Moose Square 2009 marked my entry into the edublogosphere.  It’s hard to believe I’ve only been blogging and sharing for a little over 6 months.  With over 10,000 blog hits, I feel like I’m off to a great start, and can’t wait to see what the next year brings.

I never imagined anyone would actually read what I wrote, and maybe it’s still just my Mom visiting my blog a lot, but I think a few people may be listening!  I just hope that as I share my ideas and musings are helpful.

My goal in starting a blog was to be practical and share useful things, not blog on about what I think.  I have posted a few reflective posts, but there is power in this.  When one reflects on their practise and philosophy they begin to see patterns, trends, and come up with new inspiration.

Top Posts:

moodlemain2 My favourite post – Avoiding the String Effect in Moodle – I’ve spent a lot of time working with moodle this year.  I see it as a powerful tool to support learning.  This post was all about making it more like a webpage to make it easier to navigate for my elementary aged students.  I used hyperlinks to link to hidden content, instead of having a long string of activities and links that is hard to navigate.
P1000392My most popular postUnique Geocaching Containers – I’m an educator, blogging about using technology with a focus on the elementary classroom, but I’m also a geocacher, and I get many hits from other geocachers.  This post highlighted some interesting geocache containers that I had seen or discovered in my caching adventures.
imageMy most commented on post Flash Activities in the Smart Notebook Lesson Activity Toolkit 2.0 – Just after the Lesson Activity Toolkit  (LAT) 2.0 came out for Smart Notebook I had many people on my staff asking me what was in the LAT and how they could use it.  I put together short explanations and examples of each of the interactive flash activities provided in the toolkit.  I’ve even referred back to it myself when I trying to come up with a good idea for a lesson!
My surprise post
The Essential Quality of an IT Leader: Ability to Adapt – This post was written as an assignment for my IT Masters program.  The task was to think of an IT leader that influences you and pick one quality that really sets them apart.  I chose to write about my colleague, moodle mentor, and all around helpful dude, Technology Integration Specialist, Todd Diakow.  He was the first person that came to mind for the assignment and I  think the piece turned out really well, even though it is reflective, philosophical jargon.

Highlights of 2009:

  • It for Dominica Project – Teaching other teachers in the Caribbean for the P1000441 second time always stands out as they best part of my year.  The opportunity to share and inspire other educators in a setting as beautiful as  Dominica is inspiring and reenergizing.   I go back in July for a third time!
  • Starting a Masters in Instructional Technology Leadership – I always said I didn’t want to pursue a Masters Degree.  I didn’t want to try and balance teaching and trying to go to school.  I didn’t want to focus on philosophy and educational jargon, I was really uninterested in the whole idea.  Then I found a program that had the three necessary pillars for me.  It focuses on leadership, the use of technology in the classroom, and technology infrastructure (boxes, wires, networks, security, administration).  I’m 1/4 of the way into a three year program from the University of Lethbridge.
  • Microsoft Innovative Educators Forum in Brazil – The Everybody’s MarvinGotta Story collaborative digital story telling project I worked on with educators in Coalhurst and Arrowwood went amazing places this year.  Darlene and I traveled to Salvador, Brazil, to share our innovative project and connect with other educators from around the globe.  It was a fantastic, powerful opportunity.
  • Building a CLN on Twitter – I  started twittering in March.  I was best_individual_tweeterintroduced to the idea by Tom Whyte: @tomwhyte1, a teacher I had worked with in Calgary.  We reconnected at the Teacher2Teacher conference in Bow Island.  I attended his feature teacher session and he shared the idea of using twitter to share thoughts, ideas, resources, and connect with educators.  Brilliant!  I haven’t looked back!  I like Rod Lucier’s Collaborative Learning Network (CLN) as opposed to a Professional Learning Network (PLN), in fact I even referenced his idea in my last masters paper. (Proper APA citation for a blog is a bit of a nightmare!)

Looking forward to 2010:

  • New Collaborative Projects – I have really enjoyed working with and learning from educators in my own school division, across Canada and the United States, and increasingly Worldwide.
  • Physical Challenges – I love the outdoors, and I love being active.  I’m  nike running my first half marathon in February and I would like to tackle a full marathon at some point this year, but we will see how the half goes February 20.
  • Change – With a new year brings new challenges and directions.  I can’t wait to see where 2010 takes me, 2009 was life changing and I’m sure 2010 will be no different.
  • New Blog Posts – I will always shares what inspires me, whether it is things I discover traveling, or things that come to me running (my best thinking time!)  Look for more information and ideas on:
    • Using moodle in the elementary classroom
    • Manipulating code in moodle to make it do what you really what it to do!
    • Using images , video and other media to enhance learning and digital literacy
    • Creating Critical Thinking Activities Using Technology
    • My forays into Games Based Learning – watch out world…..
    • Using Smart Response for more than just right/wrong questions
    • How I use my IWB in the classroom – the fingerprints should not just be from the teacher
I’ll end my year end thoughts and musings with a video of a conversation I had with Dr. Maurice Hollingsworth.  The goal of the video was to show how a teacher uses the internet and technology in the classroom as a source of inspiration for an undergraduate course about using the Internet in Education.  Maurice has been a huge source of inspiration and a mentor to me.  He is a professor of Educational Technology at the University, the head and driving force behind the IT for Dominica project, and a great professor and colleague, Enjoy!