The Power of Creativity

Yesterday was International Dot Day and my class eagerly participated in the event. We began the morning by reading the story, The Dot, by Peter Reynolds. We discussed what the book meant, and the power of creativity and believing in yourself. Students were then given the opportunity to create their own dots. Using the app DooDoo Lite, students were thoroughly engaged in the work that they were completing. They were all unique and meant something to the individual student. Students then wrote a blog entry about what their dot represented, or what it meant to them, and their responses were incredibly powerful. Here are a couple examples:

Today was international dot day . My dot {shown below} is a meaning of Peace . A world without pain or sorrow nor is anyone unhappy. The world I just described below Is a happy world that my dot resembles. The lines are laughter waves.

Today is International Dot Day! My dot is about happiness. Also It is about the colorfulness in the world. I want people to be inspired by this dot to never think negative but positive. Well that’s all I have to say. Bye- Bye for now!

All too often it is easy to underestimate the power of art and the abilities of students to share their thoughts. I think at times because they are so young, we question whether students can really understand a concept or make it their own. This task proved to me that when students are given the freedom to express themselves and their thoughts, their responses can be more powerful than ever imagined.

If you want to read more of my students responses check out their blogs.

Below is a compiled video of their dot creations for International Dot Day.

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Inspiring Student Questioning

Sometimes I forget what the first week of school is like; the endless questions, the establishing of routines, trying to make connections with every student, and the feeling of exhaustion when I leave the building. This week has been all of that and more!

Yesterday I set up my classroom blogs with my students. The energy in the class was booming, questioning were flaring, and excitement was all around. How do I do this? How do I do that? The questions continued, organized chaos was surmounting, but levels of engagement in my students were the highest I had seen all week. This led me to question what is it about blogging that has my students so engaged?

I am not sure what the answer is to that question, but have come up with two ideas or reasons why kids love to blog:
1) They are using technology that they love to use. When we embrace a tool that students have access to outside of the classroom, we show them that we value it. We begin to bridge the walls between the formal and informal learning environment.
2) Students are able to make connections to the real world. The idea that someone on the other side of the globe could be reading what my students were writing had them excited more than ever before. They are eager to share what they know and make connections to others. It makes learning real!

This morning I received an e-mail indicating that I needed to approve a post one students had written. As I read it, I couldn’t help but be proud and excited about her inquisitive question: What are you teaching the world?

If you have a moment of spare time, please click here to respond to her question. I know it would make her day, and inspire further powerful questioning to continue.

Who Knew 9 Year Olds Would Love to Tweet?

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For the past year I have solidly become an addict of twitter to build a professional network, and have experienced first hand the great abilities of it, the connections one can make, and the endless learning that is present. This year I decided to create a twitter account for my class, as a way for my students to share their learning and make learning “real.”

As I took on this endeavor of tweeting for the first time today I was amazed with the level of engagement and excitement in my students and thought I would share a little advice and observations that I saw in my class:

The Process: I opened our class twitter account on the smartboard, gave a quick low-down on what twitter is and our account, and then began to explain how to tweet. For our first tweet, I wanted the students to work together in their groups to collectively figure out how they would decide what to tweet and come up with a precise 140 character phrase. I provided them with this tweet form as a way to organize their thoughts.
It was great to watch them working together, debating the “best” way to say something, erasing their sentence when they realized they missed a word, and observing the general excitement among them.

Once each group had a finalized idea of what they would share, they came up to my class computer and typed out their tweet together. Most of them didn’t know how to make the hashtag (#) symbol, but besides that it was relatively painless. Their faces beamed as they watched in real-time, their tweets appear on the smartboard. It was like they were performing magic!

Where to go from here? My plan from here on is to start small with a “tweet of a day,” which will occur at morning and lunch recess, and the end of the day. I want the students to use their tweets as a way to reflect on the things that they have learned and also to share exciting things that are happening in their school life. I have left the sheets out for the students to use whenever they would like, on their own, with a partner, or in a group.

I initially questioned how to get my students excited about twitter and the idea of tweeting, but as I began talking to them about it, it became apparent to me that I didn’t need to at all. Kids love using technology! They love to teach their parents about it, love using the tools their older siblings use, and love things that are current in society. Why not allow the classroom to be the platform where all these tools can come to life and students can experience learning in a whole new way?

Please follow our classroom @mspetleysclass

Hook Your Students Through Video App Smashing

I am always looking for new ways to “hook” students and make them excited about learning a new topic or unit. As the school year is coming closer to beginning, my colleague and I were brainstorming ideas about how to introduce Spanish class. At our school, when students enter grade four, it’s their first year of taking Spanish, which in itself is exciting enough. Normally, I show a little powerpoint, but thought this year creating a video would be more intriguing.

I used four apps to make the video, which initially took about two hours, but I’m hoping over time will become less. I’m sure the students could have made it much quicker than I did! Here are the apps I used:

1) Tellagami: This is a free app that allows you to design your background and character, and record up to 30 secs of either your voice or text. It is very user friendly! This app was used at the last scene in my video.

2) Puppet Pals 2: The version I used is free, so is limited to selective scenes, characters, and props, but it is optional to upgrade. This app allows users to choose a scene and character, and manipulate the character’s moves throughout the scenery, while simultaneously recording your voice.

3) Explain Everything: This app is $2.99, but well worth the price. I was able to import my previously created videos, and add specific props/pictures that I wasn’t able to add in the other apps. This app is capable of doing so much more than I used it for, so definitely challenge your students with this one.

4) iMovie: The price for this app is $4.99, or free to new iPad users (I believe this is free as a package on all the new iPad 5s). Through this app, I compiled all of my clips to make one coherent and fluid movie.

From this video, it’s clear that I am an amateur, but through making it, I came to the realization that the capabilities with app smashing and the abilities of our tech-savvy students, is a recipe for greatness!

So You Want to Integrate Technology Into Your Lessons?

As part of my master’s program, I had a group task that had to tackle an aspect of design based learning. My group decided to create a lesson planning template, which teachers could use to find ways to integrate technology into their lessons in meaningful and engaging ways. We wanted it to be teacher friendly, and easy to use.

We first created a flow chart, in which teachers could ask themselves questions about ways in which they could revise a previous lesson. For parts 2/4 of the chart, within the lesson template, we developed specific questions which teachers could ask themselves and reflect upon. For part 6 of the chart, we then developed a technology toolbox that could help to guide teachers in choosing an appropriate technology tool. As teachers become more efficient and discover new tools, then can continue to add to their own technology toolbox.

Here is an example of what a revised lesson could look like.

We designed this in hopes of helping teachers to find easy, manageable, and meaningful ways to integrate technology into their lessons. Feel free to share, and challenge yourself and your staff to continue to use technology to engage students!

A link to our presentation.

Credits to Project: WAKE up! (Wun Yeung, Andrea Spinner, Kris Hopkins, Erin Petley)

The More you Learn, the More There is to Learn

In the article Principled Practical Knowledge, Bereiter brought forth a new theory in the learning sciences that I was unfamiliar with. He challenged readers to think about the “why” in the things we do. Bereiter gives the example and compares two risotto recipes: The first one instructs chefs to add liquid and rice a little at a time and repeat until you have a creamy texture; while another recommends measuring both quantities and throwing them into the pot. These differences cause a problem. “The typical food preparation recipe, for instance, represents explicit practical knowledge but not principled knowledge. It tells us what to do, but seldom tells us why. This becomes important if we are interested in improving or simplifying a recipe” (Bereiter, 2013, p. 5). Within principled practical knowledge, there is always the desire to look for the continual improvement of practice.

“Intentional learning is the deliberate enhancement of skills and mental content. Knowledge Building is the creation and improvement of knowledge of value to one’s community. You can have intentional learning without Knowledge Building and, in principle at least, Knowledge Building without intentional learning; but the two together make a powerful combination” (Scardamalia & Bereiter, 2010, p. 8)

I think that the ideas brought forward in both of these articles are values to be instilled in society. I am the kind of teacher who is always looking for ways to improve my practice. I learn from and collaborating with others. This past year my professional goal was to build a strong PLN on twitter. I participated in many chats, became an active user, shared my ideas, and learned new things from others. One thing that surprised me however, was the number of times that my opinion was “challenged” during twitter chats. My first reaction was to become defensive, but ultimately retreated. I reflected a lot on why I responded that way, realized it was in fact a great experience to be faced with, and after that learned to accept it as the learning experience that it was. Having the skills to defend your opinion, listening to others, but also be accepting of the knowledge building that is taking place has been a transformational experience for me.

Scardamalia & Bereiter (2010) state that “teachers who cultivate a sense of ideas as improvable have an easier time developing a Knowledge Building community” (p. 11). Sawyer (2006) also alludes to the notion of idea improvement and their essential need in the educational realm. Through the process of iteration, students will begin to question their initial thinking. Sawyer (2006) compared two classrooms and the effects of learning: The “regular” classroom stated that the more they learn and understand, the less there is be learned and understood; whereas the knowledge building classroom said the opposite, as the more they learned, the more they realize they didn’t understand, and thus still had more to learn.

This example affected me a number of ways. It reinforced the concept and crucial importance of a knowledge building classroom, and it made me realize this is the type of classroom I want to have. I want to be this kind of teacher and create an atmosphere of “questionability” in my classroom. I want my students to think of concepts and ideas as unfinished. I want my students to challenge others’ ideas, question the world, be critical thinkers and not always accept things as they are. Providing opportunities in the safe environment of a classroom, will give them the confidence and skills that they need to continue to build their knowledge in the future.

References
Bereiter, C. (2013). Principled practical knowledge: Not a bridge but a ladder. The Journal        of the Learning Sciences, 23(1), 4-17. DOI:10.1080/10508406.2013.812533

Sawyer, R. K. (Ed.). (2006). Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences. NY, USA:            Cambridge University Press. Retrieved from                                                                          http://site.ebrary.com/lib/alltitles/docDetail.action?docID=10130369

Scardamalia, M. & Bereiter, C. (2010). A brief history of knowledge building. Canadian              Journal of Learning and Technology, 36(1), 1-16. Retrieved from                                          http://cjlt.csj.ualberta.ca/index.php/cjlt/article/view/574/276

A Teacher’s Defence Mechanism

“The recognition of the importance of context suggested that the unit of analysis for understanding learning had to be larger than the individual person” (Hoadley & Van Haneghan, 2011, p. 4).

Through the learning sciences and as we decipher how people learn, we need to look at more than just the individual. Researchers conclude that isolating a person from their context and all the knowledge that they bring with them, is not a proper way to understand that learner (Hoadley & Van Haneghan, 2011). People may think a particular way because of their beliefs or past experiences. They may have specific values that mirror those of their culture and family. Ignoring those factors is ignoring the whole person.

What causes a person to embrace learning experiences and alter their ways of being? Do we react to certain scenarios subconsciously? Illeris (2008) examines these questions by looking at how an individual’s context and previous experiences influence their responses to change. He states that, “through everyday consciousness we control our own learning and non-learning in a manner that seldom involves any direct positioning while simultaneously involving a massive defence of the already-acquired understandings and…our very identity” (p. 15). People put up these defensive barriers as a way to block change and ultimately learning from happening. Does this happen intentionally? I would argue no, but in order to evolve as a learner, I think we need to start questioning our own ways of thinking. What are we afraid of?

We are afraid to fail. We are afraid of putting ourselves out into the unknown and not succeeding. Yet we consistently challenge our students and encourage them to embrace failure opportunities. We want our students to realize that failure is an opportunity for growth and that there is not only one correct way of doing things (Long, 2012). Why don’t we expect this for ourselves as well?

During the last school year, my admin gave me an article called, Who Moved My Cheese, by Dr. Spencer Johnson. It offers an interesting approach to how people respond to change through the eyes of four different characters. While reading the story and trying to decide which character I aligned with, I was consistently thinking about why we struggle to adapt to change, and came up with this conclusion: The idea of change comes with the image of uncertainty and the unknown, and the biggest barrier to change exists within yourself.

In our class discussion today, Dr. Friesen reiterated this point, in that these defence mechanisms that we put up in possible moments of growth and learning are a way to protect ourselves. They are the hardest to overcome because they are a part of our identity, but they are the places where transformational learning can occur.

As I think about implementing some ideas of the learning sciences into my classroom in the fall, I become overwhelmed with uncertainty. There are numerous things to try and places for improvement in my own teaching. I want to be the best teacher I can, but I question whether I will be successful and the extent to which I can facilitate deeper learning in my students. Is this a defence mechanism I am putting up myself? While trying to think ways to overcome this barrier, I can only find one solution. Revert to what the research says: collaborate, find a community of practice, embrace failure, and be open for opportunities of learning to occur.

References
Hoadley, C. & Van Haneghan, J. (2011). The Learning Sciences: Where they came from        and what it means for instructional designers. In R. A. Reiser & J. V. Dempsey (Eds.)        Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology (3rd ed., pp. 53-63). New            York: Pearson. Retrieved from                                                                                                  http://steinhardt.nyu.edu/scmsAdmin/uploads/006/742/Hoadley-VanHaneghan-draft.pdf

Illeris, K. (Ed.). (2008). Contemporary Theories of Learning: Learning Theorists…In Their           Own Words. Florence, KY, USA: Routledge. Retrieved from                                                 http://site.ebrary.com/lib/alltitles/docDetail.action?docID=10296951

Long, C. (2012). Teach Your Students to Fail Better with Design Thinking. Learning &               Leading with Technology, 39(5), 16–20. Retrieved from:                                                         http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ982832.pdf