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?

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The Best Teachers Teach from the Heart

Family orientation is one of my favourite days of work. Besides the fact that I sometimes feel like a monotonous robot, I love meeting my new class for the year. I love seeing students on their “best behaviour,” watching them interact with their parents, the sense of self that they exude, and the instant first impression that’s provided. But despite all that is happening, I often think about what it would be like to be a student again. The first meeting, the nerves, the unknown.

Regardless of age, our students are kids. They need attention, boundaries, to learn lessons, and to be loved. Each student has an amazing gift to share. They all have their quirks (just as us teachers do!), their challenges, their strengths, and their blossoming personalities. As teachers, we need to unpack all of these, understand our students, and build those strong relationships with them. Despite all that needs to be learned in a school year, the most important thing is learning who our students are. If we do not provide an environment structured around trust, respect, and care how can any form of learning be possible?

As each and every one of us begins our year, remember that sometimes we need to put the curriculum, our great units and engaging lessons aside, because if we don’t have the students’ hearts, we won’t be able to teach them.

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

Is Collaboration More Than Group Work?

Educational research throughout the 20th century focused on learning through an individualistic approach. Learning happened on a personal level, all teaching occurred in a similar fashion, and all students learned the same thing. Educational folk theory is a prime example of this, as there is a focus on individual differences and why some students have problems learning (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 2008). The successful student is used as a standard and comparison for others (ibid). I would like to believe that as we live through another century our ways of teaching students to learn has changed. However, a part of me questions the truth in this. Is standardized testing not another form of applying the educational folk theory? Do we still measure student success as a comparison to the norm?

The learning sciences attempt to answer this question by focusing their research on how students learn. Instead of questioning why students have trouble learning, they would question why a concept is difficult to learn (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 2008). Researchers argue that students should no longer be treated as individual learners, but instead as members of a knowledge building community (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 2006). Knowledge building can be viewed as a community that aims to improve ideas rather than assuming a truth, through developing collaborative problem solving and in-depth understanding (ibid).

Throughout the exposure to all of these theories I see great application for this in my classroom. I understand that students learn differently and need to be a part of a collaborative, knowledge building community, but I also would argue that school systems haven’t completely ignored that notion either. When I think of my own educational experiences, I had ample opportunities to be part of a collaborative classroom community, where we worked together to be creative and form new ideas. I am beginning to question though if our definition of collaboration has changed. Has it moved away from the idea of group work towards a sharing and building of a knowledge network?

Kolonder et al. (2003) would support the assumption of this as they explain that:
“We try to help our teachers understand that collaborative learning is not simply a call to have students work in groups, but rather, it is a value that needs to permeate the classroom-through sharing across groups, more expert students helping less expert ones, the teacher admitting what he or she does not know and getting excited about learning from the students, the students together figuring out what they need to learn more about and helping each other with their investigations and experiment designs, and so on” (p. 539).

Through this definition, it becomes clearer about the transformation that the word collaboration has moved through. It also leads me to reflect upon my own teaching practices and wonder to what extent am I truly providing collaborative experiences for my students?

References
Kolodner, J.L., Camp, P.J., Crismond D., Fasse, B., Gray, J., Holbrook, J., Puntembakar,           S., Ryan, M. (2003). Problem-Based Learning Meets Case-Based Reasoning in the           Middle-School Science Classroom: Putting Learning by Design™ into Practice.                   Journal of the Learning Sciences, 12(4), 495-548.

Scardamalia, M. & Bereiter, C. (2006). Knowledge building: Theory, pedagogy, and                     technology. In K. Sawyer (Ed.), Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences (pp.           97-118). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Bereiter, C. & Scardamalia, M. (2008). Toward research-based innovation. In F. Benavidis         & D. Istance (Eds). Innovating to learning, learning to innovate. Paris, FR:                             Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. pp.67-88. DOI                           :10.1787/9789264047983-en

Choice, Collaboration, and the Social Learner

The Alberta Initiative for School Improvement (AISI) began in the late 1990s, as a “bold approach to supporting the improvement of student learning and performance by encouraging teachers, parents, and the community to work collaboratively to introduce innovative and creative initiatives based upon local needs and circumstances” (Davis et al., 2012, p. 374). One AISI project that my school district worked was with math assessments, where we partnered alongside David DeCoste and our grade level teams to create meaningful performance tasks. Another AISI focused on academic vocabulary with ELLs, where Hetty Rossingh provided her expertise and grade level teams collaborated together to create moments of explicit teaching of academic language in our classrooms. In both of these experiences, AISI planning was used as a collaborative and effective team effort, thus being apparent that through these cycles “connectivity and collaboration have been sustained and amplified through AISI” (Davis et al., 2012, p. 394).

In the article Understanding School Districts as Learning Systems, the authors present four varying types of network structures for AISI: centralized, distributed, decentralized, and fragmented (Davis et al., 2012). It is apparent through the learning sciences research, that the ideal environment would be a decentralized one, in which customised learning, diverse knowledge sources, and distributed knowledge are present (Sawyer, 2009). Many current theorists further emphasize these ideas through putting the focus on the learner and their learning: Jarvis believes in making learning social, and Kegan and Engeström put special attention on how people learn (2008). All of these continue to emphasize the social aspect of learning, however, our school systems seem to be stuck in the past. “Our institutions…are largely based on the assumption that learning is an individual process, that it has a beginning and an end, that it is best separated from the rest of our activities…” (Illeris, 2008, p. 209). How do we move our methodologies into the current research framework when our institutions support the opposite? How can we help our students in their learning process, when our classroom designs and assessment procedures dictate an individualistic ideology?

I think movements are beginning within Alberta to support the current learning sciences theory. Teachers are not only looking at ways to transform their classrooms and become facilitators of teaching, but are also beginning to change the way in their own professional development. Edcamps are a prime examples of this, as they are a grassroots created PD experience for teachers. Edcamps refer to “a revolutionary idea that allows teachers to come together to collaborate on ways to inspire each other with new, refreshing ideas they can implement in their individual classrooms” (Kalesse, 2014, p. 20). I attended my first edcamp this year and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Not only did it allow for choice in learning, but it provided opportunities for collaboration, moments to share your learning with other professionals, and motivated me to learn more. However, I was left to wonder two thoughts: Why do we lack opportunities for this type of teacher professional development, and why are we limited in creating these types of learning opportunities for our students?

References:
Davis, B., Sumara, D. & D’Amour, L. (2012). Understanding school districts as learning systems: Some lessons from three cases of complex transformation. Journal of Educational Change, 13(3), 373-399. Retrieved from http://link.springer.com.ezproxy.lib.ucalgary.ca/article/10.1007%2Fs10833-012-9183-4

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

Kalesse, R. (2014). Teachers lead the way at edcamps: participant-driven “unconferences” restore the power of professional development. Reading Today, 31(5), 20-21.

Sawyer, R. K. (2009). Optimising learning: Implications of Learning Sciences research. Paris, FR: Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. Retrieved from http://www.oecd.org/edu/ceri/40805146.pdf

Do Teachers Over-plan Learning Opportunities?

Teaching can be a difficult process, as we desire our students to get the most out of their learning. We want them to experience transformational changes, whereby they begin to change the way in which they “know” things (Kegan, 2008). We want them to challenge ideas, pose questions, and be creators. In order for this to happen, I believe students need to be actively engaged in their learning. Illeris (2008) defines learning as “any process that in living organisms leads to permanent capacity change (p. 7). Reflecting on this definition and my teaching practices, leads me to the assumption that I need to provide meaningful and relevant learning opportunities for my students. What would this look like in the classroom? Hands-on experiences, real-life situations, interest-driven products, and ideas in the creation realm come to thought immediately. But sometimes I wonder as teachers, do we over-think learning? Do we try too hard to create meaningful learning opportunities which instead result in a superficial experience?

“But situations that bring learning into focus are not necessarily those in which we learn most, or most deeply…Learning is something we can assume – whether we see it or not, whether we like the way it goes or not, whether what we are learning is to repeat the past or to shake it off. Even failing to learn what is expected in a given situation usually involves learning something else instead.” (Wenger, 2008, p. 214)

Wenger’s description of learning above made me think about a personal classroom experience. We had read the story Toto in class, where a timid Ugandan boy finds the courage to overcome his fears of going into the field, and ends up rescuing a trapped baby elephant. I always find that stories involving animals help children to develop a sense of empathy, but what I didn’t realize in this instance, was that my students would be outraged about the cruelty involved in hunting animals. What started off as a simple story, in which I had planned “meaningful learning activities” to occur afterwards, led to discussions of animals cruelty, conservation, education for others, and continued on to animals in the zoo and whether this was in fact another form of cruelty. My students then decided to have a debate about whether or not zoos should even exist.

The point in me sharing this experience is that I think all too often as teachers we try to stretch learning experiences for our students. We want them to have great opportunities and in so we plan accordingly. But perhaps within a classroom environment that supports a culture of care and openness, and welcomes new ideas, learning will just happen.

Sources:
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 (Introduction, Chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 14 and 15 [5 and 11].