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.

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

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