The City of Love

We wanted our last day in Paris to be a relaxing one. No lines, waiting, or traveling but just enjoying the final day of our holiday. Waking up later than normal, we decided to have a nice, long, sit down breakfast, or brunch really, as we would call it back home based on the time. For a small €13.50, we both began with a savory type crepe that consisted of ham and cheese, and an egg on top. 


Our next course was a sweet crepe. I ordered the apricot and Daniel went for chocolate. 


We concluded with a tasty americano. 


Now that our bellies were full, we could officially start our day. We stopped to purchase a box of macaroons to bring with us as we walked along the banks of the river and throughout the gardens surrounding Notre Dame. With blooming flowers, cherry blossom trees, and the sun shining brightly, our day was off to a wonderful start. 



Recommended to us as a must visit, we decided to stop at a book store called Shakespeare and Company. This was the first English bookstore in Paris, which opened its’ doors in 1951. It was started by an American named George Whitman, who allowed people to sleep in the bookstore in exchange for helping out. Over 30,000 people have slept within the beds among the bookshelves since it’s opening. 


Entering the bookstore, you’re immediately met by the smell of old books and wooden floors. The store itself is full of nooks and crannies, and different rooms and levels, and is surrounded by and fully stocked with floor to ceiling book shelves. As you walk along, the floors creek underfoot reminding you of the age and history of the shop. Above one of the entrances, painted on the wall, you’re reminded of George Whitman’s philosophy: Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise. 

To the left of the bookstore, and with a separate entrance is the rare books selection. We entered the tiny room to see what constituted “rare” and were surprised not only by the age, but the price! The shop keeper informed us that his most expensive book that he housed was In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway. This was Hemingway’s first major work, and was first published in Paris before being reeditioned in the U.K. and USA. It was priced at €2000. Your more mainstream books, like Ken Kesey’s One Who Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was €800. 


Being as the sun was shining, we were feeling quite warm, and it was our last day, we felt it was essential to stop for a gelato. I had been eyeing up a shop since we arrived, who construct a beautiful rose shape out of gelato and then place a macaroon on the top. It was obvious this was where we had to stop. 


With our picnic lunch in hand, we wandered to Jardins du Luxembourg to relax. These gardens were constructed alongside the Luxembourg Palace in 1612 by Marie de’ Medici, the widow of King Henry IV of France. The main pool and palace area is surrounded by numerous statues of queens and famous women of France. 


Each path you take leads you to a new garden or fountain which is beautiful and unique in its own way. 


After endless strolling, we finally decided on a place to sit down where we could open our newly purchased bottle of Veuve: a 2008 vintage rosé. Posing the bottle and snapping pictures, as any amateur photographer would, I was surprised when I turned around to see something else sparkling in the sunlight: a ring! As if anything couldn’t be more romantic, I of coursed said yes, we popped our champagne, and enjoyed our final day ever more! 


Leaving the gardens even more in love, we stopped at a little bakery to purchase our final treats. Being obsessed with macaroons, I tried a vanilla one, while Daniel stuck with his profiteroles. 


Next door was a wine shop, where we purchased a delicious €9 bottle from the cutest old man. He chilled the bottle for us, and even opened it so we could enjoy it right away in a park close by. 


For our final evening, we made a reservation at a place called Les Papilles to not only make our last meal a great one, but to also celebrate our exciting news. This restaurant has a set meal each night, which changes constantly, for around €40. We ordered a recommend bottle of wine and then our meal began with broccoli soup. They served us each separate, garnished bowls, and then the soup in a pot. It was heaven!


Our main course consisted of duck and vegetables. 


Next, to cleanse our palate we had a strong cheese, accompanied by a fig jam. 


Mango panna cotta was served for dessert, and of course we finished with an espresso. 


Our meal was perfect, and our day was perfect. Not only did I fall in love with Paris, but I fell even more in love with my new fiancé! 

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Coding: The Next Generation

“We live in a world that is changing more rapidly than ever before. Today’s children will face a continual stream of new issues and unexpected challenges in the future. Many things that they learn today will be obsolete tomorrow. To thrive, they must learn to design innovative solutions to the unexpected problems that will undoubtedly arise in their lives. Their success and satisfaction will be based on their ability to think and act creatively. Knowledge alone is not enough: they must learn how to use their knowledge creatively.” Mitch Resnick

When thinking about setting up our students up for success in the future, what kind of skills do you feel they need? A few ideas come to mind: How to problem solve, how to work cooperatively together, how to persevere, and how to think outside of the box. Keeping these ideals in mind, has caused me to reflect upon my own teaching in the last year. Do I provide opportunities for these skills to develop to my classroom?

Through my master’s course, I have been exposed to a lot of the current research in the learning sciences, and am continuing to find ways to challenge my own thinking. If the research says students need opportunities to play and discover, how can I ensure I provide these in my class?

Today, my students participated in the Hour of Code, a global movement designed to introduce students to computer programming and making it possible for all students to learn the basics of coding. I initially showed my students a couple tutorials and then just let them play. What happened next was something I dream of as a teacher. My students were 100% engaged, they collaborated and helped one another out, they shared their skills and taught each other, they problem solved, they persevered, and they were creative! However, the most powerful piece of this lesson was when it ended and the responses I heard:
“This was the best class ever!”
“Oh my gosh, that was so much fun!”
“Ms. Petley, can we please do this again?”

Do you need to know how to code in order for your students to learn? Model learning together. Model problem solving. Let them experiment and teach you. Let them be creative. Let them code!

Helping each other out during the #HourOfCode

Helping each other out during the #HourOfCode

We participated in the #HourOfCode

We participated in the #HourOfCode

References
Resnick, M. (2014). Give p’s a chance: Projects, peers, passion, play. Constructionism and Creativity conference, opening keynote. Vienna.

Are Teachers Scared to Let Students Make Choices?

This year I set the goal for myself to try to give more choice for my students within my classroom. I was feeling I was making decisions for students, in terms of their projects, seating plan, novel study, etc… and after reading numerous articles about the benefits of student choice in the classroom I decided to put to the test.

As a teacher, it is shockingly hard to give over control and decision making processes to students. After all, my kids are nine years old, could they come up with various options that would encompass what I was looking for? I also think as teachers, we’ve been trained and “programmed” to be the ones in charge and be creative with the way we deliver and design our lessons. It’s scary to give a part of that over, and risk the chance to fail.

Failure had always had a negative connotation in my mind, and it hasn’t been until the beginning of this year, where the ideologies surrounding that word have shifted for me as well. Through elaborate discussions with my PLN, I am now able to look at failure as an opportunity for growth: a way to reflect, develop an understanding, and improve and grow. Failure is no longer something I fear entirely, but instead my mindset is changing. I’m trying to instil that in my students as well.

As I began to give more choices to my students throughout the year, there were a few things I discovered:
1) Kids are WAY more creative than I am. When I told them you can show me what you learned about…in any way you’d like, it was incredible to see the differences in their approaches, but also how their personality shone in each one. They expressed themselves in ways I never even thought of.
2) They were engaged! When students have choice, they are 100% engaged in what they are doing! No ifs, ands, or buts about that.
3) They used each other for support and collaborated more frequently. When they had a question about how to use a device or how to do something, they would ask another classmate. They would seek out support, and share ideas with each other.
4) They took pride and ownership in the things they chose. They were generally excited about their work, and put effort into their assignments. There never was any moaning or groaning, but instead a buzzing of excitement.
5) They had fun, and generally appreciated the fact that they had a say in the decision making process.

Within all the craziness of the last few weeks of school, I decided to let my students choose who would sit in their group. I know this isn’t a huge deal, but to my kids it was, and honestly I was a little concerned with some of their choices and the fact that school is almost done and they are wild enough already. After school a boy came up to me and said, “Thank you so much for letting me sit with my best friend.” I hadn’t really thought much about it, but to this boy, it clearly made a positive impact on him, and that’s what I’m always looking to do. I never imagined that something so small could be so appreciated. But it is always the little things. Those smalls things that make the difference and make learning better for students. Allowing students even just a little bit of choice can make all the difference in their lives. So what are you afraid of?

Why Genius Hour?

It has been my own personal goal this year to learn and understand more about the idea of “Genius Hour,” and how and what it would look like in the classroom. It is a constant buzz word that always includes the ideas of passion, engagement, and self-directed learning for students.

Genius hour is a relatively new movement in education based on the idea started by Google, whereby employees are able to spend 20% of their time working on projects they are passionate and excited about. You could refer to it as “free time.” A chance to explore and research something that interests you. The ideas are entirely student generated, and of course will vary as student passions are different.

On paper, the idea sounds great, but in the crazy life of the classroom, where would this fit? How do teachers find the time to implement yet another idea? What program or subject do you ignore? In the end, is it worth it?

Tonight the topic of the twitter chat #mnlead focused entirely on genius hour. The passion, energy, and belief in the benefits were apparent with every participant. It was an incredible chat to be a part of. Here’s a quick summary of our discussion:

Question #1: What do you think of when you hear the term genius hour or 20% time?

Question #2: How do students benefit from a genius hour philosophy in the classroom?

Question #2 Follow Up: How do teachers benefit by allowing students to learn focused on their passions?

Question #3: How can genius hour projects be celebrated within the classroom, school, community?

Question #4: What are some of the challenges facing an implementation of genius hour in the classroom?

Question #5: As a leader, how can you support and promote genius hour?

Question #6: What possibilities does the genius hour concept have for professional development?

The discussion tonight further reinforced my preconceived ideas of the benefits of genius hour. When you give students choice, when you take the time to build relationships with them, when you allow them to be advocates for their passion, and when you embrace their learning (whether it’s successful or a failure) an opportunity for growth and further learning continues. This is exactly what genius hour provides!

Here are further resources on genius hour:
What is Genius Hour?
Genius Hour Resources
Mr. Solarz’ Class Examples
Genius Hour Starter Questions

Technology: How Did We Teach Before It Existed?

IBM

In my class, we are currently reading the short story, Koko’s Kitten. In case you are unfamiliar, it is about an incredibly talented, sign language-speaking gorilla and her unusual friendship with a kitten. My students absolutely loved this story and empathized in the sad moments with the gorilla, and rejoiced in the incredible friendship that developed. I learned through this story the true meaning of engagement in reading: When students enjoy and are curious about what they are reading about, their memory, knowledge, and endless questioning evolves.

As we finished the story one student asked me if Koko was still alive today. I knew she was, so responded accordingly, but that opened even more questions.
“Where does she live?”
“How old she is?”
“Does she still have a kitten?
The list goes on and on.

I turned on my smartboard, and opened my good friend Google to see if some of these questions could be answered. Solving the math equation, we learned she was 44 years old, and many other interesting things. I came across a site with numerous videos of Koko today. Videos of her eating, signing, playing, celebrating, and much, much more. We spent a good amount of time watching the videos and finding out more information about Koko than I ever knew prior. The questions were endless!

Later, reflecting on my day of teaching, I started thinking about this “unplanned” activity and how the internet had taken my students to places I did not even expect. From reading a simple story, to gaining a full understanding of the character and how she lives. What did we do before the internet, before computers, before technology?

I use technology everyday in my classroom without even thinking about it. Volunteering in different places in Africa really allowed me to realize how lucky we are as teachers. We have all these tools at the tips of our fingers that allow us to be the best teachers we can be. Sometimes I forget about how lucky we are, and how easy it makes our lives. Although some days it can be frustrating, inconsistent, and does everything you ask it not to do, we still need to be grateful for it. The ability to connect to others, solve problems, and ask questions opens areas for investigation and inquiry for our students. Would you be the same teacher without it?