Thursday, June 25, 2015

A Win Win Situation

With only a week and a half left in our school year, my students held a classroom meeting to tell me what they wanted to work on to end the school year. As you can imagine, I was scared and excited at the same as I really didn't know what they were going to propose.

Well, they said they wanted to use the Chromebooks to play games on the Internet. I immediately laughed out loud and then noticed that they weren't laughing. In fact, they were dead serious. One of them spoke up and said that they know that I wouldn't allow them to simply "play" so they wanted me to help them attach a writing task to it. They said that it wouldn't be wrong to play Internet games if they were learning something, especially in writing!!!! 

You have to know that this group included many reluctant writers at the start of the school year. They lacked confidence and were uninterested when it came to writing. So, the fact that they want to do some learning/work in writing in order to play some Internet games tells me that they have come a long way and are ready to be challenged when it comes to what they value.

How could I refuse?

We got to it straightaway by creating an anchor chart about 'how to write a journal entry'.

We talked about the requirements and then we created an organizer to help with the beginnings of our journal entries - a guide to help us, a rough draft.

Then we talked about the type of games that we might play. They told me about a race car game so we did a quick google search and found it. It's called Formula Racer. I played the game a couple of times to get the hang of it and then played it to gather information/experience for my journal entry. The students sat on the carpet and watched the interactive whiteboard as I modeled the what to do.

I then completed the rough draft organizer, made some edits/revisions (with their help), and then completed the polished copy. We thought it would be a good idea to add a visual so I grabbed a screen shot and inserted into my Google Doc.

This was such a fun experience! The students and I used our knowledge and experience around the writing process to create expectations for this activity and then scaffold the task in order to lead us to work that we would be proud to publish. Although this is all "my" work - it was part of the the gradual release of responsibility model that we have been using all year.

Now that the students were comfortable with the task, I set them free to research what game they wanted to use and provide them with support and guidance as they went through the process.

As usual, they rose to the occasion. For the past week and a half they have been feverishly working away - researching, writing, playing, editing, revising, and publishing.

Here is what the task looked like on paper - for this particular student it involved an organizer, one rough draft, and a good draft:

Once students had completed a draft considered to be publishable, they grabbed a a Chromebook or a Desktop computer and used Google Docs to create a clean copy with an image to be shared via Google Drive with their friends and family and to be published in our classroom for all visitors to see. Here we have a handful ready for the classroom wall:

Students who finished first were given the option to create another journal entry or assist their classmates by acting as coaches. No one created a second entry, they opted to act as experts and assist their friends with using Google Docs, taking screen shots and saving them to their Drives, and editing and revision. 

Once everyone had completed the task, we put our work up for all visitors to the classroom to see.

Don't tell them this....but in reality they spent 15% of their time "playing" and 85% of their time demonstrating their knowledge and understanding, communicating it to myself and their classmates, applying skills they have learned throughout the school year, and providing evidence of their thinking. I told my students today that the way this task came together and the effort and collaboration they demonstrated was the best gift they could possibly give me and that it is one that I will remember and refer to for a long time to come. 

What an amazing way to end the school year. Activities like this have helped my students develop into creative/innovative thinkers and technologically literate collaborators. They have had fun blending their learning and rising to the challenges that I have provided them with. 

The end of our journey together will come tomorrow. Although it will be sad to go our separate ways, I am filled with joy and excitement for what they have accomplished, for the amazing things they will do, and the unforeseen problems they will help to solve as capable members of our society. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

A Mixture of EdTech, GAFE, and Social Media can Produce Endless Possibilities

With the use of technology, social media, and a willingness to take risks, teaching and learning can have some real depth and allow for some amazing things to happen. In March I connected with +Cassie Hawrysh, a professional athlete who has dedicated her life to racing skeleton with the Canadian national team. What started with a few tweets has turned into wonderful learning opportunities for my students and myself. 

Meet Cassie:

Connecting with Cassie started as a way to engage the students in Social Studies, particularly communities around the world. As a professional athlete, Cassie has traveled all over the world. She has first hand experience of the things we would be talking about in class with respect to communities around the world (e.g. food, clothing, shelter, transportation, leisure). It didn't hurt that she was a skeleton racer - a tidbit that fascinated the students and "hooked" them in. They think what she does is cool, and I can't blame them!

Before inviting Cassie into our classroom for a Google Hangout we used Google Maps Engine to search out and see all the places where Cassie has competed. When I say search and see, I mean type in the location and then zoom in and out to get a micro and macro view of the area. Using Google Street View we had access to panoramic views from positions along many streets in the areas we were looking at. Using the technology to control our exploration around the world proved to be a great learning experience for the students. Not only did they learn to use the technology, they learned about some places that they would not normally have the opportunity to discover. This activity also allowed the students to compare and contrast where Cassie had been to a map we created earlier in the school year about where our families originated from. 

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Aside from the learning that was happening in Social Studies, we took time to come up with questions that we could provide Cassie with for our first Hangout. We used Google Documents to record our questions and then shared the Doc we created with Cassie. This provided her with access to our questions and allowed anyone with the link to make comments and/or changes to the document in real time, at our leisure. Our first meeting with her provided us with the opportunity to get to know each other better by actually having a conversation. 

When we finally met Cassie via Hangout we felt like we already knew her. We had read about her and watched some videos about her. It was really cool to be able to see her and have her see us as we chatted in real time. She was a guest speaker in our class without physically being in our classroom! 

Our first hangout:


Our second Hangout with Cassie was geared toward acquiring knowledge about her travels and questions about where she was currently located and how her training is going. She provided the students with excellent 'life' advice and provided us with further information about her experiences which provided us with some questions and starting points with respect to food, clothing, and climate of communities she has visited around the world. 

Here are two videos captured during our second Hangout:

Cassie's 'visits' with the students really pumped them up. Her authenticity and enthusiasm comes through quite easily. The students are impressed by her and I can say that she is a great model for my students. Her words and actions fit nicely with the Catholic Graduate Expectations. In our interactions with her she has demonstrated that she is an effective communicator, reflective thinker, lifelong learner, collaborator, and a responsible citizen.

Their interest in what she is up to (currently training at the World Athletics Center in Phoenix, Arizona) and their fondness of her led to a great Media Literacy activity that was recently completed. The students created motivational posters that incorporated photos of Cassie with quotes that they believed matched the photo they chose to use in their poster. They used Google Drawings like skilled technicians to create their posters. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to step back and let them have some free reign as I observed them apply the 21st century learning skills they have been working on all year. 

Our learning goal and success criteria:


Curriculum connections:

  • Oral - Clarity and Coherence 2.3 - communicate ideas, opinions, and information orally in a clear, coherent manner (when presenting poster)

  • Reading - Demonstrating Understanding 1.4 - demonstrate understanding of a text by retelling the story or restating information from the text, with the inclusion of a few interesting details (retelling someone else’s presentation of their media poster)

  • Reading - Responding to and Evaluating Texts 1.8 - express personal thoughts and feelings about what has been read (after they and others have presented posters)

  • Writing - Research 1.3  - gather information to support ideas for writing (finding the right motivational quote for poster)

  • Writing - Review 1.6 - determine whether the ideas and information they have gathered are suitable for the purpose, and gather new material if necessary (reflect on chosen quote and decide if it fits best or look for another one)

  • Media Literacy - Audience Responses 1.4 - describe how different audiences might respond to specific media texts (how do grade 2’s feel/think and how would grade 8’s feel/think)

  • Media Literacy - Purpose and Audience 3.1 - identify the topic, purpose, and audience for media texts they plan to create (specifically for this motivational poster)

Here are some examples of our Media Posters:

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As the students worked on their posters I would check in on them, virtually and face-to-face. When I wasn't with them in real-time I would provide them with feedback on their work/progress. Here are some examples of the feedback provided:


In a matter of minutes, I can check in on their progress and offer them feedback to assist them. As you can see from the time stamps in the photos above, I was providing feedback after school without having to take their work away from them. They still had access to their work and could use my feedback the next time they accessed their Drive. 

The students also shared their work with their classmates in order to get feedback and provide their friends with ideas and what they were up to. It was, and still is, amazing to see how open they are to making their work available to others in order to get help and provide help. 

The combination of technology, social media, and GAFE have provided us with many innovative opportunities to learn. The students and I were reflecting today about our learning this school year and the majority of them stated that our interaction with Cassie and the activities that came from them were the most rewarding. In fact, they asked that I display their motivational posters in the classroom because of how proud they are of their their creations. They know where to find their work on the internet but wanted them in plain sight for the last week and a half of the school year.

Stay tuned for the next blog post...I plan on sharing what my students wanted to work on after what they created above. :)