An Inspiring Monday

To start my Monday today, I visited James Bay Community School and was blown away by the innovative educational practices. I was so excited with what I saw in so many of the classrooms, that I instantly wanted to call colleagues or run into offices to share. And I did. Then I taught to share it here so that more can see what I saw today.

One particular classroom that I will focus on for this entry is that of Ms. Joy Nugent’s Grade 4/5 classroom.

The physical layout of the class had no desks. Students had options to work at tables that faced windows, to stand at high table,  to sit at bucket chairs, at round tables, or on mats.

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At the front of the room was a smartboard and document camera, and students would take chairs and form a semi circle for instruction and discussion time.

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I was only able to observe the first 20 minutes of the day. But the day began with a MindUp exercise where the students were quiet for 5 minutes and focussed on their breathing. It seemed like something they did three times in the day, but wasnt sure. I could tell they had done the excerise before, and some students shared about how they were working their “prefrontal cortext” and how each second of focus was strengthening their brain in that area. There were charts and diagrams on the walls describing the brain and its different areas. As an adult observer, I benefitted from the exercise.

As I walked around the room, I noticed the daily schedule, specifically including “Think Tank Fridays” and “The Inquiry Unit” on Canada.

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I didn’t have time to ask Ms. Nugent about it, but I felt a certain curiosity and saw Project Based Learning and Inquiry Based Learning characteristics all over it. I couldn’t help notice the incredible student questions that were generated. I noticed the heading  at the top – “what is community?, What is Canada? and Who are we”  that I recognized from BC curriculum. I left thinking about how each question could be a unit in itself – “Why is Alaska not part of Canada?” or “How many Canadians died in World War II”. It caused me to think about how Ms. Nugent structured the class discussion, how the questions were recorded by students, and how the units would move forward. It was fascinating.

Since seeing this classroom and others at James Bay Community School, my mind was official blown. I left with so many questions.

“Is this where more classrooms need to go?”

“What does technology look like in this classroom?”

“What are the best tools for this classroom?”

“What resources can I help provide for this classroom?”

Thanks for the inspiration today Ms. Joy Nugent. I felt proud, and it made me want to shout it from the hilltops. So can I come back?

Diversity, Curiosity, and Creativity

It is nice to hear a a confirming message, like the latest from Sir Ken Robinson, regarding the topics that often come up between my colleagues and I. Like Sir Ken Robinson, we are recognizing how education is failing and we want to be part of the solution. It has started with recognizing the needs, creating solutions, and striving for innovation.  
Enjoy some Friday inspiration:


Ken Robinson: How to escape education’s death valley

Remembrance Day- Lest we Forget

Here is what we played at our Remembrance Ceremony. We used an iPhone to take pictures of work, emailed them to Windows Photo Story 3 to record voices on the schools PC, and then uploaded the pictures and ‘photostories’ to Animoto. The work was worth the 3 and 1/2 minutes of the contributions of students and the respectful attentive remembering during the ceremony today. A total success. Have a view below.

Guidelines for teachers in exploring iPad Educational Apps

   In my pursuit of integrating technology and iPads in the classroom, I have begun to identify the associated problems. On my previous blog I wrote to the problems involved with providing effective and useful Professional Development.

      Another problem associated with integrating technology into the classrooms is providing useful and effective exploration time for teachers and iPad Apps. When exploring iPad Apps for the classroom, it can be helpful to provide guidelines for what and how to look for quality educational apps, tried and tested, that are connected with curriculum learning outcomes. 

  Here are some guidelines and questions that currently help frame my exploration of iPad educational Apps to be more narrow and purposeful in my App selection:

  1. What does the iTunes App Store say? What are the reviews?
    • are the reviews from teachers- are they positive, tried and tested, what is the reception
  2. What kind of internal motivation does the App provide?
    • this will show how long the App will last in my class, and how rewarding
  3. How many levels of difficulty are contained within the App?
    • to meet the levels of each student in a class, or across different grade levels, personalized learning
  4. Do I think the graphics are engaging?
    • this is a subjective measurement but still matters for level of student engagement and fun, and whether the students will want to use the App or not

       In any case, iPads are built to be a personalized tool that can be designed to meet to needs of each individual user. The use of my class set can and will look differently than a class set of iPads at a different school. Our class set is shared across kindergarten to grade 5 classrooms and I am currently not spending any money on any Apps because of the multi-user licencing issues. (In Canada, there is currently no arrangement for multi purchasing of Apps, and I am waiting before multiplying every paid app X30)

      On top of looking in the iTunes Top Education Apps catalogue bestsellers, I also look at different iPad app blogs. Here is my current shortlist of websites that I have found through Twitter to provide useful feedback and recommendations for iPad educational Apps for K-5.

Also, here is my Educational iPad App catalogue that shows all the Apps that are currently on our K-5 iPads.

Re-designing Pro-D

After attending, and running two sessions in Kelowna at #acsiwc I started learning how to design effective Professional Development. Hosting effective ProD is difficult.  With money being at the core of so many difficulties across the educational landscape, it is made more difficult with the combined expense of ProD, planning and design which is crucial for its success. Two key questions helped guide my planning for this ProD:1. What is the goal of Professional Development?
2. What are teachers expectations for ProD?

But whether teachers are collaborating with other teachers, expanding teaching paradigms, integrating subjects, or training on new technological tools, ProD takes money.

My first session titled, blogs, glogs, and other stuff,  was designed to offer teachers hands-on opportunity to learn and build both blogs and glogs, as well as other 2.0 tools for students. In preparing for this session, I felt uneasy in creating a Keynote for an audience I did not know. So I did not prepare a Keynote, and walked into the session a little blindly. I did a few quick polls, and found that 1/3 of them run their own blog, and under half of the attendees had a computer with them. So I was able to adjust and re-evaulate how we were going to spend our time together. I understood the attendees position, that hands-on time, with an “expert” assisting did not feel like a good use of my resources. So I changed my session to go through as many web 2.0 programs that I had spent time on with students. It developed into a useful session, but I also felt very new and that I had a lot to learn.

In reflection at lunch, I decided to re-design my afternoon session on iPads in the Elementary School Classroom to begin with a quick chat in small groups to frame “driving questions” for our session. First I gave a quick introduction to who I am, and my context and experience using a class set of iPads. The response after their quick chat was “please tell us your experience, and share what you feel is valuable.” This statement showed me a few things. First that they trusted me, and second,  that they value my subjective teaching experience.

On breaks, my own most robust professional development was chatting with other presenters and sharing our session lead experiences and stories.

This let me to being to think about new alternatives for Professional Development. With money spent on hardware and wifi, money needs to continue to put into ProD, but ProD needs to be re-design to be maximized for effectiveness. “Useful” ProD for me in on Twitter in a conversation around #ipaded or #edchatbc. Or a conversation with others around a table. But in more of a challenge, I think sharing a conversation with non-likeminded people will help round out teaching philosophy, quality of integration across subjects, and using technology in classrooms.

Earlier this week, I emailed Ted Pennell, who is the Director for Educational Technology in School Distict 61 to propose a Professional Development position on iPads district wide. This position who involve me visiting classrooms around the school district to observe teachers, suggest technology tools and tips, and provide technology leadership for other teachers to break through barriers. Ted Pennell responded by stating that he was going to bring the Director of Learning Initiatives to observe me teaching and to have more of a conversation.

Twitter, PLN, and Useful Education Hashtags

           Social media site Twitter has offered a new type of online conversation and the development of Professional Learning Network, or PLN. Although teachers are engaged with students in class and teachers in the building, in comparison to time spend in professional development, teachers are isolated and alone. What could really make a difference for teachers is to create an open dialogue about learning across all levels of education. A conversation with other people that we respect at a time that we choose on topics that are self directed and in a way that does not take teachers away from the classroom. In an ideal world, educators would be part of an interactive community that all contribute to a conscious stream of ideas, opinions, experiences, resources that have been tried and tested, links to good websites, teaching techniques and reflections. A community where questions and be asked and feedback given based on real life experiences. This type of learning community would be very useful. And it can be found on Twitter.

          While more online conversation is happening, educators are sharing more and trying more things based on the recommendations from teachers around the world. Davis (2010) in her article “Social networking goes to school” references Steven Anderson, the well-known #Edchat co-creator, in regards to the use of Twitter as part of a Professional Learning Network. In the past, professional development was formal and rigid. You went to events scheduled by the district because this is what they think you need. With social networking allowing teachers to connect to one to one to many, teachers have the professional development they really desire on a daily, even hourly basis. The buzz and inspiration felt when going to the professional development seminar or conference, can be felt constantly online on Twitter. Questions posed at any part of the day can be answered by a variety of educators all offering a different perspectives and techniques.

         This week I hosted a professional development workshop in School District 61 in Victoria BC. I had 30 teachers and EAs (educational assistants) watch how I function on Twitter. I introduced to them the value of saving lists and hashtags. instead of strictly following people on Twitter. The value to following and searching for topics is that the conversation become more personalized and focused. Here are a few hashtags that I feel could be useful for your personal learning network.

#hsc (Homeschool)                        #edu                                   #iPadChat                                      

#cpchat(connected principals)        #kedu (Kindergarten)                      #edapp  

#kinderchat                                  #GlobalEd                                       #1stchat                          
#k12media                                      #midleved (Middle School)             #2ndchat

#edadmin                                       #lrnchat (Learning)                           #3rdchat

#elemchat                                      #4thchat                                    #titletalk (Librarians – Books)

#edchat                                         #smchat (Social Media)                    #5thchat
#spedchat (Special Ed)                #edtechbc                                           #6thchat

#edtech                                        #tlchat                                                  #k12
#education                                  #edbc

– Mr. Shortreed

My top 5 free iPad apps for Intermediate (3-5) Classroom use

Here is my current list top of  free apps that I think are most useful in a classroom to engage students in learning using iPads.

Google Earth – holding the world in your hand at a whole new level. This app can be used to teach geography, directions/orientation, map reading, landforms, etc.

Toontastic – Such an amazing way to engage students in the elements of story writing, characters, setting, conflict, sondtrack, and narrative. Students can create cartoons with this app, using pre-set characters and settings or their own, set it to a soundtrack, and record their own voice to each slide. It is simple, guided, and offers a beautiful finished product.

Dictation – Not typically seen as a educational app, this business app is an easy to use voice recorder that records your voice and types it into text. I have been pleasantly surprised with the apps ability to capture even the most casual language delivery and quick speech, and would be an amazing app for students who have trouble writing down their ideas or have typing difficulties. It can also be used to help student use a clear voice and be excited to share written stories.

MathBoard Addition – One of the many iPad math learning tools, this free app only covers addition, but offers a great space to try doing math on a digital chalkboard. For quick assessments, or private math work, this app offers various settings and problems for students.

2X2=4 – This app is new this month and has climbed the educational free app charts quickly. The app works on various multiplication levels and a pirate game platform. Learning your multiplication tables is an amazing bi-product of this game.

With so many educators looking for new apps, I am sure this list will evolve tomorrow. With over 400,000 apps, and thousands of lists and spaces for educators to coolaberate, it is only getting easier to share resources. Ipadannie is particularly one of my favorite app search lists right now. Check out her top education apps- here.

My Top 5 free iPad apps for primary (K-2) classroom use

I am involved in an iPad pilot project in SD61 and have been reading blogs, exploring and purchasing apps, and organizing them in age appropriate home screens. Here is my top 5 free picks for iPad apps that are age appropriate for primary age students (K-2) in classroom settings.

1. School Coloring book – Get 72 free educational coloring pages for different subjects including the following coloring books with pictures: Lower Case Alphabet Upper Case Alphabet, Numbers, Continents, Planets, US Presidents, zodiac Signs, Occupations, Great Inventions, Ethnic Wear and more. There are other free apps from the same developer are a very useful too.
2. Motion Math Zoom – have fun with a number line and help students understand place value in an interactive way. Students learn side to side scrolling and precision pointing.

3. Doodle Buddy – Have students finger paint, write their name on it, insert backgrounds or even photos in this app.

4. Shape Puzzle – a great jigsaw puzzle app that says the object once completed and adds it to a whole scene.

5. SpellingMagic-  this app is great for the early speller. Various levels are settings can expend this app across a variety of letters, words, and difficulty levels.