Goal setting

This year I have been on mat leave with my second son and have had some time to concentrate on myself and my goals. I have been blogging regularly and have checked-in with my goals about once a week. Doing so has taught me some important things about goal-setting:

1. It’s not enough to set a goal at the beginning of a project and walk away, expecting the goal to have magically come to fruition. Goals have to be revisited frequently. I have set year-long and monthly goals and when I look back sometimes find myself thinking, “Did I actually say I was going to do that?” I think for students this means that goals should be set at the beginning of the year and after each term and that they should remain visible, rather than tucked away Ina binder as I have done in the past. Maybe we will try posting them on a corner of our desks?

2. Goals must be scaffolded. My goal to run a half marathon in under 2.5 hours is predicated on my ability to meet the monthly goals I have set for myself. It’s not magic- running 5k in January, 10k in February, and so on is the work necessary to get to my long- term goal. It gives me something to check off every month and I can SEE my progress. For students, I’m not sure what this means. “Complete all Grade 5 objectives” is too obscure, “get better at writing stories” is too vague. A good example of a Grade 5 goal might be: “write one short story and publish it on my blog” or “read a book every week”. These goals, however, do not necessarily demonstrate growth. Is it worth showing students curriculum documents so they know what it is they are supposed to learn?

3. Making goals public means being accountable for your progress. I am often asked how my training is going. I think it is reasonable for parents to sit down with their kids at supper and ask them how they are progressing at meeting their goals.

These are just my thoughts so far. I am not sure that I am not being too idealistic as I sit back with lots of time to think (haha- not really because I’m on mat leave), but the pace of life is different than it is in the classroom. We’ll see where this thinking leads in the fall.

The Value of Wonder

This site got me thinking about the value of wonder. I think children have a natural tendency to ask “why” (time spent with my four-year-old will attest to that observation!) The other day, my son asked, “Why do lightbulbs ‘pop’ when they burn out?” I had no idea. But we looked up the answer together here. He asked the question because he had observed something about the world around him. Using the tools available to him (a parent, the Internet), he found the answer. The thing I have noticed about my son is that he tends to learn something and I often think it doesn’t sink in, but then he’ll bring it up in conversation later and I know he has, in fact, learned something. I think that schools should be built more like this. Ask a question because you are genuinely curious about it, using various tools find the answer, choose a way to share what you have learned (blog, write an essay, take a picture, make a movie, talk). Kids learn because it’s fun! They should be able to share their learning in a way that gets them excited. I’m not talking about a free-for-all, do-whatever-you-like approach, but guided inquiry can be really powerful stuff.

The iPad Project

Our Best Buy dollars bought 9 iPads for our classroom and my first impression: totally cool!

Each morning, each table group is given one or two iPads that they use throughout the day. Beginning at 9:00, students enter the room and check the iCal for the day’s events, this way they get straight to work without wasting the first ten minutes of the day, which is so common otherwise.

At present, the students and I are learning to use Pages ($9.99) from the iWork suite. I, for one, love it! Students can download documents from my .mac account and can also store their work there and retrieve it from anywhere. I look forward to learning Keynote ($9.99) as well.

As before, Safari is in heavy use for research purposes and Google is a good first source of information. Students are working on their ability to evaluate resources as good sources of information or weak ones.

Our paper dictionaries have become completely outmoded as students make such heavy use of the digital documents. I have found that with the digital resources available students are much more likely to look words up than they are with paper. Even when spelling doesn’t “count” students like to have things written correctly.

I have also found technology to be invaluable for drill and practice activities such as addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. I look forward to implementing them as a resource for our students who want to work on problem solving.

After one week, I still feel like I have so much to learn, but I am enjoying the challenge!

Inquiry-Based Learning

Summer 2009, I stumbled across this video of Sir Ken Robinson and was inspired to pick up his book “The Element; How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything”, which has enormously influenced my thinking on education and being an educator. I feel so lucky to be working at an innovative school, where we have the freedom and support to explore new ways of thinking and teaching.

Heritage Fair was a shining example of Inquiry-Based learning and educating students for the future. As Sir Ken Robinson said, “we are educating students who will not retire until 2065, and nobody has a clue what the world will look like in 5-years time; and yet, we’re meant to be educating them for it.”

Heritage Fair still feels like it was a huge undertaking and the feeling of being completely overwhelmed by it half way through is still strong in my mind. I wanted to throw in the towel because the feeling of everything happening at the same time and threatening to drown me was so strong. Managing 25 projects felt like it was getting too big as we approached our deadline and, for a few days, I felt like I couldn’t do it. Couldn’t do the job of managing the project and couldn’t do the job of “teacher” if it meant having to do everything in this new way. Being mid-project, however, and committed to going ahead, I did. “The show must go on,” as the saying goes.

I remember photocopying the information booklet for students at the beginning of the project and it felt like dropping a phone book on each desk. The panic in students was palpable as they fingered through the document, full of things they had no idea how to do and with numerous deadlines already looming!

I am so glad we hung on, though! The final product was well worth the effort and far exceeded my expectations. Students each created their own projects, including an essay (complete with title page and bibliography, citing at least three sources), an oral presentation, a speech, and a backboard (complete with images, written information, and artifacts, all sources cited). What excited me was seeing students take ownership of their work and readily discussing it with the adults and students in the room; not only were they able to discuss the facts they learned, but they were also able to use Bloom’s higher-order thinking skills and apply their research to Canadian heritage and to their own lives.

Further, students integrated the new information and were able to apply it to new learning in the classroom. This week, we had a presenter from the RCMP outreach program come to talk about treaties, a complicated topic all on its own, and many of my students had relevant information at their finger tips!

Keys to success:

1. Laying out the entire project from the beginning, complete with due dates, templates and examples, and providing it to students. This was providing them with a road map rather than asking them to trust that I knew where we were going and that the path would be revealed as we traveled.

2. Collaboration. This key cannot be overstated. Without the support of Mme Cornelisse, who managed the organizational component and offered classroom support, and the collegiality of the other two teachers involved, who often served as my sounding board, this project could not have been as successful as it was.

Learning Within These Four Walls

The question that I asked myself the other day is how I can better use all of the amazing technology available to me without using it just because it’s something cool.

Regina recently had a severe winter storm that kept half of my class home on the Monday following, five students out on Tuesday and busses are not expected to run Wednesday or Thursday. What a perfect opportunity to prove that the learning that takes place in our room doesn’t have to take place within the four walls that contain us!

The Website files have mostly been recovered and we seem to be back in business that way. Step one of project innovation is already under way: blog more. Students are able to check in from home and see what they’re missing. I was thrilled to see a student who had been away for a week had already copied down the new spelling words. In addition, students who had attended classes within our four walls on Monday ended up with extra time on their hands on Tues while waiting for some of those who were out to catch up, so they podcasted two of today’s articles, which some students have taken the time to comment on on the site!

What can I say? I’m already thrilled! This is a classroom in which students are often absent due to various commitments and travel plans. There is no reason why those students can’t stay in touch, participate in classroom discussions, and be our eyes and ears on the ground around the world.

I look forward to further exploring some ideas and seeing just how far we can take this. Of course, there are always some hurdles to jump due to technology failures (our two classroom computers have a broken Internet connection), but I think the project will be well worth the effort.