Flipped

I’ve been back in the classroom for three weeks now, and I think it’s safe to say that “flipped” is a good word for it… It’s a different pace of life than being home with my kids. I don’t know why it surprises me… it’s the same thing every year when we come back from break. Roll out of bed, hit the ground running.

I have been excitedly planning for the use of technology in my class and, as can be expected, I hit some technical glitches right away. The iPads are much slower at syncing than I had anticipated because they all need an updated OS, which seems to reset them. It’s taken an hour each for the two iPads I have done so far. Part of my plan for today’s PD day is to catch up on that front.

The learning curve was steep in the beginning, but I think I have a good app figured out for screencasting. I have been using “Explain Everything” ($1.99). It has some really nice features that allow me to bring in images and video, to draw and record on the screen, and to pause and rewind when needed.

So far, I recorded one lesson with the students. In that lesson I recorded sections where the students were to “pause now and find a solution on paper”. I watched them do it in class time and walked around to watch them work. All of them seemed to be engaged in the lesson and took the time to pause the video at the appropriate spots to work.

After watching the video, students were given some text book questions to do and all students seemed to have had success.

The plan now is to record a lesson and have the students watch at home so that we can ask questions at the top of the lesson, hopefully posting questions to corkboard, and spend the in-class portion practicing. The teacher who covered for my mat leave did a nice job of setting the students up with a math routine and they know that it goes lesson, text book work, duotang work, evaluations.

I think even if I don’t get the at-home portion of the flipped classroom working this year that there is some value in having recorded lessons for students. This could be a good way for more advanced students to work ahead and for weaker students to go back and review.

Saskatchewan Film Employment Tax Credit; Why I Care and Why Saskatchewan’s Educators Should too.

Before I begin, know that I write this from my own point of view; it is not endorsed by my board of education or my professional association. This is my own opinion as an educator. I do, however, have a vested interest in the topic, being a teacher, being the wife to a talented, nationally recognized picture editor, and the mother to a boy who will soon enter the school system. We live and work in Saskatchewan and, before the proposed cut,  had no inclination to leave here. This is my home. I do not want to leave it so that my family can continue to work in the

fields that pay our bills, but our livelihood here is threatened. This video is a compelling argument about the children of the Saskatchewan film industry, children of families affected by the proposed cuts.

Imagine the career landscape in Saskatchewan a year from now if the Saskatchewan Party decides they should go ahead with scrapping the tax credit. Many film and television industry leaders have discussed more clearly and succinctly than I can what will happen: the film industry in Saskatchewan will go away. Why should this matter to teachers? We are not in the business of making movie stars. Our government is not in the business of financing dreams. We are, however,  in the business of educating our children. Sir Ken Robinson, an important thinker in the field of education, stated it best in his book, The Element, when he said that every student is best served by finding their passion, their own learning mode. To me, that means that we need to meet students where they are and we need to do what it takes to get kids fired up about learning.

For many students, the spark is that of freedom to create; write stories, stage plays, make movies, create mini-documentaries about what they have learned. Ever done a heritage fair? How many of your students showed up in costume? How many of them took a few extra steps and visited the places they were researching to take pictures and shoot video? Not all of them, of course, but in the time I have done heritage fair, I would guess approximately 10%. Those students who take an extra creative step often inspire the students who did not to do better the next time. I have seen students who, after spending a month researching and writing, are inspired for next year’s project. They want to learn and they want to create and share.

We teach children to follow their passions, that they can be anything under the sun that they want to be, that they can ask questions, find answers, and share their knowledge.

How limiting is it for our students to dream big, but know that there is no future at home in the film, television, and new media sector? Our government sees the value in students making films to celebrate the legislative building’s 100th birthday, but they do not see the value in making a career out of film making. Many of Saskatchewan’s film industry jobs are for documentarians (want to make a living asking questions, finding answers, and sharing your knowledge?), crafts people, cooks, etc. There are myriad and unlimited ways to express creativity and to contribute to the economic engine at the same time. I once had a student ask: “Mme, is there a job where I can do social studies for a living? That is my favourite subject.” Yes! There are many! One of them is making documentaries! But now my government is telling me that it’s just not economically viable to tell stories from here. I won’t try to discuss the economics of film making here; there are many informed people in the industry who have done a better job than I can, Nova Herman-Alberts is one of them.

You might note that a couple of children in the video state that they want to be actors, directors, movie stars. They also state that they are considering a career in dentistry or palaeontology! These are careers in hard science that I believe the government of Saskatchewan would encourage our youth to pursue. We need geologists to keep the oil and gas and potash industries producing, no? Children inherently follow their interests without preconceived notions that art, science and economics do not belong together.

Science and art need not be disparate ideas! Many talented scientists are also talented artists. Art and science work together to make a whole person like baking soda and vinegar work together to make a cake. When the cake is done the ingredients are unrecognizable as individual ingredients. That does not mean that, therefore, one of the ingredients could be removed and we would get the same results. My students have painted science (solar system investigation), they have filmed social studies (mini-documentaries about student exchange programs).

What will happen when the tax credit cuts go ahead and our talented artists, actors, seamstresses, camera operators and others follow the money to our neighbouring provinces? Who will mentor our students? How will students share their ideas? How will we inspire them to ask questions, find answers an share knowledge?

Many of the talented people who make a living in the film and television industry also contribute significantly to the education scene. Judith Silverthorne, a prominent Saskatchewan writer of children’s fiction who also makes documentary films often makes an appearance in schools to talk with children about the writing process. Peter Krowler, a well-known actor, who has appeared on widely recognized shows like X-Files works with us though the CREATE program. While I cannot speak to what these two individuals  might do following the cuts, I  wonder what happens to our children’s exposure to real-world applications of what they learn at school when talented resource people leave our province.

Education and film and television are complementary, teaching children that what they learn at school is greater than the four walls that contain them. If you agree that our students benefit from a local film industry please take a moment to investigate the petition. Since the budget vote takes place on Thursday, I encourage you to phone Brad Wall’s office and share your thoughts. Write a letter and fax it in. These are our children, these are our students.

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.