Monday 8 February 2016

New Video featuring Connected Learning

The Connected Learning Project in Gold Trail includes different collaborative teams that bring learners together in our school district. We continue to be a part of the Growing Innovations Project and this fall, Graham and his team from Growing Innovations made the journey up to School District #74. They visited and filmed in our classes during connected lessons and interviewed many different members of the connected team, including students, teachers, principals and our superintendent, Teresa Downs. The video below is a great overview of the impact that Connected Learning has had, and continues to have, on all involved.

It's amazing to be a part of something that continues to transform teaching and learning in such a positive way.  Special thanks to Graham and team for coming to visit and putting the video together and to Pat Dooley, Leyton Schnellert and the rest of the Growing Innovations team for all their support!

Saturday 19 September 2015

New in the ECC This Year: Multimedia Teacher Introductions

I spent my Saturday morning searching for distraction. My husband and son left for a day of travelling for team sports and, because I can't go today, I needed to distract myself from feeling sad and disappointed that I'm not on the road with them.

I decided to check out something that I knew would distract me and cheer me up: the multimedia teacher introductions created but the ECC team that we are sharing with students next week.

Sitting here now, after watching those introductions, I am so impressed!! What a great way to start my Saturday morning! It's obvious that each teacher put a huge amount of thoughtful, purposeful effort into creating amazing multimedia files. What an awesome introduction for the students, and what a powerful way to role-model citizenship in this digital age. The kids are going to love the intros! We will most likely embed the files into our online hub, which is a moodle site at the moment, but if you'd like watch my video, it's here on our ECC vimeo page.

There's so much I could write about the process of creating my teacher introduction. I've never done anything like it. First, I am thankful to have learned a great deal about Quicktime, Keynote, and iMovie. I've worked with all before, but I've never created a multimedia file with embedded video clips and voiceovers like this one. It was a new level of multimedia learning (and frustration - oh the frustrations!!) and I'm glad I pushed myself to do what I set out to create in the first place. Yesterday morning I was ready to give up and play it safe. But then I was at school, working through this on my prep, and at recess, and when I realized my students were interested in what I was going through and they kept asking questions, and kept trying to help me problem solve, I knew I had to push through and figure it out. And I did. Late, late last night, but I did. I'm going to thank my students for that extra motivation.

After watching all the introductions this morning, I'm also humbled by the wonderful group of teachers in the ECC team this year. Those introductions are awesome. They exemplify pure teacher passion to do well, to share and to create an important piece to start building the relationships within our unique learning community. And even though we are all at different levels in our comfort levels with technology, everyone pushed to try something new and make it work. I'm so impressed, and I'm so excited to work with this team of dedicated educators who aren't afraid to take learning risks themselves. And the content? These people are super interesting! I can't wait to talk to them about what they put in the videos!! And if I can't wait, I'm guessing the students will be excited to meet them too. Even deconstructing the many layers of excitement the teacher introductions will create (are already creating) in the ECC is the type of complex engagement that seems to me to be unique to this project. I'd never seen anything quite like it until I was a part of the ECC.

While we've always done teacher introductions in the ECC to start our year, the multimedia teacher introductions are a new idea that was proposed by Jen when we met in the summer. We had originally planned to do a live video connection between all five classes and have a gallery walk around the room with the teacher introduction files loaded up at five computer stations around each room. I had envisioned looking at the video conferencing screen to see five classes of kids eagerly rushing from station to station, laughing and talking and waving at the video cameras as they moved around and actively learned about the five teachers from the introduction files. Jen also had the idea to create a Jeopardy type game for kids to participate in after watching the introductions to see how much they could remember about each teacher. We had planned a fun, active, hands-on, multimedia, connected lesson to start the year.

In reality, things are working out a little differently, which is often (usually?!) the way at the start of the school year, especially with all the technology we depend upon to connect and learn in the ECC. There's always that need to be flexible as a teacher, yes? At this point, only four sites can connect at once with the good quality of video conferencing we are used to and we are hoping that the tech department can work their magic and find a way to make that work with all five sites at the same time. The SD #74 tech department is a vital part of our extended ECC family; I can't even begin to express my appreciation for all they do to keep us up and running the majority of the time.

So, in the last few weeks, after numerous emails, we decided to complete the teacher intro files as planned and share them as best fits our classes next week. I hope we can still do the Jeopardy lesson idea as I think that would be a great way for kids to communicate their learning. We've also decided to give the students the challenge of creating a classroom introduction next week and I'm super excited to see what happens with that too.

It's neat to see the ECC unfolding in a whole new way this year! Thanks for reading!

This post was also shared on my own professional blog here.

Thursday 10 September 2015

Welcome to the ECC and the 2015/2016 School Year!!

Back to school! I thought I'd share the letter we are sending home to the ECC families. This is the basic message sent out to the ECC teaching team tonight to adapt/adjust and send home to families as they see fit:
Dear parents, guardians, and families, 
Welcome to the 2015/2016 school year! I would also like to welcome your child and your family to the Elementary Connected Classroom (ECC) project. This project, unique to School District #74, is in it’s seventh year and it is an amazing educational opportunity for all involved! 
We have five ECC classrooms connecting this year:
Ms Eddie’s grade 4/5 class at George M. Murray Elementary,
Ms Helton’s grade 4/5 class at Lytton Elementary,
Mrs. Merry’s grade 4/5 class at Desert Sands Community School,
Mrs. Patterson’s grade 4/5 class at Cache Creek Elementary, and,
Ms Gregory’s grade 7 class at Cayoosh Elementary.
Next week, students will participate in a connected lesson introducing the five teachers to all students. We plan to do connected class introductions before the end of September and the ECC teaching team is meeting for a day of collaboration in early October to plan connected activities for the fall and early winter. We would also like to do an ECC Open House soon so stay tuned for more information on that and to learn about which classes are connecting for which connected lessons soon!

Ms E. Gregory
Grade 7 Elementary Connected Classroom Teacher 
Cayoosh Elementary School

I'm super excited to be working with such a fantastic team and I think it's going to be a great year!

Thanks for reading!

Friday 21 November 2014

Inquiry Topics Motivate Discussion

We just had the most incredible experience in the ECC. I led the first lesson in the year long inquiry project. This lesson is all about asking the students to think about what they would like to learn about. I asked them, if you could spend your time doing anything, what would you do? If you could learn about anything at all, what would you choose? What are you passionate about in life?

Students wrote their ideas about their 'burning passions' down on paper, and then they were asked to login to our shared online moodle site and post their 'burning passions' to the online forum. They were very enthusiastic and the excitement in the room was fantastic!

But the most incredible part of the lesson was yet to come. We have spent two weeks learning about paper blogging (see Pernille Ripp's post on this for more information!), or, for us, paper moodling (meaning I adapted the paper blogging lessons to fit our moodle site). Students have been practicing 'highway' comments, or comments that continue the conversation by asking questions or making connections to what others have said, as opposed to 'dead end' comments which end the conversation.

I asked students to read through other student replies to see if they had any connections or questions and to make at least one 'highway' comment to try to start a conversation with one of their classmates. I also mentioned that maybe, just maybe, they might find another student interested in the topic and that perhaps you could talk about learning together.

I expected most to comment and then most of those to reply back, meaning I estimated high at 120 posts in the forum after about 30 minutes. I'm usually pretty good at predicting things like that, but not this time!

I was absolutely amazed to see that after 30 minutes, posts were still flying in. Student 'burning passion' replies were much more than I expected. And student 'highway' comments were everywhere! In less than 45 minutes, we had over 250 student replies on the forum!

In all the years I've been teaching, I've never seen anything like that. I was beyond speechless and completely thrilled!

Once again, the inquiry project inspired and motivated students and worked as a context in which to teach something important, in this case, how to have a productive learning conversation online.

Friday 19 September 2014

Back to School...Finally!

Well, it's been quite a school start up here in BC this year. Last night the majority of teachers in the province voted to ratify a tentative deal between teachers and the employer. That meant that today, finally, after lockouts, job action and weeks of picket duty, teachers went to work to set up classrooms for students on Monday.

So much to do in so little time, but that's okay! I'm happy to be going back to work in the ECC.

What's ahead for the ECC this year? Well, we are starting out with the same teaching team that we ended with last year. Mrs. Patterson is once again teaching a grade 5/6/7 split in Cache Creek, Ms Marlow has a grade 4/5 split in Ashcroft, Mr. Lewis has switched to a grade 6/7 class in Lytton and I return to the first grade I ever taught - grade 7! - here in Lillooet. It's great to have an existing, experienced team in place and ready to go!

In the spring, the team had decided to go with the theme of Myths, Legends and Folklore for our first set of Online Literature Circles. No specific dates in place for when we start with that, but I can't wait to meet with the team and see what books and stories they found to go with that theme. I have two really good novels that I can't wait to share. Both are available on audiobook CDs so we can put our eight iPods to good use again this year!!

Because of the grade changes, I'm going to shift the focus for my digital photography lessons. In the past, I've focused on the Elements of Design (line, texture, shape, colour, etc.) from the Visual Arts curriculum but as most students have already been in the ECC and had those lessons, and as they are older and the curriculum shifts a bit with age, I think I'd like to focus on the Principles of Design (balance, contrast, emphasis, harmony, etc.) to begin with. These concepts are more difficult to grasp, but I think that by doing one concept per lesson per week that the students will do well. I know that the group I have in my classroom are particularly skilled visually - many very artistic kids! - so I'm looking forward to seeing what they can do!!

One other really cool, new thing that the teacher team is doing this year is engaging in a collaborative teacher inquiry.  This year, the team is using teacher inquiry to look at how to use technology to deepen meaningful connections between students in different schools with a focus on peer learning. This inquiry is based on the notion of the ECC as a learning community and the desire to grow from current successes. I spent some time going through my Masters coursework on teacher inquiry and action research and I think that, as a team, we can engage in some very meaningful and powerful learning to improve our practice and improve student learning in the ECC. More to come!

Saturday 10 May 2014

Spring Learning Highlights in the ECC

This spring, the ECC has been a busy place full of energetic learners of all ages. Here are some of our highlights from the last couple of months:

Writing - Special Grown-Ups

One highlight that seems to be a stand-out for students in my room is a set of two writing lessons by Ms Marlow. The first lesson started with a beautiful story about a mother and child and then students participated in a planning activity meant to evoke details about a special grown-up in the child's life. 

The power of this activity was evident when, during an Elder's and Family Tea in my classroom, one student shared her piece of writing about her deceased grandfather. The hush that comes over a crowd moved with emotion spread like a blanket over the 50 or so people in the room that day. It is a beautiful piece of writing and this student, like many others, will be proud of that piece of writing for a long time to come.

Science - Environmental Science

For many students, the most memorable learning in Science with Mr. Lewis this spring has to be the lesson about the green and blue frog. Students have been learning through scientific inquiry all year and recently Mr. Lewis has been using Smarter Science as a framework for lessons.

The lesson on the green and blue frog was focused around a seemingly simple photograph prompt. Students made observations, asked questions and then wrote and shared inferences about the photograph. I was impressed with the quality of their ideas and surprised at how insightful many students were - I should know better by now, but kids never cease to amaze me! At the end of the lesson, the discussion turned to the frog life cycle and how this frog spent some of it's early years in polluted water resulting in a permanent change in the colouring of it's skin. Serious discussion about the effects of pollution ensued and left a lasting impression.

Photoshop - Happiness Imagery

The focus of my lessons this spring was editing and altering digital imagery using Photoshop Elements 11. By this point in the year, students have a bank of their own amazing photographs and they are skilled at creating and critiquing images using specific knowledge learned throughout the first part of the year. The shift in learning from simply taking photographs to uploading and editing/altering those photographs using software is subtle yet profound. Students love using Photoshop. It is instant engagement and students are surprisingly skilled at using software with only the most basic of how-to lessons. I've learned the best thing to do is introduce Photoshop, demonstrate a bit, and then let the kids have the time to figure it out on their own and teach one another if needed. They are quick to learn!!

The highlight has to be the Happiness Imagery for a few reasons. Students were asked to create an image that communicated the idea of happiness. We brainstormed what those images might include (a lovely list of ideas that included rainbows, smiling faces and puppies!) and then students were given time to create. The ability to create a image using digital technologies is an important piece to the larger learning goal of visual literacy.

While many students jumped into the assignment and quickly created their imagery, one of our classes struggled. When it came time to share, they didn't have any images to share out that week (which is fine - depending on each individual class schedules sometimes one class is ahead or behind the rest of the group). Interestingly, after seeing about a dozen Happiness Images shared from three sites, the teacher in the fourth site reported that the students went crazy and quickly completed an assignment that they had previously been stumped on. It seems that all they needed in the end was a little more time and, as the song goes, "a little help" from their friends. 

Gathering at CCES - Geocaching!!

I'm quite sure that the number one highlight for most in the ECC would have to be the recent Gathering in Cache Creek. As Cache Creek is new to the ECC this year, this was the first ever Gathering hosted by Cache Creek Elementary School (CCES). Mrs. Patterson and her students did a fantastic job creating a day of community building through several hours of geocaching around the town of Cache Creek.

A local volunteer from Gold Country helped to start our day and, after Mrs. Patterson placed students in multi-site groupings, off we went! Not only did we have students and teachers from all four sites participating, but we also had Aboriginal Student Support Workers, Special Teaching Assistants, parents, grandparents and Ms O'Connor, the principal of CCES. It was meaningful relationship building on many, many levels.

We had a super fun day travelling all over Cache Creek by foot searching for hidden geocaches. From my perspective, and the perspective of all those I talked with, the day was a huge success. I should mention, that perhaps a couple, (okay, three), groups took a wrong turn, misread a clue and became more than a little lost, resulting in an unnecessary and short hike, but that only led to making the day even more memorable! It was wonderful to see everyone and to spend some time in one of our communities, not to mention, one of our schools.

That's it!! Well, not really, so much more has happened, but those are a few of the more amazing learning experiences in the ECC this spring. Thanks for reading and stay tuned for at least one more update before our year ends in June.

Thursday 8 May 2014

Connected Learners Visit to PSII

Connected Learning in School District #74 is always a rich, full learning experience for all those involved. The last month or so has been extraordinary for both children and adult learners. Following on from the most recent post in this space (Nicky's first foray into the world of blogging - yay Nicky!!), I'd like to continue the theme of professional learning and write about a recent experience that will not leave me.

As many of you know, one exciting piece to the Elementary Connected Classrooms (ECC) is the year long inquiry project. I've written about the inquiry project already in this space here and here. While this marks the fourth year that students are experiencing this amazing way to learn in the ECC, it's interesting that in the last two years, inquiry-based learning as a methodology is at the forefront of education in BC and around the world. Inquiry as a way for students to learn is everywhere.

Inquiry-based learning is an ongoing topic of professional development for the Connected Learning team. Imagine my excitement when I was recently invited by the English Connected 8/9 team to travel with them to Victoria to visit the Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry (PSII). I'd watched the tweets and blog posts online last year as Jeff Hopkins left his position as the Superintendent of Gulf Islands last year to open this school. I couldn't wait to meet Jeff and observe in his school.

Before you read the next few sentences, you need to know that I love my job, I love being a part of the ECC team and I love working in School District #74. I really do. I will say, however, that if there was some way that I could transport myself and my two sons to Victoria and beg Jeff to let me teach in his school, I would. What an amazing place of learning that has been created.

There are many, many things I have to say about this school that make it such a phenomenal place to teach and learn. Jeff's passion and brilliance. The amazing energy in the other two teachers I had a chance to talk with and learn from - Jake and Sophia. The physical space set up to facilitate everything from choreography practise to 3D printers to large, whole-school activities to small spaces meant for quiet contemplation or high-energy discussion. The respectful tone and polite way in which everyone interacted with others.

And the students. I spent as much time as I could talking with the kids about their learning. The relaxed, student-directed pace and tone in the building was exactly how I wish my classroom to always be. The students were so passionate and excited about what they were doing. They were extremely well-spoken. These students talked differently from any other students I've ever had the chance to speak with in that you could tell what they were doing was interdisciplinary; they made connections with their learning between disciplines. They were also profoundly respectful of the learning activities; that was clearly evident as they spoke about their inquiries. It was wonderful to see the excitement of a group of students creating a production schedule for the filming of their short film, the seriousness of a student conversing in French with her teacher during a French lesson, and the quiet passion with which one student spoke of the novel she is writing.

I learned a great deal that day, but I'd like to end by focusing on what I learned about inquiry-based learning methods. At PSII, the year started off much the same as our inquiry project does - what are you interested in and what questions do you have about that topic? The teachers then helped students to formulate better questions. The next steps involved turning those questions into learning activities. And off the kids go, leading their learning, happy to learn and engaged in learning that really matters to them.

That is a huge simplification of the process, but essentially, that was the essence of how to get the kids going on their inquiry projects. Students can have as many inquiry projects as they like. Some they will finish, some they will continue with the next year. It falls to the teachers to take a good look at the what the students are learning and determine how it fits with the learning outcomes. Some outcomes are very specific and must be covered in isolation but many curricular areas seemed to overlap in a natural, almost intuitive way. One example of this was that the student writing the novel created a large map of landforms, ocean currents, weather patterns, etc. for the setting she created for her novel. The map project work went towards Social Studies in one term, but more importantly, it will continue to inform her writing for months to come. Meaningful learning. Student-driven. Exciting.

One structure put in place to support and enhance student learning is the competency session schedule. Basically, if a student wants more formal guidance learning something for their inquiry, they can talk with a teacher about doing a competency session. The schedule of competency schedules can be found on the PSII website here. Teachers create sessions based on interest. If needed, a student might have to or want to have some more formal learning in some areas. If students want to attend the sessions just because, they can. If they want to attend the session as part of one of their inquiries, they can and then they need to create/produce evidence of learning connected to the competency sessions attended.

There are many other structures at PSII that seem to me more like the enabling constraints. Math is taught in context, with some tutorials when needed and many opportunities for practice and guidance. There are internships set up with many outside companies. Physical education requirements are met by students stepping out to the YMCA two blocks away from the school. It must be both exhausting and exhilarating to have one's mind open to a constant cross-curricular experience. I loved it.

After spending the day watching and talking and questioning, I asked Jeff my most burning question. When you have 30 students completing 30 separate inquiries in 30 separate ways, how do you manage the messiness as the educator guiding the learning? I asked this because that's where we are at in the year, and while the energy and excitement coming from the kids in my classroom is incredible, it's challenging for me to process how to most effectively manage that learning chaos.

Jeff's advice was simple and perfect:  give them what they need right now. Don't try to think about where they're going because they can each go in a hundred different directions with their learning everyday so give them what they need right now.

I could write much more about this: the profound dream I had about learning and teaching the night after the visit, the amazing short film crew kids I had a chance to learn from and more on assessment and evaluation. I'll finish up by saying it was a fantastic experience and made me even more excited to continue to improve upon the inquiry project we have in the ECC. While I still feel that I have a lot to learn, I think we're doing a great job so far.