Monday, 12 December 2011

Shifting Practice?

Today, I had a lengthy conversation with a parent from the high school in Lytton who had asked me for a general rundown on Connected Classrooms.  We talked first about the classroom set up: what it looks like, the technology and tools our classrooms have to learn with, and scheduling/curriculum.

 She then asked me a question I’ve sometimes thought about, and have talked about informally with my other CC teachers.

 Then, she asked me if I was a different teacher because of it.

 The answer, in many ways, is yes.

 It brought me back to my first three years of teaching. I remember feeling like an island in my room, and I recall many days of survival mode. It’s pretty scary as a new teacher and without a structured mentorship program in BC, sometimes it was hard to know if I was making progress. I had never really spent much time in other teacher’s classrooms, beyond the limited breadth of my teaching practicum. I wasn’t completely sure what good practice looked like, and really lacked feedback. There were little gem moments, but most feedback came after a crisis point. As I am still a relatively new teacher(this is my sixth class), maybe I don't have a lot of experience for comparison's sake, as I've been on the ECC team for half of my short career, but I've experience notable shifting.

For me, I think the best part of teaching in Connected Classrooms has been having a window into the classrooms of my teaching colleagues. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed seeing how they work, strategies they use, and how they respond to classroom challenges. I love watching how they plan and implement lessons, and I love finding out what inspires them.  It’s sort of like free, daily professional development. I’ve also come to realize that teachers love to collaborate, but most schools don’t have formal collaboration structures. I love that we get to plan our year together in Connected Classrooms. It’s been fantastic to have three different brains to sculpt our scope and sequence of the year, and to have multiple sets of ears to bounce feedback from. I also love that my teaching partners have been so flexible, and are able to roll with the frequent changes that exist in an elementary school.  Finally, we’ve been lucky to have had multiple opportunities to attend professional development as a team, which has left me energized and enthusiastic.

I think that ECC has opened up my room and my teaching practice in ways I never imagined, and I’m glad that I’ve had amazing teaching colleagues on the journey. I think that my growth as a teacher has far more dramatic than if I had never had the opportunity of this project, and the learning curve has been steep and fulfilling. It would hard to go back to teaching now without the team!

So, yes, I think the project has definitely changed me as a teacher, and quite possibly as a person. I think our project has served to break down walls, and has made me more willing to take risks and change what I do. I think that when we put ourselves out there to ninety students on the videoconference screen, we are in a vulnerable place. At the same time, I think this is a place where deep learning can happen.

 More thoughts to come….

Monday, 5 December 2011

Reading Power

Aislinn Mulholland, one of my teaching partners, delivers weekly videoconference lessons on Reading Power Strategies. One of her recent lessons focused on Connecting, and more particularly, connecting to families. Students shared a read aloud via the document cam and Brigit about different types of families. The document cam and Brigit software has made sharing books together so easy! During the read aloud, students made connections to their own families, and shared their connections orally to the other classes. The lesson ended with students creating a family collage depicting their own reality. The following week, these collages were shared with all three sites, and students thoroughly enjoyed seeing the similarities and differences between their families and communities. Students are so proud to share their work with the other classrooms!

Thanks for the great connecting lesson, Aislinn. All of the students in my class asked to take home their collages as a gift for their family. 

Photography: Making Visual Connections

My class loves Thursdays. It’s their favourite day of the week.

Thursday is photography day! Errin Gregory, one of my teaching partners, delivers weekly photography lessons. Each class is up to about five digital cameras, though some days even that isn’t enough. Errin has focused the first part of our year on composition and the principles/elements of design. Assignments begin simple, and continue to build on their skill base. Already, my students have a huge collection of digital images that range from assignments such a line, texture, colour and shape to perspective and portraiture. The lessons begin with a sharing out of last week’s photos, instruction on the element or principle they will be working on, and some free shooting time for students. Photography has spread like wildfire at our school; we have an afterschool photography club that is very popular, and students bring in mounds of photos they’ve taken over the weekend.

In the new year, we’ll be delving into photo-editing… can’t wait to see the finished products!

Here's a shot from on of our afterschool photo can do cool things with a great group of kids, flashlights, and a dark gym!

Building a Virtual Network

I’m currently teaching math to the grade sevens here at Lytton Elementary, and these are the students who were in Connected Classrooms last year. Due to staffing changes, I moved down two grades, and the current sevens didn’t get a second year of CC. It’s always interesting when they come in, as their eyes naturally wander towards the VC equipment, and they always know when I’m logged into Brigit. They always want me to leave a message for the other classes, even though they are no longer in the project. They’ve asked multiple times to just call the other sites from last year. Often, a grade seven student will tell me what one of the students from Ashcroft or Cayoosh is doing now, as they keep current on status updates with their ECC Facebook friends.

Last week, one of my students was sad that they no longer had videoconferences. When asked why, she responded with, “It’s just our class now. It’s kind of lonely. I miss seeing their faces!”

It made me think of how open my classroom has become, and how many other peers my students have met as a result of the project. I remember the first day they had a videoconference, and how painfully shy they had been. It’s exciting to see them reach out and make those connections. I’m also glad to know that at least some of them have sustained those relationships, and are starting to build a virtual network.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Out First Connected Gathering

Each year, ECC students get together three times for face to face gatherings. We meet once at each community, and this is an important time for students to meet and socialize to extend their online relationships.
Out first gathering of the year was hosted by the ECC students and Mrs.Mulholland at Ashcroft Elementary. We met at their school, and then we all travelled together to a local pumpkin patch. Students had a blast meeting their peers from other schools, and the bus ride home was buzzing with excitement. The initial shyness wore off quickly, and students talked about their new friends and the pumpkin patch experience for weeks to come!
The kids are thrilled to visit Ms.Gregory and her class at Cayoosh in January!

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Thoughts from students

I'm inviting our ECC students to weigh in with their opinions.

What do you like best about Connected Classrooms?
How is it different from other classrooms you've been in?

Tuesday, 15 November 2011


Today, we worked on a lesson to deepen our moodle responses. While we've found a high level of engagement for our moodle site, we are always working to improve the quality and depth of student responses.

Since September, students have been working on weekly moodle forums as a component of ECC. Each week, a new deep thinking question is posed in the following forums: Current Events, Reading Power, Photography and Math.

Today students explored a video prompt and sculpted a response to post on moodle. This year, we are doing our best to provide more talk time prior to moodle posts, so hopefully we see deeper responses.

In addition to the weekly forums, students also participate in Online Literature Circles every week on moodle. Students choose from a variety of books within our theme(this year, it's survival). They join an online conversation on moodle once a week within their book's forum, which is moderated by a teacher. For the first set of books in our theme, each teacher took three books. We begin Lit Circles with book talk week(the best week of the year!). Each teacher sells the book they have chosen, and then they lead a weekly forum on that book, posing a deep thinking question each week. It feels like Christmas when kids see the new book bins arriving!We also have the option of listening to many of the Literature Circle books on class ipods, and this has made more challenging reads accessible to a variety of learners.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Day to Day in ECC

Each classroom in the project is equipped with:

-       videoconferencing equipment

-       smart board

-       wireless microphone for school-to-school sharing

-       class set of net books

-       class set of headphones

-       at least three digital cameras

Students engage in four teacher-facilitated videoconferencing lessons a week based on the teacher’s area of expertise and passion. Students participate daily on a shared moodle site; they engage in online literature circles, weekly forums (current events, math logic, reading power deep thinking questions) and collaborate on a year-long inquiry project.

One of the biggest successes of the project has been the increase of motivation and joy of reading that result from several sets of online literature circles throughout they year. The project has ensured that adequate resources exist to compile a rich variety of texts available at each site for these literature circles ranging from novels, picture book, non-fiction, and Aboriginal content to reach a variety of readers. Struggling readers at sites have the opportunity to have audio books purchased when the text appeals to them but is beyond their reading level.

Students, over the course of the year, learn to navigate digital software and learn to create a variety of multimedia content for the purposes of collaboration, sharing across sites,  and demonstrations of learning.

The physical environment varies from class to class, yet all students sit in partners and groups to encourage collaboration. Student generally spread about the classroom and find spaces where they work best during independent practice time. The classrooms have a variety of pillows, student centers, and spaces to accommodate where they best work.

The Team

Elementary Connected Classrooms receives support at a variety of levels within the school district. The current impetus is driven by three core classrooms teachers.

Core Classroom Teacher: Brooke Haller, Lytton Elementary School

Core Classroom Teacher: Aislinn Mulholland, Ashcroft Elementary School

Core Classroom Teacher: Errin Gregory, Cayoosh Elementary School

The three core teachers come from a variety of educational backgrounds and teach based on their expertise and passions. Expertise ranges from children’s literature, technology fostering active citizenship, global education, fine arts, to writing. Teachers collaborate in three to four face-to- face collaboration days yearly, monthly videoconferencing meetings, and daily email communication. While teachers lie at the core of the project, its success has depended on strong and continued support from school and district administrators.

Our Learners

The project focuses on students in grades 4-7, ranging in age from 9-13. Three classrooms are involved: two are grade 4/5 classrooms, and the third is a grade 6/7 classroom. Over half of the students within the project are of Aboriginal Nations ancestry. All of the students who would normally be in any of the teacher’s classrooms are involved, and the project hopes to eventually expand to make the Connected Classrooms experience available to all elementary schools within our school district.
The three classrooms in the project are highly intertwined, despite each school being roughly an hour’s drive apart from the other; videoconferencing and online programs are working to geographical boundaries. Elementary Connected Classrooms is one of many iniatives within our district designed to meet the needs of declining enrolment and rural isolation through technology and instructions; models exist within secondary schools as well. This year, there is also an English 8 connected classrooms that links secondary classrooms in English 8, as well as a variety of shared learning initiatives at the secondary level.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Project Goals

- To enhance digital literacy and ability of students to collaborate through the seamless use of transformative technology.

 - To create project-based learning experiences which are interdisciplinary in nature and promote collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking.

 - To build cross-cultural understanding between communities within our school district by creating new partnerships and linking learners in Connected Classrooms. The project seeks to build understanding between the different Aboriginal nations within our district and non-Aborginal students with diverse backgrounds.

- to share good teaching practice and engage in authentic teacher collaboration

Our Research Question for the Growing Innovations Project

This is where we started with our original question, though we've already discussed a slight departure:

How can the Connected Classrooms project broaden the learning community of our students and foster collaboration between geographically distant students by creating new learning partnerships both within and outside of our district?

We're thinking of re-sculpting into two directions; one that considers impact on students/communities and one that considers how the project has shifted pedagogy and practice for the teachers within the team.


Collaboration lies at the core of the project.  The three classrooms in the project are highly intertwined, despite each school being roughly an hour’s drive apart from the others; videoconferencing and online communication mediums are working to dissolve geographical boundaries. Connected Classrooms is one of many initiatives within our district designed to meet the needs of declining enrolment, limited student peer groups and rural isolation through collaborative technology and instruction. The project also respects that the interactive nature of our knowledge-based world requires the ability to collaborate and that innovation requires people to interact in a variety of ways, including through interactive technologies and project-based experiences.

The project has created a community of learners amongst the students and teachers. The learning is organized by core teachers who collaborate and plan with each on a daily, weekly and month basis; teachers model the collaborative process they promote within students. The nature of the videoconferences is highly collaborative; students engage in many project-based activities that are constructivist and require cooperation with classmates, creativity and critical thinking. Learners and teacher- facilitators interact through videoconference interactions, sharing smart board work via Brigit, and engaging in online forums and chat rooms together.  Moodle has become a powerful communication and sharing tool; students frequently message each other and their teachers, and engage deeply in discussion forums. Participants also communicate by sharing a variety of multimedia content created by students and facilitators at each site.

What is Connected Classrooms?

The Connected Classrooms project is an intentional departure from the traditional approach to education in its approach to technology and instruction and has been a successful pilot project in its district. This project exists in two different settings: Elementary Connect Classrooms and English 8 Connected Classrooms. The Elementary Connected Classrooms project is comprised of three elementary classrooms with students from grades 4-7 students in the communities of Lytton, Ashcroft and Lillooet. At the secondary level, the English 8 Connected Classrooms project links English 8 classrooms in the communities of Clinton, Lillooet, Ashcroft and Lytton.  In each project, the teachers and students collaborate to combine their classrooms via daily videoconferencing, online collaborative work, and by creating a variety of multimedia content.

Collaboration and Technology

This blog is dedicated to following the progress and development of the Elementary Connected Classrooms Project in School District 74. As we become a "Growing Innovation", we seek to critically reflect on our impact on students and teaching practice within our district. We are thankful for the support of the Ministry and the University of BC in the Growing Innovations Project as we evolve.

This page will serve as an open discussion and presentation of the many of things happening within the project!