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.