Wednesday, 19 December 2012

The Beauty of ECC!

I would like to formally introduce myself as the newest member of the ECC! I feel very lucky to be a member of such an amazing team of teachers. Errin and Aislinn have made me feel very welcome.

I would like to share a few things about myself. I have wanted to be a teacher for as long as I can remember. During my Education Program at UBC Okanagan, I did one practicum in Grade 2 and the other in Grade 4/5. I really enjoyed teaching both grades and when I graduated last spring, I was open to teaching any grade. The Okanagan area is very difficult to get into as a full-time teacher and I knew that if I was lucky enough to get hired as a Teacher-On-Call, I could easily be doing that for quite a few years before I would get a full-time teaching position.

Close to the end of the summer, my husband and I decided that I should try applying to some other districts to see what would happen. When I saw the posting for an Intermediate Connected Classroom Teacher in School District 74, I immediately started "Googling" to find out what a Connected Classroom was. I came across this blog and the Prezi made by the team last year. I was very intrigued and thought that this would be a great opportunity for me!

When I got hired, I honestly could not believe it. Within less than a week, I went from hoping to get a job as a TOC to having a full-time teaching position.

I first met Errin and Aislinn via video conference, which was an interesting experience because I felt like I knew them although we had not yet met in person. As soon as I met both Errin and Aislinn in person, I knew I had made the right decision by taking this job (which does not feel at all like a job!). I imagine that this is how our students feel, because they meet the other classes everyday via video conference before they ever meet them face-to-face. The students have now had one face-to-face gathering and I'm looking forward to seeing how they interact with each other differently at the second gathering!

The beauty of Connected Classrooms, as a new teacher, is that you have an extra support system. I have heard from other teachers that they often feel alone or isolated in their classrooms. With ECC, I have never felt this way. I think this is the benefit of the ECC for students as well. Our students are living in small, rural communities and with Connected Classrooms, they get to connect with students from other communities. They also get the benefit of having three teachers, which means three different sets of strengths, passion, and knowledge.

I have found that Connected Classrooms also increases the quality of student work. The lessons that we do where students get to share their work, either verbally or in a photo, produce a higher quality of work because students know they will be sharing it. Also, once they see the quality of work that other students are doing, I think it increases their motivation to improve their own work.

I look forward to continuing to learn and grow as part of the ECC team! I am excited to see the continued learning and engagement of the students in the New Year!

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Always nice to hear positives from parents...

I cannot believe that four months have already flown on by this school year. I will do my best to post at least once a month for the next few months! For now, a lovely story I wanted to share that originated from a conversation with a parent of one of my students...

At the Christmas Craft Fair this week, I made a point of talking with as many parents as possible. One conversation was particulary enlightening. 

I was chatting with one of the students’ mothers. We were talking about a variety of things and somehow the conversation turned to the Online Literature Circles. She talked about how this was the first time her child had shown an interest in reading novels. This surprised me because if I’d had to guess, I would have guessed that this student has been reading novels for two years. Her mother was so pleased that we were encouraging students to read novels. She read both novels that her child brought home in the nine weeks of Online Literature Circles and she was very impressed with the quality of the literature for the students to read. 
It was great to hear such a positive experience for both a mother and child originating in the ECC! Finally, I think it’s very important to share that I made a point of crediting my colleague Aislinn for having such a flair for finding and choosing wonderful novels for our students (and their parents!) to enjoy.

Image used via Creative Commons license taken by Daryl Marquardt and accessed on December 13th, 2012 from

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Welcome to the ECC 2012-2013

It looks to be another exciting year in the Elementary Connected Classrooms (ECC)! This month marks the start of the project's fourth year and we continue to grow and evolve in new ways. Thank you to Brooke for the kind words in her last post - I am excited to be in my first official leadership role! While Aislinn and I are thrilled to welcome a new member (more information coming about her soon!), it was a sad day when Brooke Haller announced that she would be leaving the ECC last June. The Connected 8 project is lucky to have her and I am happy we can stay connected through her role as the District Technology Collaboration Teacher.

Once again we have the three classes full of early intermediate students. Cayoosh has a straight grade five class, and both Lytton and Ashcroft have grade 4/5 split classrooms. Each classroom has at least a few students that were in the ECC last year, and it's great to see those students stepping up as leaders already.

One thing the students in my class are talking about already is the inquiry project! Many students that were in the other class last year had heard about it and are eager to get started. Although we don't begin formal lessons until October, many students in my classroom went home on Friday thinking about topics of interest. I can't wait to see what topics the students will choose - that alone tells me a great deal about the students and offers a topic of discussion that is always sure to bring an excited tone to their voice! 

Ideas for future posts include the ECC Open House, the CES Fall Conference the team is presenting at this year, the inquiry project including the theory and academics behind it, and also, hopefully, an introduction to our newest member. The plan is to continue sharing in this space for students, families, colleagues and others to see all the great things happening in our connected classrooms.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Changing Times: Leadership Shift

Changes are happening in ECC this fall!

The ECC team will be welcoming Errin Gregory as the new ECC leader. Errin comes with a wealth of experience in both the classroom and digital world. Over the past two years, it has been a pleasure to work alongside, collaborate with and learn from Errin every day. Her innovative practice, collaborative mindset and research-driven pedagogy has been appreciated by team members and students alike.

I am shifting from ECC into Connected Classrooms 8 and will be leading this branch of Connected Classrooms in the fall. A component of my new job is now the district Technology Collaboration teacher, so I hope to keep close ties to to project and the colleagues that have brought me such fulfillment over the past three years.

We will also keep you posted as the position for the third ECC member is filled, and will soon be welcoming a new team member to the ECC family.

Congratulations, Errin!

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Connected Classrooms 2011-2012

What are your favourite memories of Connected Classrooms this year?
What did you enjoy the most?

Monday, 7 May 2012

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Impact of ECC on student engagement

This writing is cross-posted at my professional blog, Just a Thought, as it pertains to my writing and learning in that space as well.

Starting with today

I looked through the doorway during a lesson this morning, peeking out to see what the group of students outside was doing. I could see what looked like a huddle of nine boys, all squeezing in around the one student holding the camera. They were watching the playback of a video clip they had just filmed. As I watched, the Aboriginal Student Support Worker supervising students working outside caught my eye. She smiled and said "they're sure having fun!" As she spoke, the group suddenly broke apart, smiles on every face. They started running toward the classroom, having completed their video clip, ready to upload it to a netbook. Each student looked energized, happy, and motivated. They were fully engaged in their learning.

To put this in context, we started a multimedia unit last week in the Connected Classrooms. Today I introduced software for creating and editing videos. After a 15 minute lesson introducing the learning intentions, software and a quick review of royalty-free audio sites from the week before, I set students free to explore, create and direct their own learning.

That was when the learning started to get messy.

By messy, I mean that some students immediately went over to grab a camera and start filming video clips. One group of students began taking photos for a stop motion animation film. Several students opened up the royalty-free music sites from the week before and started downloading audio. Many students decided to try out the software for themselves and started creating a slideshow right away.

There were students working alone, lost in their own world of multimedia exploration, other students worked with a partner and learned from each other as they went along, and still other students working in small groups. Students were inside, outside, in the back room, out in the hallway and working in the room next door.

I could barely finish up with one student before another came up with an urgent question – How do I upload the video onto my flashdrive? How do I download this song? Where are all the cameras because we need one? – and on and on and on. The students wanted to know, needed to know, the answers so they could get on with creating their multimedia pieces. No hesitation to ask questions from this group.

And that was just the students in my classroom at Cayoosh. Watching the screen from time to time, I could see most of the students in Ashcroft and Lytton at their computers, but I wondered how many of my other students in those places were off with cameras and ideas during the connection. I also wondered if there were any questions from those students afar, but, thankfully, as both of my Connected Classroom colleagues are extremely tech-savvy when it comes to multimedia, I was confident that they were able to answer all questions at their sites.

It was a great class and the learning only stopped because lunch arrived. Students didn’t want to stop. They procrastinated when it came time to finish up – just let me download this one last song, I just need to get the photos off the camera, I want to show my friend the video I made – please Ms G? When I turned the microphone on to finish up the connected lesson with all three sites, I felt as if I was interrupting all the students. The Ashcroft and Lytton students seemed completely engaged as well. The chorus of “Goodbye!” was quieter than usual, and my guess is that students were so into the multimedia activities that our closing farewell faded in importance, a rare and unusual occurrence.

How has connected classrooms impacted student engagement?

Which brings me back to the original question: how has connected classrooms impacted student engagement in my classroom? Even reflecting solely on today’s lesson, there are so many ways to answer this question. There are the obvious answers based on the latest research focused on student engagement in schools. During the connected lesson, students were focused and on task. They wanted to keep going and didn’t want to stop and disengage from their activities. They took the initiative to ask questions and move beyond the walls of the classroom to get the photos or video footage they needed. They were animated, energetic and brought that ‘edge of chaos’ feeling to the learning environment that seems productive and alive.


Going beyond a quick study of student cues, I would argue that learning in an environment in which multimedia and new technologies are simply embedded into everyday activities is highly engaging for students. Our students have a variety of multimedia equipment available to learn with and from. The students constantly engage with multimedia content; showing them how to create multimedia themselves is of interest to them. They want to learn it. It is relevant to their lives. And in the Connected Classrooms, with resources and people to help, students couldn’t wait to get started on multimedia creations all their own.

Digital teachers

I think that our role as ‘digital teachers’, an idea I developed during my Masters coursework, is also one aspect of the connected classrooms that impacts student engagement overall, and certainly within multimedia unit lessons like the one today. As connected classroom teachers, we create at least one multimedia project per month. The monthly news is created and shared from each site at the end of the month. While students help with this process by recording special events in photographs and video each month, the task of creating and editing the video falls to the teachers. We take this role seriously, showing students responsible, appropriate and safe ways to create and share content online.

Teacher engagement

Another way in which Connected Classrooms impacts student engagement is through teacher engagement. All three of us have choice as to what we teach. I still remember the shock I felt when my administrator asked me what I wanted to teach on my days as the lead teacher. Not surprisingly, we each teach an area that is highly interesting to us. Brooke’s passion for environmental stewardship comes through loud and clear during her Tuesday lessons on current events. Aislinn’s love of children’s literature is obvious not only in her Reading Power lesson activities, but also in her always new and interesting book choices. I love photography and multimedia and I know that my excitement passes along to the students during my Thursday lessons. Our authentic engagement with the topics we teach is obvious; the students get to learn from not one, but three people excited to share about a topic both personally and professionally important to them.

To finish

Student engagement is a tricky topic and the Connected Classroom is an extremely rich and complex learning environment so I’m quite certain I have not in any way adequately answered the Growing Innovation question, but hopefully my thoughts prompted by one lesson have at least made sense and perhaps inspired some new thinking along the way.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Working with Text

All of the students in Connected Classrooms work on a year long inquiry project. Students choose their topics at the beginning of the year, and spend Fridays focusing on their projects. The three teachers share the lead on lessons that guide students through the inquiry process and help them sift through the information they find. Lessons range from choosing topics, asking guiding questions about their topics, research methodologies, and analyzing their findings.

Students are at that time of year where they have completed the majority of their research and are beginning to synthesize and organize their information. Many students have compiled vast amounts of research and many have used online articles and text as their primary research avenue. As much of what they find is quite academic, sorting and processing text like this can be a daunting task. Much of the text is far beyond grade level, and it can be overwhelming to make sense of.

Aislinn and I have focused a few recent lessons on working with text, and have led activities that offer students strategies to use when dealing with difficult, academic text.

On Tuesday, I led a lesson using an AVID text marking strategy, where students read an article together as a class, and during each reading, students utilized a different text marking tool. Initially, they highlighted main ideas, followed by writing connections and questions on the margins and all over the page. During the videoconference, students from all three sites shared the information they found most valuable, what connections they made, and what questions the text left them with.

Today’s Aislinn’s lesson focused on a different strategy that could help student in dealing with the text they may encounter during the inquiry research project. Aislinn had students work on utilizing text features to organize information, and recognizing how they could transfer their knowledge of text features when processing their research.

Here are a few examples of students working with text in preparation for their inquiry projects:

Friday, 30 March 2012

Leadership in ECC

In a recent assignment for one of Master’s courses I was asked to look at leadership, curriculum and their connections.  Before starting this assignment I decided to have a discussion with my students about these two topics.  When I asked the students about leadership they listed off people that you would expect to hear, such as the teacher, principal, and a coach.  One student stated that they could be a leader as well, that leaders were not just adults.  When I asked the students what they thought curriculum was the first thing students said was Connected Classrooms.

It was the discussion on curriculum that really got me thinking about how much of a role Connected Classrooms plays in daily classroom life.  The Connected Classroom lessons cover many different areas including reading, writing, oral language, fine arts, technology, career and health development, as well as science and social studies in some projects.  From Moodle, to shared lessons, to the inquiry projects, Connected Classrooms has become the new curriculum of these three classrooms. 

Later in the day, during a Connected Classroom lesson, I looked around the room and noticed all of the leadership skills students had developed as a result of this Connected Classrooms curriculum.  The students had taken total control of the lesson that day.  The lead student had set up and turned on all of the equipment, was leading the discussion and moving around the room to allow other students to share, and was running the classroom laptop to share out the work that we had done.  As the lesson continued I saw students trying new computer programs, students teaching and helping others with their PowerPoints, and sharing information with each other on their research projects.  I was amazed at the leadership the students were demonstrating, and the confidence they were showing with that leadership.

The students see the learning and activities they do in this new curriculum as being some of the most important, and most enjoyable, that they do in the day.  Looking around the room and seeing the learning that is happening, it is hard to disagree.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

ECC Visitors

A few weeks back, our Connected Classroom in Lillooet was visited by Linda Kaiser and Judy Halbert as a part of the OECD's Innovative Learning Environments project. Last year, ECC had applied to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development to be among their universe of Innovative Learning Environments around the world. To get a better sense of the depth of our project, Judy and Linda joined the Cayoosh site during a video conference on digital photography and image editing.

Several students from the Lytton site actually led the lesson. Students gave a demo of the tools they were using to create their digital compositions, then explained the processes they used to create their unique digital compositions.

We thank Judy and Linda, and the OECD, for inclusion in their universe and are excited for what that inclusion may bring!

Monday, 27 February 2012

ECC Winter Gathering

A short while ago, students in ECC travelled to Lillooet for our second Elementary Connected Classrooms Gathering of the Year. Each site hosts one gathering a year, and this time the Grade 4/5 class from Cayoosh hosted the event. Travelling between the sites helps to give the students a hint of the community contexts for each site, and an aspect of their community life is highlighted each visit. In October, students travel to Ashcroft for our annual visit to the Desert Hills pumpkin patch, in the winter students look forward to skating and swimming at the Recreation Center in Lillooet, and the year end gathering wraps up in Lytton at the Kumsheen Rafting Resort grounds. These gatherings are an opportunity for students to develop deeper relations with the students they have come to know through videoconferencing, monthly news videos, and moodle work.

The excitement on the bus was palpable the morning of the trip, and my students had been looking forward to this day for a very long time. The travellers were welcomed with giant signs made by the ECC class at Cayoosh and many welcoming faces. Students had a blast swimming, skating,chatting, and taking photos with their ECC counterparts from other sites. Moodle was buzzing with messages about the trip between students for several days.

A great day was had by all!

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Learning about community from interrupted learning

Something happened during the ECC lesson today that made me think, made me stop. As it centers on the notion of community, I think it's the perfect way for me to enter into this space. So, get comfy, settle in. Here's my story...

Being Thursday, it was my turn to lead the ECC lesson. I started the lesson on image editing. I was fully 'on' as an ECC teacher. My students were fully in connected mode as well, meaning, for today's lesson anyway, students were sitting at their own desks, netbooks out but not open, listening and showing the respectful quiet needed to allow the audio to go out clearly from my microphone. From the views onscreen, I could see that I had the interest of Lytton and Ashcroft students too. The lesson seemed to be going well.

Twenty minutes into the lesson, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a man walk into my classroom. The TA walked with him through to the back of the room preventing an interruption so I continued with the lesson. I didn't know the man, but I didn't stop teaching. I think I paused a little, or maybe tripped over my sentence slightly. It wasn't, however, the man's entrance that tripped me up. It was that I noticed something as I continued to teach, something that made me stop, if only for moment, and pay attention.

What struck me was the students' reaction to the man's arrival. To those students in my room, it seemed an intrusion. His entrance, albeit very respectful, interrupted them. When I noticed their reactions, which were, thankfully, fleeting and respectful, I was reminded of something.

During my graduate coursework last year, an unknown person had walked through the room that my cohort was studying in. Even though no one had said anything to the person, it was obvious from the body language that the person was intruding into our space. Afterwards, my prof had talked about how she was pleased with our reaction. She said that the person seemed an intruder to us, and that our reaction showed her that we had come together as a close community of learners. It wasn't that we were rude or uninviting (we weren't), it was more that we had, by that time, become a solid group and that the unexpected appearance of a stranger in our midst was obvious to us and to anyone watching us. Had we not been such a cohesive group, a stranger walking through would have been just another unknown person, like others in the room.

Let me at this point explain our unannounced guest from today. The man's entrance was not rude, or intentionally interruptive. He was respectful, unobtrusive, and supposed to be there. He was, in actuality, the TOC coming in to cover me so I could have release time to write this blog post. As it was his first time as a TOC in my classroom, he had arrived a bit early which showed, in my opinion, good professional judgement.

Why was this of value to the ECC and our collective learning in this space? What did I learn from this? From the little pause that tugged at my attention at the time?

The TOC's appearance and the students' reactions showed me that we are at this point, indeed, a community of learners in the ECC. When we are fully 'on' in ECC mode, we are a shared community. Unannounced visitors can cause subtle, but noticeable intrusions to our learning environment. The students identify with their peers and other teachers on the screen, people they rarely see face to face and who are so geographically far away, more than an unknown person physically walking into the room.

Furthermore, while students in Lytton and Ashcroft may not have even noticed the TOC arrive today, it was only the quick actions of the TA that saved the disruption from spreading to all sites because you can be sure that if I'd had to speak with him myself, learning in all three classrooms would have been interrupted. Not that we don't experience interruptions in lessons, we do, but they are internal interruptions, created by those of us in the ECC. They are a normal part of our shared community different from an outside interruption into our learning environment.

Even after teaching in the ECC for almost two years, I often wonder about teaching in such an innovative way, about how to create a community of learners in three separate places at once, about how to reach students through a video camera to create a learning relationship that exists only through technology.

Today, for a split second, thanks to an unannounced stranger, it all crystallized into a simple, valuable understanding that makes all the effort, questions, strategies, time and pedagogical stretching worth it.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Online Literature Circles

This past week, we’ve launched our second set of books for our online literature circles. This is always one of my favourite times in Connected Classrooms!

This year, we’ve chose survival as our over-arching theme for this years lit circles. Each time we introduce a new book set, we launch with book talks. Each teacher book talks their three choices for this set during a videoconference, and fields questions about the books. Students are eager to get their hands on the new books, and it’s fantastic to have such genuine excitement for books. The bin has been sitting in my office for a week, highly coveted, and students are keen to begin their new reading adventures.

Students in the project are responsible for responding at least once a week to the deep thinking question their book leader has posted on moodle in their reading forums. During each new set, the teachers each lead and moderate a forum for three books. In many forums, students often begin their own discussion threads, and it has led to some very interesting online conversations. Students work at their own pace; some students finish a book within days and are on to the next, while others may take several weeks. We also offer the option of audio books for many of the books in our book bins, and this makes challenging text accessible to multiple levels of readers.

This set is a combination of decades-old classics, science fiction/fantasy, comedy, aboriginal content and Canadian literature.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Digital Art Workshop

This past Tuesday, January 24th, Elementary Connected Classrooms welcomed Chris Bose, an N’lakapamux artist, musician and storyteller to our classrooms! Our guest had never presented via videoconferencing, and he was almost as excited as the kids, and enjoyed seeing the faces at Ashcroft and Cayoosh over the video screen. The Lytton students taught Chris how to use the Smartboard, and the day began.

Since September, we have participated in Errin’s lessons on digital photography and she has recently taken our students into the world of photo editing. It was a perfect time to have Chris, much of whose art uses Photoshop to create powerful, multi-layer images to deliver his message.

Chris joined the Lytton classroom gave a presentation of some of his work and shared some of his photography, online galleries, and videos. Students from each site had the opportunity to ask questions about his artwork, inspiration and techniques. Chris explained how his history and life experiences are reflected in his work.

After the digital presentation, students continued to explore the photo editing software, Paint.Net, installed on their personal net books. Inspired by Chris’s art, students are beginning to compose multilayered compositions using the photos they have taken throughout the year. Students are having a blast taking their photography to the next level.

Here are some shots of the day, and an image created by the students in Lytton.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Photography in ECC

Since September, it’s been obvious that one my student's favourite parts of Connected Classroom are Errin’s teaching focus on digital photography. Students were thrilled to go on weekly photo shoots based on the given principle/element of design they were focusing on. Students spent the first five months of the year working on design, composition, and learning how to use our cameras creatively. Now that our students have created a large bank of personal photos, Errin has led us into a new and exciting realm of photography: editing!

Despite the limitations of our class net books, Errin has found us software and programs that give our students a whole new realm of artistic possibilities. Students spent a great deal of time last Thursday getting comfortable and playing with Picture Manager, Picnik and Paintnet. I think my class could have played with image editing all day.

Included at the start of each lesson, students share out their compositions from the previous week’s photo shoot. I’ve found this to be a powerful connecting tool, and it’s made students really connect faces to names from the other classrooms.  My class is always eager to share their own shots, and is just as eager to see what the other class created as well. It makes us more a part of each other’s daily lives and it gives us a context of what life is like in the other communities.

This Tuesday, we are welcoming Chris Bose into our classrooms as a guest artist. We’re very excited to have him share his story, art, and perspective to the classrooms and have him inspire our digital creations.

Back in the Swing....

Perhaps as a result of post holiday brain and the time it takes to re-establish a routine, I’ve fallen behind it blog posts! Despite this, January has been a busy month already in Connected Classrooms.

The team met the second week back to school for a teacher planning day. We usually get together three to four times a year for a face to face teacher session, and these days always reinforce to me how great of a team we have! We’ve mapped out the next stages of our year long inquiry project, planned the next Connected Gathering (to be hosted by out Lillooet site), and are set to launch the next set of books in our online literature circles. It feels like Christmas driving home from the Board Office with new books, and the new book bins generally cause quite a stir in my classroom. In a week, we’ll launch with Book Talk Week, and my students have been pleading with me for an early crack at the new books. While it’s very hard to say no to a ten year old begging to read books, the excitement is growing to say the least.

Above all, it’s just great to sit down with Aislinn and Errin; I look forward to these days immensely! We communicate so frequently by email every day, that’s it’s a treat to have the human contact, too. The discussions about Connected Classrooms and the impact it’s had on our own practice and thinking are quite fascinating, and it’s no wonder why both Errin(recently graduated) and Aislinn(recently began) have focused on components of our work in their masters programs.

I’ve also noticed increased communication between my students and their Connected Classrooms counterparts in Ashcroft and Lillooet through moodle messaging. Several of my kids have moodle friends that they message quite frequently, and completely of their own accord. The instant my class logs on to moodle to post to any of the weekly forums, they check to see who has logged on from other sites.  It’s nice to see the shyness eroding!

Scattered thoughts, but a post to get me back on track nonetheless!