Projects, Problems and Challenges

img_8209Activities within a classroom are designed to give learners the best opportunity to acquire  knowledge and apply understanding. In the same vein that we teach that mathematical strategies are comparable to a technician’s tool belt, to be used at an appropriate time to solve certain equations. By giving students exposure to all three styles of learning can be easy to scaffold.  Here are some examples from my Primary School classrooms:

Project-based learning (PBL): Bottle tops for Bruno. In essence, our Primary Round Square Club (PRSC) joined with a local charitable organization to collect PET bottle tops. In turn, we donated these bottle tops to another local company which melts them for manufacturing other products. That company then purchases a wheelchair for children with severe disabilities, in this case, a boy named Bruno. Our entire school became involved in the initiative, with the PRSC and my Grade Fives leading and organizing everything. Bottle tops had been collecting for months and on the donation day our team set up in one of the main halls of the school. On the beamer above our heads, our Donation Table & graphs on Google Sheets was live updating data as students handed in their donations. Set up in 15 different donation booths, students were able to track their contribution to their class grade level and against the overall total. The PRSC & 5th grade students used Chromebooks to collaborate to create the graphs and tables needed to show the content to our school community. The initiative spawned a mini-Arts festival as a million bottle tops can be spread liberally across the school. Applied to Maths, data handling lessons flourished as manipulatives of all shapes, sizes and colors flooded classrooms for two weeks. From Kindergarten to Grade Five, Art galleries sprung up, which students used as an opportunity to post an perspective video where they explained why they made various artistic choices.

img_8179Challenge-based learning (CBL) – is closely aligned with the inquiry based approach used in the IB’s Primary Years Programme. Our students have a Central Idea and Lines of Inquiry which they use to explore concepts. Our current unit’s Central Idea is “Different strategies can be used to resolve conflict and maintain peace” while our Lines of Inquiry are: 1) People’s points of view may differ and this may influence their actions. 2) There are different causes and resolutions of conflict. 3) People make decisions whether to repair and restore relationships where harm has taken place. A good explanation of Kath Murdoch‘s inquiry cycle can be found on her blog which is an excellent source to help deal with the bigger questions of how to implement inquiry and challenge-based learning.

Problem-based learning (PBL): commonly exhibited by the students in the classroom in a variety of opportunities. This example centers around their new educational blogs. Students were given iPads and accounts on Easy Blog Jr. Initial lessons helped the students to understand how to log on and navigate their new platform. From the very start, their questions dictated the learning path of the class as they wanted to share interesting discoveries of what is possible on the blog. In Math, construction of 3D shapes spurred students to ask how to take a photo to keep a copy of their structure. Another time, students recorded themselves reading aloud their independently written stories to conclude our storytelling unit. That desire spurred video editing and uploading those final pieces to their blog. Each time the students have encountered an obstacle, they have shown developing thinking skills to find solutions and share their understanding within the group.

In reality, the three styles of learning are not used exclusively from one another. In fact, healthy classrooms apply each one effectively to suitable opportunities. Without a doubt, the students benefit from repeated exposure throughout their school careers in order to master these vital life skills.

The Game is Afoot

hour_of_code_certificateWhen it comes to game-based learning in  an educational context it is tough to beat the Hour of Code. A worldwide initiative, specifically targeted at teaching children through play, how to program a computer is the first stop in quality game based learning. A significant effort is being made, by many invested parties, to address the future gap in technology skills. Tasks are scaffolded from the very beginning, with dragging and organizing blocks of colour; all the way to creating animations and proper coding challenges. Activities are interesting and educationally solid. Students lead their own learning through multiple stages and disciplines. Hour of Code captures their imagination and inspires them in new ways. While engaging with the program, they are applying mathematical, language and thinking skills.

Other opportunities which extend game-based learning include the use of Makey Makey  and student coders graduating to the use of the Probot roamers. Makey Makey calls itself an “invention kit for the 21st century. Turn everyday objects into touchpads through art, engineering, and everything in between”.  The Probot roamer allows the user to program directional instructions for the robots to follow. The roamer might follow a track by receiving instructions such as following or creating the outline of shapes, to demonstrate cardinal directions and ordinal numbers.A strong educational tool, game based learning has many powerful attributes to develop student understanding. It fosters a sense of ownership and identity which in turn creates positive self esteem. Giving students challenges which they can address in a fun and relaxing manner is always a winning situation. There is a growing pool of resources but spreading these types of activities across the curriculum continues to be our next frontier.makey_makeyprobot350

The Brilliance of Tim Burton

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Tim Burton is one of the most visionary and interesting digital story tellers. I find his work to be extremly individualistic, potent and powerful. However, Burton is not my favourite Director. Apparently Luc Besson is. Francis Ford Coppola, Stanley Kubrick, Sergio Leone, George Lucas and the late, great Alfred Hitchcock. All fabulous directors. Spike Jonze is an incredible digital storyteller in the music video format. MTV and their Canadian counterpart MuchMusic were huge influences in my life. 5 minute movies with a soundtrack. Matt Groening is arguably the most successful cartoonist of all time with his digital story, The Simpsons; being the longest running syndicated television show in history. My imbibed love of Luc Besson stems from my GAP year in England, many moons ago, when I was lucky enough to be taught some of the finer things in life by a colleague Matthew Piper. Field hockey, philosophy & life; while music from the record label 4AD soundtracked his imparted love of Luc Besson. He walked me through the cinematography of Big Blue which was astounding and explained how the small green plant from Léon would change the nature of dialogue for me.

In what is a perfect melding of theory and practice; my Grade Twos next Unit of Inquiry will be storytelling after the October break. Our central idea is “ideas and experiences can be expressed as stories and shared through the arts” and one of the activities my students will complete is to create a digital story. This CoETaIL assignment allows me to examine the theory behind digital storytelling and then shortly after put my learning into practice. One of the Lines of Inquiry of our unit will be “artists realise there is a dynamic connection between the audience and performer”. I think this is never more apparent to the creator than when their work is shared with another. Our class will be planning out our stories with the Arts Integration Team and then publishing them through a variety of media.

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It is incredible how Tim Burton has cast Helena Bonham Carter & Johnny Depp in so many different roles with completely different looks.

Why then? If he is not my favourite director, what reason is Tim Burton is mentioned (revered) in the title of this post? It is because of my admiration for his artistic vision, style and creativity. He is different, an innovator, a thinker and someone who changed the industry. Where Tim Burton is unparalleled is his ability to bring his vision to the screen. Digital storytelling is the sweet spot of technological advancement and innovation. Video is the ultimate media and the opportunity to bring Freud’s theory of your Creative Id to life. Tabula Rasa. A way to open the inner workings of your mind to the world. When I think of style or of creating a genre then Tim Burton’s name has become synonymous with a style. In fact the respected movie producer Joel Silver said “When you’re talking about Tim Burton, you’re talking about a guy that has such a visual sense, an aesthetic, a storytelling style. It’s like he’s got his own genre.”

In that vein, I have included the digital story which has resonated throughout my school and had a major impact on student life at ICS. In collaboration with our own visionary cinematographer, Norm Lamontagne; we created a video which would tell the story of a student who wished to change how keyboarding skills were seen in primary. As a shy student who needed learning support, he found that by developing his typing skills he was able to use a computer to complete assignments much more easily and to a higher quality. Nico would give away a “Golden Keyboard” away in assembly to the Typist of the Month. Primary students threw themselves into developing their skills and Nico became a hero to the students of the school. A older video, I also couldn’t resist including A Type of King as there is a superb cameo from Mr Brett Penny who was at the time the Primary Principal at ICS.

More than anything, it will be this passion that I try to pass onto my Grade Two’s. I hope to share my love of Tim Burton’s creativity and show how he maintained his unique ethos while morphing Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter into 8 different characters in 8 different movies. My goal will be to give the students that sense of overarching ownership and empower their creativity in digital storytelling in the next unit. A chance to give someone a glimpse into our version of the world is rare yet incredibly important.

Bringing Infographics to Life

2ag Kelso's Choice WheelGrade Two students are able readers, but it is developmentally appropriate for them to be reading leveled picture books as all of my students are developing reading and writing skills. Additionally, in my classroom we have several Learning Support and English as an Additional Language students.  When the message is not clear, the pictures spur conversation and allow the class to debate what the text might mean. By using this infographic in small group sessions, students and teachers are able to discuss concepts, record ideas for implementation and share examples of their practice.

Understanding the Inquiry Cycle

We are an International Baccalaureate (IB) Primary Years Programme (PYP) school and have a framework which supports our curriculum, guiding our students in their learning journey. We call this the Inquiry Cycle. The PYP is an inquiry based program  where students lead their learning by following a series of steps: Tuning In, Finding Out, Sorting Out, Going Further, Making Conclusions and Taking Action. This model, based on the work of Kathy Short can be quite complicated for young learners and often uses vocabulary which is advanced for their age. By translating the inquiry cycle into an infographic, the students are able to make connections between the theory and their own learning.

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Kathy Short’s Inquiry Cycle is a cornerstone of PYP pedagogy and practice

In 2ag, we use the infographic below repeatedly throughout the year. Our knowledge builds in stages as we work our way through our 6 units of inquiry using the cycle each time. At the beginning of the year, students examine each section in  conjunction with what is happening in class. We focused on asking questions in our Communication Systems unit. The students asked teachers and students in our school about how we use systems to communicate information to the different elements of the school community. Students use the infographic to create their own definitions for the “Ask” stage and create their own image to accompany their definition. As we progress through the year, we revisit our definitions building a collaborative class definition which we will turn into an Inquiry Cycle class display. By giving ownership of the definition and the image, it makes the learning relevant and accessible to the students. Unfortunately, as it is so early in the school year, I do not yet have a display built for this class. I will begin to develop it with my Second Grade class after the Winter break in our third unit.

Infographics in Action

A good example of how this process works with an infographic is our class created version of the Kelso’s Choice Wheel. Kelso’s Choices are a system of problem solving strategies for students to manage peer conflict and behaviour on the playground and within the classroom. Our students work with the School Counselor and each other to understand the programme’s elements and how they can make good choices in different situations. We shared our 3D infographic with the Primary School during our class assembly and the Kelso’s Choice Wheel which my students created in on this post. The text which supports each section is on the back of each pie piece as they held them up during the presentation and read it out to the audience. The class composition has now been hung up in the hallway outside of our classroom, to help educate the rest of the school and remind them of the positive choices they can make when interacting with their friends.

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IBLibrary.com’s inquiry infographic which 2ag annotate throughout the year.

 

 

Local & Global Interactions

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Within our Grade Two classroom the focu2ag-post-boxs has been “communication systems enable local and global interactions”. As part of the student inquiries they investigated the postal system, how mail travels and by extension the mechanisms which work together to deliver messages across the world. A strong language focus included letter writing and the conventions surrounding sending messages in an addressed envelope to another person and place. Visual literacy plays a strong role in communicating the framework and function of systems, as well as the structure of a letter and layout of addressed envelopes.

In our unit, students decided that communication systems are developed to meet a need. By examining the people, parts, organization and purpose of systems; they inquired into how communication systems help us and why we need them. They French Post Boxcan explain how accessing and sharing information enables us to connect locally and globally through the use of maps and technology.

The students created a postal system for the primary school and used self-selected images of post boxes to help create their own. As we are an international school, we were able to find images of Switzerland and our home country’s national post boxes increasing global understanding. Strongest was making a local connection, as they chose to paint the class post boxes orange & black writing, which are the school colours.  

Visual imagery supports the language curriculum extremely well. Graphic organizers are key to supporting students in their writing development and allows for more successful communication opportunities. As they begin to blog this year, our Grade 2 students make strong connections to Digital Citizenship practices and are learning to cite their sources. Our class uses the visualizer in our room to explore stamps from around the world and were able to connect to their developing understanding of the globe. The wall map in our room is a place of annotation and engagement. Experiences are share as our Flat Stanley pictures are posted upon their return from adventures with relatives in other countries. Our class continually adds layers to the web of our personal connections through imagery on our wall map.

As I mentioned previously in my post Fight the Empowerment, imagery is incredibly important to me when communicating my message. Often they are the source of my inspiration to get writing DODH and help me to develop my author’s voice. Imagery tells the untold story and Postes Canada - Canada Post Mailboxfuels my creativity. I am especially pleased that the new theme showcases my feature images so nicely; although my categories absurdly cover them. I have yet to figure out how to remedy that, so if anyone knows please pass it along @GroverAndrew. While using the Creative Commons to search for digital images I found that tips from Kim Cofino’s video were very helpful. Do not underestimate the power of a visual explanation, accessible by users at their own pace and specific learning needs. I appreciated how I could split my screen and follow along while selecting an image. Personalized tutoring.

One of educational technology’s greatest strengths is the ability to connect and collaborate in meaningful ways. Just as my hero Alvin Toffler predicted, workflows have changed as computers enhance the ability to tailor the access to information.

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Fight the Empowerment

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“Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.” ~ Margaret Mead

 

What a powerful image.

When I’m writing a new blog post, the biggest struggle is always to have the idea to get started at first. Of course many aspects of the content become immediately accessible within my mind, but I find it extremely difficult to actually start without a previously determined idea. Usually that focal point comes from one or two sources of an image which I choose to be my header; or I write a title, which then gives the editorial slant I intend to take about a topic. However this time, after watching an inspirational TED Talk about student action Extracurricular empowerment by Scott McLeod; two songs leapt into my mind. A mini battle of the bands ensued for the right to title this post. Since we are talking about  empowerment of students using technology; the word power floated upwards, like the cream to the top of milk. Rage Against the Machine’s 1991 song Take the Power Back not only has power in it’s title, but also contains strong verses about making the content of the curriculum relevant to learners and shaking up archaic educational structures. In the other corner,  Fight the Power, a 1990 track from Public Enemy makes a similarly strong statement about making change and advancing progress. As you can see from the title of my post, remixed title of these songs was the winner. Of course, as I wrote my first paragraph, many other songs containing the word “power” have bubbled to the surface of my consciousness including The Power by Snap! and Powerslave by Iron Maiden. Feel free to add your contributions or suggestions of great “power” songs in the comments below.

Now that the title and beginning of my post has been taken care of; the discussion of  technological empowerment in an education, has one key component to it: how educators can empower students and how students can empower themselves. I am lucky in that my classroom has a variety of technology at the students’ disposal. They have access to visualizers, digital cameras, iPads, Chromebooks and Smartboards and as a result, students are proficient with their application within the classroom. As a teacher, I post information on our class website and Home Learning tasks on our Google Classroom. Students have the ability to self-monitor and direct their own learning once they understand the established protocols. Before fully switching over to a digitized classroom, homework was previously posted on the board and copied into student agendas. Time consuming and apt to important details being missed. Once students had access to technology, often in the form of personal telephones, a quick picture of this list a

The French philosopher Rousseau's du Contrat Social inspired European political reform.

The French philosopher Rousseau’s du Contrat Social caused widespread European political reform.

nd out the door they walked. Now, with my curriculum so digitized, students are already accessing content related to their learning on their commute home. Students are adept at using technology collaboratively for learning purposes.  As students mature, they often choose to be involved in clubs and activities which make a difference in the lives of others. There is a deep engagement in Round Square, Student Council, Model United Nations and Global Issues clubs. Youth are naturally forming their opinions on issues related to their local community, school or personal life.  Students join groups which are often used for discussion and sharing of content whether it be for educational or personal use.  Jean-Jacques Rousseau posed that “Man was basically good”  and from the desire to be good, a social conscience is formed.

In our How We Organize Ourselves inquiry on Fair Play we discover which individuals and organisations have promoted human rights. They look at the actions taken by others to address problems and want to contribute. The outstanding TED Talk by McKenna Pope Want to be an activist? Start with your toys is an excellent example of how youth can leverage positive change. Students connect with local experts and sometimes leaders in their field. One student  pursuing his inquiry had the opportunity to interview the CEO of the National Civil War Museum and have a personalized tour via Hangout. Our Primary Round Square Club uses Google Docs to plan the logistics surrounding the school dance. The Primary Student Representative Council uses To collect feedback about school initiatives  and communicate developments throughout the year. As part of their exhibition action the students participated in a JR Action showing how they can make a difference in their own personal lives. Their final product was filmed with multiple iPads and the final movie edited and published across the school platforms by the students.

McLeod posits that “we must get out of the way and allow them to be amazing”. As an educator we want to create the structures and opportunities to allow our constituents to Achieve your Potential, Pursue your Passion & Fulfil your Responsibility as our School Mission states. Natural curiosity, fused with an interest in action; arises in a collaborative environment. Students want to develop their leadership capabilities and we as Educators always encourage the active pursuit of their goals and dreams.