Thursday, March 31, 2011

Self-management


The big focus has been self-management for my class this week. We have taken apart this key comp and looked at what this 'looks like' in our classroom. I have found this year that my class really respond to putting issues into their world for them - i.e. how does this look? how does this affect me? how do I affect this situation? We have been able to address and examine many recurring issues this way. So we have also turned the key comps into the real 'kid-speak' stuff so that they can relate to how this works for them in their lives and specifically as learners.

We brainstormed what it is to manage ourselves. We looked up the word 'manage' and talked about what things our parents manage, how companies manage things and how we have to manage certain decisions and actions for ourselves. This was a really key part of looking at what managing self means to us when we are Year 3&4 students. It was fascinating as an exercise and really served to demonstrate that most of them need more modeling and scaffolding to develop their self-management, even to just be independent in a small part of their learning decisions. Everything they do is still governed by constraints to some small degree and they need to be taught that balance between what choices they can exercise and which aspects of the programme are driven by collaboration between student and teacher.

We now have our own class guidelines and expectations which were collaboratively developed to show what we believe it looks like in our class to manage ourselves. From basic independence to goal setting to monitoring our own behaviour choices...well, there is a lot that needs to be managed! But the exciting part is the buy in that is achieved when children make these decisions and design descriptions for themselves.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Change and Time


We had a simple goal this morning - reflect on some of the learning that we are doing and record these reflections as a blog entry.

Now, this may not seem like much of a challenge to most but keep these things in mind: (A) my class are a composite of mixed ages and abilities, especially digital capabilities (B) my class have taken up to 15 minutes to get logged into the blog previously (C) our basic keyboarding skills are very limited (D) we had 1 hour to complete this task with only one laptop between two.

Hmmmm. It started shakily...we had certainly done a great collaborative brainstorm and everyone had decided enthusiastically what they were going to write about and what the photo was going to be. Oh yes, add the photo to the challenge - most of them took their own picture and were able to upload it themselves and put it on the blog post. Yay!

Once they got going, the successes were awesome! They ploughed through brilliantly and gave fabulous support to one another as well as taking turns well. One would type and edit while the other one was sorting out the images etc. Then they swapped over and performed the other role. A lot of this collaboration was automatic and seamless as they slipped from one role into the other.

Our blog posts certainly reflect many things about our class. We have come a long way in a short time. A lot of change has had to happen and indeed has happened - most of the change has come in the form of independence, self-management and collaboration. It is always wonderful to watch things change as time passes...not forgetting that along with time, there has been a lot of teaching and learning too!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

eLationships


Latest catchword of the times...eLationships. No longer RElationships whereby we interact face-to-face with one another, instead we are governed by communications through electronic means - e-mail, Twitter, FaceBook, Bebo, blogs, wikis...the list goes on.

Most of the parents, including me, communicate quickly and succinctly through the humble e-mail. Most of my parents in my class keep up to date with our goings on in the classroom by reading our class blog and following the class FaceBook page. In a fast paced world where 10 minutes on the phone is the difference between making a deadline or not, most business people want a quick message through a text or e-mail before they want to talk live.

So, when we as educators look at the key competencies and think about eLearning, we know the importance of our learners knowledge of how to navigate these means. These children of our time need a range of ways to communicate as this is the language and mode of their time. I am often amazed and awed by how quickly technologies change and how rapidly our learners move with those changes.

Let's just hope that as the means of communication broaden even more and the technical abilities of our children broaden, that our Gen-Y kids remain capable of conversations and social graces as well! For it seems that as it gets easier to communicate and keep in touch, the less depth there is to many of the relationships we form. Perhaps the R is more important than we think in (R) eLationships...

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Indoor Camping


A little bit of magic drifted in with the rain today. My kids and I love to build crazy and silly things and on rainy days we have a bit of a family tradition of building an indoor hut and then watching favourite DVDs while scoffing popcorn!

Well, today was no exception. Thinking recently that my nearly 10 and 11 year olds would look at me oddly when I suggested it, I was to be proven completely wrong. They embraced the idea as usual and raced off to get the equipment. Down came the piles of blankets, duvets, rugs and out came the dining room chairs to form the frame of the tent. There was much negotiation around what went inside, which blanket was going on as the 'ground sheet' and so on. My goodness, one of my kids would argue their way to being a lawyer and the other one is a tense negotiator, set for a life as a diplomat. After much tense compromising, we had the tent. The popcorn was popped, the DVD was cued up and the rain was providing a blissful ambience.

What I learned today is that we are never too old to play. We are never too old to be child-like or to enjoy the simplest of life's pleasures. We are never too old to roll around and pretend that we are camping indoors and we are definitely never too old to create and imagine. Play is the most vital of learning tools and it is essential that we embrace it and enjoy it for what it allows us to be - child-like learners.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

BeFunky


Our ICT session didn't quite go to plan today when the programme that we were using wouldn't load properly so we used our back up plan of doing next week's session instead! The original plan was to use Wallwisher to create our own quiz questions around "Personal Challenges". We had drafted ideas yesterday and this was a continuation of the theme for the class. But...'the best laid plans of mice and men' and all that...!

So...plan B emerged! We hopped onto sharing, dragged off some pix and got into BeFunky which is on our wiki for the children to explore anyway. Luckily for me, none of the children had managed to scroll down that far on the homepage (too distracted by the other choices!) so I was able to tackle the skills needed to explore and create.

It is always encouraging when the end of our class day comes and the discussions emerge in our learning circle. One of my lovelies came up with this choice expression of her day, "Today I found it really tricky to create using BeFunky, but I overcame the challenge and did some new learning." WOW! Break-through for this child! She was grinning from ear-to-ear when I asked her to repeat it as an example of really purposeful and strong reflection. The fact that school and learning are not easy for her shows how much this really means. How powerful for her to feel that way about her own learning!

It leaves me wondering if she will have arrived home and dived on the computer to create some more...

Maintenance


One of the things we often deliberate over as educators is that ongoing maintenance of the 'known' such as in maths. One of my concerns this year has been how can I make sure that the children who are struggling at retaining maths concepts get enough time throughout the week to consolidate that learning?

My maths class are really utilising Mathletics for all it's worth at the moment, and the fact that I can set them direct tasks which enhance the aspects of their learning is such a wonderful bonus. The children have been extremely purposeful about how they use Mathletics and this adds a wonderful dimension to the maths programme. I am thrilled to be able to keep that maintenance up with such a powerful tool.

Every Friday we visit the administrator's page - mine - to see how much time and how many activities the children have done. They LOVE this session! It is always a short time, maybe 10 minutes, that we spend looking at their results and they cheer one another, encourage each other's efforts and get re-motivated to do more next week. It is a great way to end the week, even if they need some more time on the next week or if they have been struggling. The sense of achievement is immense and the fact is, these children are learning and helping to direct their own learning, often with a subject that they find challenging.

There are still plenty of other, different and varied, tactile and textbook, activities that we have for maintenance but it is just fantastic to have a favourite tool that every child dives into willingly and independently.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Collaborating


I discovered today how wonderful it is to see a child's fragile self-esteem raised through another child's approval and inclusion. We were working on a task, a target, a topic and yet these 2 small learners were on a whole other learning journey entirely. Regardless of the task, the outcome of working together is that children are able to appreciate one another's strengths and weaknesses. What they choose to do to support those strengths and weaknesses is a whole other ball game!

Imagine my delight then when I was able to watch a less-than-confident child choosing to 'instruct' another, very capable child during maths. What was incredible to see was the way they negotiated their place in the pecking order, realised that they were both different yet equal as learners and moved into the task. The fascinating thing in this is that they were working on the iPad and the child with less confidence in maths was the one with tons of confidence in how to use the iPad and solve the maths problems while the other child was able to instruct him on how to problem-solve the maths part!

Amazing how they worked together because the talking was rich, kind, encouraging and the learning was the same. I was privileged to see how children support and care for one another as learners when simply given the opportunity to do so. Joy!

Friday, March 18, 2011

How Things Have Changed...


Today we spent most of the day in and out of the garden. I get a bit of a bee in my bonnet from time and kind of drive everyone like a mad-woman so that it gets blitzed. My husband would much prefer doing things a little bit at a time but he tends to leave the clean up so long that it ends up being a blitz regardless!
Suffice it to say, we all have blisters on top of blisters now and the 3 kids are paralysed with agonised backs and necks, moaning and groaning about the place (I think the words "slave driver" and "isn't this a democracy"? may be echoing around...) I have been thinking (whilst toiling) about how much 'work' has changed over the past decade or even century.
Whilst our great-great grandparents worked within the local kilometre or so, they worked the land and toiled daily to provide the very basics - food, water and shelter. Owning a cow or goat was a luxury and showed wealth. They worked themselves to death often, and their lives were simple and plagued by illnesses and strife, war and struggles.
Tick forward to our grandparents who worked within the local 10-20km radius, worked on the land sometimes and within towns otherwise. They were bankers and farmers, bakers and homemakers and so on. Some things had remained the same though - they worked hard, often at more than one job - to provide the basics of food, water and shelter as well as the occasional luxury of a family holiday in the caravan/tent or a car if they were very lucky. They died on average at the age of 50-60 and yet were plagued by illnesses and strife, war and struggles.
Then, if we move onto my own parents' generation and they worked within a 25-50km radius of their own home which was owned by the time they were in their 50's, they worked at any job they wanted to, unrestricted by the gender, race, beliefs or age, they were able to study for free, work hours that they chose and they were able to save and buy most things that they desired from televisions to video recorders, Walkman, DiscMan, computers, the first mobile phones (the 'brick') and so on. They worked hard to provide the basics of food, water and shelter but now they were also distracted by family holidays, holiday homes, multiple cars in one family and trips to Europe if they were lucky. They died on average at the age of around 65-70 and were able to receive quadruple bi-pass surgery, hip replacements, kidney transplants and yet were still plagued by illnesses and strife, wars (though in other countries now) and personal struggles.
So for us and the Y-gen, why would we think it could be any different? We can study for as little or as long as we desire, in fact, there are many people of my parents' generation who are still getting their degree at Uni part time! We are able to amass huge personal debt from interest free student loans, maxed out credit cards, car loans, mortgages or 2, a new mobile phone (Android/iPhone), iPad, iPod, laptop and so on. We have the world at our fingertips and we desire travel and experiences beyond the beaten track. We are willing to do anything to have anything and the next best fix is the next 'must have'. But...we still have to provide the basics for ourselves such as food, water and shelter and the world is still filled with illness and strife, wars and struggles.
So, toiling in the garden to make the house look nice has not guaranteed that we have food to eat nor has it provided our family with shelter. But, for a short day we have remembered what every day would have been like several generations ago. And we have realised that we would much rather exist in what seems to be an easier lifestyle! However, there is still much to learn from what happened in the past to get us here. Each generation have learnt something from the last generation and this will be the case for every one to come.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Reflection


I have spent a lot of the past few weeks working on what reflection is with my class and myself. It is such an essential part of learning but one that is often neglected or misunderstood.

When I first began teaching, I spent most of my nights, weekends, holidays and spare time planning and making resources. The second school that I worked in was really big on 'evaluations' at the end of each week. In fact, the pub visit was dependent upon it being done and checked by a senior teacher by 4pm Friday so that the first round was on the principal!

When I worked in England, there was an intense focus on having a plenary - and a very purposeful one at that - at the end of each lesson. This made for often extremely contrived plenaries, and I would find myself coming up with new and wonderful ways of making it interesting for the children. This often prevented a natural flow from one subject to another and could create quite sharp endings to the lesson. I see now what the idea was to this - that there was a 'tying up' or 'closure' or even a sense of 'reflecting' on what was learnt. This would have been best served if the purpose had been just that - to reflect on learning rather than people feeling that a plenary was a chance for children to share good work, instead of sharing great learning.

So now my 'plenary' at the end of a session is left to happen naturally so that there is the best chance of the "REAL" learning being celebrated and shared. I have discovered over the years that the most amazing learning seldom turns out like you planned it!

But on top of that, at the end of the day, when we have our sharing circle, we focus on the big ideas - what have we learned today - new learning? What did we find tricky? What do we want to know more about? And the ongoing reflection that happens in the classroom throughout the day, before during and after teaching is incredible. The fact of the matter is, that unless we think about what we learnt and what comes next, what we are curious about, what we want to improve/change/develop...well, there is never any looking forward unless we learn to critique ourselves and what we have done first.

By the way, the definition of reflect is to look back or cast back. It is not to show the same image at all but to look back so that you can see what is in front of you.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Yesterday's Pix




These are some images of the most fab day that we had. Here is my maths class enjoying some collaborative working time on Mathletics and my wonderful wee learner who was using the iPad to solve her own maths problems up to 20. There was a great moment for one of my children who has autism as he worked with another child to solve his way through 1-10 addition and subtraction problems. He was really enjoying it but the bonus was for the younger child who got to be the teacher for him!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Wiki-Time!


Well, today we made real progress with our class goal of working together. It was a fantastic start to the week and I finally felt like we have taken many steps forward. It was awesome to see the class purposeful as well as supportive of one another across many learning areas today. There was a sense of engagement in all that the class undertook and although there were many moments of gently bringing some of the class back to where they should be or doing what they should be doing, there was still a sense of them being on-task and generally very focused.

We started the day by re-visiting our class learning agreement and we also looked at our brainstorm of what contributing and participating looks like in our room. We talked about 'working voices' and I had the chance throughout the day to highlight the right behaviours and the expected modeling that we have really talked a lot about.

There were some absolutely delightful moments - from the child who was actively using the iPad in maths independently and was adding to 20 when she has struggled to work on her own with this task normally, to the blog buddies who went off photographing some sensational school art on the walls, to the wiki spaces afternoon of embedding websites we love to posting our WeeMe-s on our pages...it was success after success. We even managed to really keep the pace of the morning going and finally get through the whole of the literacy tasks for the first time this year!

Roll on many more days like this one - the wiki spaces are just so popular with my class and they are avidly checking one another's pages! They love the widgets that we have found and are really supporting each other's learning by 'passing it on'. The memories of a few weeks of hard work and treading water uphill faded into the past today as we just enjoyed 'learning together'!

Maths, Maths and More Maths


A number of years ago, I used to take an inordinate amount of hours to stress my way through attempting to plan for all of my maths groups. It was the bane of my life. I would spend all of Friday avoiding it, all of Saturday looking at it, all of Sunday fretting and sweating over it and for what? I am pretty sure I did make some difference in the maths development of my classes, but was it an effective use of MY time? NO!

Once I managed to be mentored through how to plan effectively and how to use the NZ Maths website and then how to use their learning objects...well, it certainly all began to be much easier. But there have also been other things that have now made it even easier and even more beneficial for my learners...

Firstly, I have managed to come to terms with the progressions in maths at each stage. Lots of reading and trial and error really helped there! The other thing that has been fantastic has been the integration of Mathletics into our school maths programme. Now that all of the children are using Mathletics as part of our programme, it has really helped - but only in part. The rest has been the fact that we as teachers can set tasks for the class and are able to monitor their progression and usage.

My class have delighted in being able to aim for certificates and personal achievements. They have become adept at setting goals and personal challenges (being young this tends to be that they want to earn a bronze certificate or to beat 3 people at LIVE Mathletics!) The coolest thing for me as a teacher is that I can ensure the maintenance is woven through their ongoing activities and Mathletics has been fantastic for the children to be able to work at their own level. I am now also using the online activity books and the class are loving these!

So, now I spend my weekends doing all of the stuff that I used to miss out on because of the waste of so many hours on maths planning...like blogging, professional reading, updating our class wiki, bookmarking on delicious.com and setting tasks on Mathletics!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Growing Together

It has been amazing to see how quickly our class garden has grown!
The beans and peas are rapidly taking over the flower beds and are thoroughly enjoying the twice daily watering and love and care that the children of our class are lavishing upon them!
The next move is to transplant some of them to larger beds and stake them so that they can keep heading upwards.

I guess I keep thinking this weekend about the fact that our children are just like these fabulous plants.
We know what their potential is - they cannot see it but we know what they will turn out like. We know that they have the ability to overtake others or grow alongside them. We know that they need training - they need for us to put stakes in the ground to support them as they climb. There is so much potential in each one and with the right tending and feeding, the yield will be marvelous.
So my class are growing happily alongside this fabulous shared space - a wonderful garden for the children to learn all about how to tend to something and care for another living thing. There are many aspects of out Key Competencies that are covered by the children helping to grow things - they are working independently at times as well as using thinking skills when problems arise, they are working collaboratively and participating.
What a great place to grow small people!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

True Colours



Today I attended an awesome course, the 2nd part of an amazing look into the world of autistic children and their families. It has been an immense privilege to hear from the parents and a wonderful special needs educator - I have learnt a lot (probably only a little really) about the pre-school life and times of an autistic child and the struggle that each family has endured to understand their child.

It was fascinating to hear some of the dads, particularly, talking so lovingly of their children but also hearing how puzzled they are by the responses and frustrations of an autistic mind. The mums were insightful when they recounted some of their earliest memories of their children and a sense that they did not seem quite the same as their friends' babies/toddlers.

It is an amazing glimpse into what our school life must look like to a child who sees all things literally. I remember well asking a 5 year old autistic student of mine to "Just hold on...give me a minute..." and then wondering what on earth he was doing holding on to my top and counting to 60!!!

There is a sense of awe and wonder in our special needs children that knows no boundaries or perameters. It should never cease to amaze us when they respond in wonderful and amusing ways to the silly things we say. One autistic student used to furrow his brow at me and looked horrified when I told him to go and clean up. "But nothing is dirty and that's the job that mums and dads do not kids!" he would always say. Unless I specifically sent him to pick up and put the rubbish in the bin, he would stand tapping his foot, exasperated.

I was concerned though today, when one of the mums was horrified that we, as mainstream teachers, were not 'taught' at Training College to understand or plan for any special needs children in our rooms. We (the teachers there) did a fair amount of explaining that this is the way things have always been and how fortunate we are to have suppportive parents to work with and wonderful schools who send us on courses as needed. It was a bitter pill for a parent to swallow - to know that we, as educators, in the large, have a very limited understanding of all of the syndromes, conditions, disorders and developmental impairments that could possibly be part of their child's chemical makeup.

But the ray of hope came from the course facilitator, who was one of the most realistic, down-to-earth and downright wonderful people I have ever met. She showed us an amazing 3 minute video which challenged us to find the 'true colours' of ALL of our children, especially our autistic children. They may be hard-wired to view the world through a black and white lens, but our challenge is to see their true colours, shining through...

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

WeeMe!


Well, tomorrow's challenge is up for grabs...ICT session creating our WeeMe avatars!

My fab student teacher has had her crash course in how to create them (we even did a few Justin Bieber attempts and funny selves!) so she is ready to go with the lesson. The outcome is for the children to create a representation of themselves which they can then embed on their wiki page.

So, tomorrow, tomorrow, our avatars will become real! Will make sure that we create a montage of them and post that on my blog here tomorrow so we can all see how well it goes!!!

Sharing


A few of my Year 4's had a great mini-session this afternoon as I demonstrated how to work on their own wiki pages. I took it in little steps, broke it all down, resisted touching the keys myself and managed to get 6 children confident when choosing pages and adding images with links.

This was a great achievement for the children and their delight was wonderful to see. It was definitely a 'seize the day' moment as we really only 30 minutes at the end of the day after P.E and several of the children were asking for me to show them how to do this so we did!

But, the thing that really made my day, was when a colleague told me how she had read my blog entry yesterday and it had really hit a chord with her. We ended up comparing notes and discussing the challenges we have both faced this year and how we each approached it. It was really awesome for me to be able to bounce ideas around with someone whom I hugely respect professionally and it was encouraging for both of us (I think!) to know that we are not alone with the challenges we are facing!

So peeps, that's what this is all about...today I have re-discovered what it really means to share. I think I learnt a whole other level of what collaboration is - sharing, caring, comparing! And sometimes even SCARING ourselves with what we find!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Masterpiece


I chose this image today because I feel like I am finally stepping over the bridge into the reality of what this year of challenge is all about for me.

Okay so I have finally managed to take several LARGE steps back to where I need to be with this year's class. It takes a lot to admit that the 'big picture' is bigger than we realise but I have to paint on this canvas with the background FIRST and then get onto the details. Nice analogy I know, but that is where I am finally at - the class I am with this year are not a finished product, but instead, they are a work in progress. That work will be worth it of course, for like a Grand Masters' image, they will be a masterpiece, but like those works, they all had a humble beginning.

I also read that the Grand Masters works were many layered and if we were to peel back the top layers of paint, we would reveal many, many different images beneath the final masterpiece. Well, this year certainly feels like I have been layering different images upon each other to create a whole picture. After some false starts and less-the-amazing moments, I finally feel that the background is beginning to form for the masterpiece that will be 2011.

You see, I have looked further than and deeper than the tools and the tidbits, away from the laptops and iPads, over the wiki, beyond the flickr365, past the facebook page and into the bigger picture - what do they need to know to be 21st century learners? Resilience. Self-management. Persistence. Collaboration. Stickability. And so on...

So now, we are spending the time each day to look at these areas, one at a time, slowly peeling the layers back. Laying the foundations, ensuring that what we work with each time is the WHOLE picture, taken in small pieces to become the masterpiece.

I'm guessing it will be slow. I'm assuming it will, at times, be arduous. But I am certain of the fact that it will be worth it.

A masterpiece...2011.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Where Have You BEAN All of My Life...?

I met with Jacqui today and talked through some of the 'challenges' that I am facing at the moment with integrating and using I.T in the classroom, as well as getting e-Learning underway - realistically, it has been more of a challenge than I expected. If I am totally honest, it has been more of a struggle than I anticipated. There are so many parts of the key competencies that I had (wrongly) assumed would already be a part of my learners, so I have been ploughing on regardless of the foundations not really being in place. There is some essential teaching that I now need to undertake - from 'how to self-manage' for beginners to 'what does collaboration look like'? in our classroom.

But...on a very positive note, we are having such wonderful success in our class garden! When I look at what collaboration looks like in our class at the moment, at least I know that the beginnings look like this: plants, planting, bean sprouts, peas growing, care for plants and so on. I may not have quite moved forward in the direction that I originally planned, but perhaps that is the essential learning for me - I may not really know where we are going to get to but I do know where we have BEAN!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Thinking Hats


Today I went for the second EOTC trip in two days! Although this is an exhausting thought, it was an awesome time spent getting to know each half of my class - Year 4 yesterday at Lake Pupuke and Year 3 today at Birkenhead Leisure Centre.

While we were out today, the Year 4 half of the class stayed at school and worked on lots of different things. One of the tasks that I set them was to used De Bono's thinking hats (red, white and blue for out Amercian student teacher!) to think about what has happened in Christchurch with the earthquake and what problems now exist as well as new thinking of what could be done to solve some of the issues.

The comment from the class and the teacher was the class really managed this well - a tricky undertaking I thought! They used the flipchart to add their ideas and worked well collaboratively which was the goal for the task. Tomorrow we will examine again what we think 'working together' looks like - we will be reflecting on what they did today and thinking about 'where to next...' for that learning.

A great success all round!