Monday, February 27, 2012

First Nations Inquiry: Letter Home

Class 62 Parents:

Below is a link to our letter home explaining our inquiry.

This is a fabulous interactive site on residential schools in Canada.

I'm building a resource bank of links. We've viewed some, but not all in class. And I will continue to add over the course of the Inquiry. These links focus on residential schools.

If you would like to be involved in this process by contributing knowledge or expertise or asking us questions,  please contact us. 

First Nations Inquiry: Student Survey

Today students completed a survey to find out what they know about First Nations.
One of my students who is strong in data analysis and visualization will take the results and graph them for us.
I noticed right away that none of them understand the terminology: First Nations, Metis etc. so we've sent a tweet out to find someone who can help us understand exactly what those words mean.

We also began building a class PLN - a list of people students can individually or as a class contact when they have questions. Two students are in charge of the list. We will set up a Skype centre with the list posted.  We are able to do this with the Netbook we received from Dell as part of our prize for the MindShare Learning video challenge. Big smile!

We have a hashtag that you can follow #62FIN on twitter.

Grade 6 Parents, please check the class page for dates.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Good Question

I owe a debt of gratitude to many people this week who have pointed me in a direction that will allow a better unfolding of the process during our First Nations Inquiry.  Jana Scott Lindsay, Denise Montgomery, Cami Boyko, and the work of Neil Stephenson and Jane Krauss were instrumental in this.

It turns out that coming up with an essential  question is the hardest part of developing an inquiry. I think I've finally got one.

We make judgements of inferiority/superiority and what type of knowledge has value. First Nations people hold a body of knowledge that is unique and valuable, but that hasn't always been valued.*  How are the knowledge, skills, insights and worldview of First Nations people relevant today?

Launching an inquiry with a compelling event is key to triggering curiosity.  We will begin with the ultimate devaluing of First Nations culture and knowledge: Residential Schools. In that decision to strip First Nations of their culture and identity, what was missed?  We will then shift into our exploration of FN cultures to build a knowledge base and to develop deep appreciation of how FN perspectives could hold solutions to our problems today.

*Cami Boyko

The google doc that was posted previously documenting the development of the inquiry is currently being updated.  It will be reposted soon.  If you are looking for information on inquiry based learning, this is a great site:

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Digital Media: The Eighth Art

I love the seredipity of twitter!  Yesterday I saw a tweet announcing an event: Digital Media: the Eighth Art.  It was the inaugural event designed to bring those working in digital media together to network and ultimately build digital media creation into Hamilton's new economy.

It was held at CHCH on Jackson St. Startups, industry, government, entrepreneurs all working in the field of digital media had an opportunity to connect.   I was so glad I went because this effort bridges the gap between what I am working at in my classroom and the 'real' world.  Who did I meet? Some very exceptional people and organizations, so many of them at or just out of the incubator stage or who foster incubation.

Ron Neuman the Executive Director of the Innovation Factory
Linda Mitton from, a hub designed for independent film makers to connect, collaborate and create
David Thompson, lead designer for battlegoat studios, who designs sophisticated strategic games.
Kristin Huigenbos, the coordinator of the Small Business Enterprise Centre
Factory Media Centre ( - who provide a shared space and skills for teaching and crowdsourcing expertise for film creation.
And many more.

I was the only educator there from an elementary school and I only found the event by chance.  What a disconnect.  Here we are preparing learners to eventually enter such worlds and  yet typically we do not form networks within those kinds of communities.  Do we truly understand just what we are preparing our students for?  I learned so much this evening, made many interesting connections and each one of the people I spoke with had skills and expertise that would benefit my students.  I had a ton of fun and am looking forward to the interesting projects that are going to evolve from the connectons we made.  Thanks visionaries!

Share What You Learn so Others Can Learn

I've mentioned previously that it is not always smooth sailing in my classroom.  So much of the work that my students and I have done over the past year has been trailblazing - figuring out a way through the technological forest that is Web 2.0.

Documenting as we go has been crucial to our learning - I need to document in order to more deeply understand what it is exactly that I am doing. I would not in any way describe this trailblazing as refined. It is messy work, but, I truly believe important work.   The overriding theme in my classroom has become share what you learn so others can learn.

Apparently, others are learning. This week I received several emails and had a few conversations with educators who have been influenced by the work we do in room 208. While it is lovely to receive kind words and positive feedback, what I see is impact.  These educators are taking models that we've created or initiated and refining them.  They're making them better.

Kelly Dunford, a grade 3 teacher at our school is a prime example.  Kelly follows my blog and we have frequent conversations about transformative practices.   I had a chance to visit her room today with Robert Martellacci from MindShare Learning who had come to award our prize for the digital classroom video contest.  I was so impressed by the work Ms Dunford is doing.  One grade 3 student shared the lesson that she designed and taught the class about point of view.  This student was teaching while Ms. Dunford was working with another group.  A boy in the class showed the tool for voice recording that he found and the instructional post he had created to teach students how to use the tool - all without assistance from the teacher.

Ms. Dunford is taking what we initiated and making it better.  By the sharing what we do on twitter and in other social media platforms - by making our practice visible, an amplification and rapid spread of 21 century approaches to learning is occurring.

 I am witnessing this first hand.  Again, this is not something I anticipated when I began this process of documenting the transformation of my classroom.  The work I do draws upon the rich resources I have found in social media - the knowledge flows through me and on to others, who take it, shape it, make it their own and hopefully pass it on so others can learn.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Project-Based Learning Approach to First Nations

I have always felt somewhat ridiculous teaching the grade 6 First Nation's history unit.  I teach it, we learn, but it always feels somewhat false.  After all, I am not First Nations and the best I can do is give my interpretation of First Nation's history and culture in conjunction with the resources and first hand accounts that I am able to cobble together.

This year I consider myself very fortunate that Denise Montgomery, a parent and educator in our community has offered to assist. Ms. Montgomery is Metis; she is active in the First Nation's community, has a wealth of resources and knowledge and will guide our class through this unit. I am grateful. Ms. Montgomery has already given me much to think about, including who I might choose to contact to provide  interpretation of First Nation's culture.   The choices I make as a teacher say a great deal about whether I am continuing to reinforce colonialism or permitting a civilization to define itself.

In working together, I very much wish to use an inquiry-based learning approach to constructing our knowledge.

I am following the #pbl hashtag on twitter closely.
I am using project-based learning resources, including the Buck Institute for Education:
Our discussion platform will be Collaborize., although we will continue to use blogs, twitter, Skype and our boards's sharing platform: The Commons

The key now is to come up with a rich question.  I think I've got one:  How can the knowledge, skills, insights and worldview of First Nation's people assist us or be applied today? This umbrella question will allow us to explore a vast array of topics such as technology, recent scientific discoveries, storytelling, nature, government, societal roles and  .... well ... a great deal more.  It will allow us to approach our learning from many different points of view and transmit a sense of respect for the place of FN culture in modern day Canada.

Survival and technology have caught my students' interests and so we will begin with an investigation of arrowheads.  Dr Bruce Bradley explains the physics of arrowhead construction in his Flintknapping instructional video sent to us last year. The forces at work in arrowhead design are the same forces at work in modern day bridge or car design. Creativity, innovation and resiliency were key to survival then, and are a haul mark of 21 century fluencies. Designing an inquiry to facilitate these connections is the overall goal.

Providing a forum during our learning about First Nations is key.  I would hope that First Nations communities across Canada who discover our work feel free to add their voices and share their insights on what we are learning.

Please, please feel free to critique, comment, provide feedback and ask questions  as I document this shift into a much more structured approach to PBL.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Flies on the Wall: Connecticut Overhauls Education

This is the most comprehensive plan to overhaul a school system that I have seen to date.  It comes from Connecticut and I am sure will prompt heated discussion and debate.  I see elements of Finland and  Shanghai in here and even some Ontario.

I'm still going through it, but noteworthy so far:
- shift to individualized demonstrations of learning rather than standardized tests
-many paths to learning
-end of grouping children by age and grade
-end of teacher generalists
-end of seniority for teachers (note: Finland and Ontario have teacher tenure)
-emphasis on teacher training as the best path to improvement
-a comprehensive vision for technology and anytime, anywhere learning

There is much to be debated in this document and it will be interesting to see how the process unfolds.  Social media will allow the entire world to be flies on the wall for this.

Friday, February 17, 2012

A Flamenco Moment

Last weekend as I was driving home from visiting my parents in Toronto, I tuned into CIUT's Global Rhythms and came across Antonitas DeHavila also known as Ray Isaacs.  Antonitas is a classical flamenco guitarist, born in England of gypsy heritage who first learned to play from his father and then developed his abilities in flamenco guitar in the gypsy encampments of England, Spain and France.  He is a master who has played Carnegie Hall and can be heard on many motion picture sound tracks.  Antonitas is self taught. He does not read music. Everything he plays is from his heart. The songs he plays are hundreds of years old and he has hundreds of interpretations of each.   As soon as  I heard him begin to play, I knew I had to see him live.

He announced that he would be playing a concert the following Friday at Trinity St Paul on Bloor St. in Toronto. By the time we made our way through rush hour traffic that evening, the concert had begun.  The concert was a tale in itself, but not for reasons one might expect.  When we arrived Antonitas was not on stage; instead, young musicians were there playing a kind of fusion flamenco. An astounding male singer from Mexico - I never got his name - accompanied them.  In conversation during an intermission Atonitas described him as having the kind of voice he hasn't heard in 20 years, not since the time of the Gipsy Kings.

The fusion flamencoists were talented musicians on their own, but unfortunately, were not what people had come to hear.  Antonitas' nonelectric flamenco guitar was overpowered by their sound.  I had a sense that these musicians had been invited to play with him and in their excitement had usurped his concert.

Antonitas left the stage while they were playing; the lead singer at the end of the set wished everyone a good night and the audience left disappointed ... but that is not the end of the story.

We found Antonitas eating chips in the foyer and engaged him in conversation.  He is a humble and gentle soul. An artist.  It is hard to imagine him managing anything else outside of his guitar. Talking with him I felt protective.  This is a man who lives for his art and nothing else matters.

We asked if he was going to play a set without the other musicians.  He smiled in recognition that his evening had been stolen and asked, "Are they gone, is it empty?"  We replied that most people had left. "I will play for you two."

He reentered the hall and we took our seats .  Antonitas pulled his chair up directly in front of us and began to play.  There were 7 who witnessed this event. My husband, myself, Antonitas' wife and son, a man who caught our conversation and also reentered the hall  and a young couple who hadn't left yet.

It was one of those transcendent moments where one can't quite believe what one is witnessing.  It was astounding.  The empty hall, the quiet guitar, the musician and the music. Antonitas plays as if he is one with his instrument.  The entire guitar serves his music.  His fingers flow across the instrument like water.  I have never seen nor heard anything like it.  I felt privileged. Honoured. I still can't quite believe it happened.  I will always remember this as the night the gypsy played for me.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Discussion of the Week

One of the best discussions occurring this week is on Dr. Michael Wesch's  Digital Ethnography blog.  Michael was instrumental in launching Web 2.0 and social media in our classrooms. His address to the Library of Congress opened our eyes to the possibilities of digital media for learning. His talks can be found on You Tube. 

This week Michael explained the evolution of his thinking on the role and purpose of digital media as teaching tools.  He stresses the importance of the bond between educator and learner in  successful participatory classrooms  and creates space for the lecture in the ecosystem of learning.  This is particularly significant because so much of the discussion on 21 century fluencies has encouraged educators to shift away from this practice.

Michael's post prompted a very rich discussion, one of the best I've seen in a while.  It is well worth the read, particularly the comments.

Many people have added their thoughts and I hope more do.  Mary Ann Reilly's addition should be viewed as she sums up beautifully what we all need to remember.  There is no one method, "the method is the people". This is as profound as, "the medium is the message"!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Ken Spencer Award

Congratulations to the entire project team, Ian, Esa and Cynthia and the Amazing Class 62!  Our app project has received national recognition and the 1st place Ken Spencer Award from the Canadian Education Association.

There were 15 projects short-listed for the prize.  You can find details here. Don't miss the Skateboarding Project aimed at disengaged youth. What a great idea.

Thank you so much Ken Spencer for funding this award and the Canadian Education Association for finding our efforts worthy of recognition.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Invisible Technology and How Much Can I Shift? Still more, apparently.

This week I've been thinking carefully about what kind of technology I should have in my classroom so that the learning cycle becomes seamless and fully integrated and so that this cycle truly reflects not just learning but what it means to be a learner in this age.

I put it out to the Twittersphere - tablet or laptop -  and received a global response as various people weighed in.   Over the course of these discussions I found myself yet again making an intellectual shift in my understanding of the purpose and structure of learning.

Three ideas are converging, deepening my understanding and ultimately reshaping my practice.

1. The idea of Singularity, that with technology we can intentionally and exponentially accelerate the creation and distribution of knowledge so that all have access and so that the urgent and pressing problems of our day can have all minds focused on solutions. Our job as educators is to create a structure so ideas and creativity can happen.

2. Rhizomatic learning - that everyone is a node of knowledge creation, that knowledge does not flow linearly and the human project is to create and spread knowledge. Our job as educators is to codevise a structure where the technology is so invisible that rhizomatic learning just happens.

3.  Subjectivites, a term coined by Michael Wesch,  is explained below better that I could ever paraphrase.  Our job as educators is to recognize what we are now teaching.

Posted by 

As an alternative to the idea that we teach “subjects,” I’ve been playing with the idea that what we really teach are “subjectivities”: ways of approaching, understanding, and interacting with the world. Subjectivities cannot be “taught” – only practiced. They involve an introspective intellectual throw-down in the minds of students. Learning a new subjectivity is often painful because it almost always involves what psychologist Thomas Szasz referred to as “an injury to one’s self-esteem.” You have to unlearn perspectives that may have become central to your sense of self. (I wrote more about this here.)
Some of these “subjectivities” are clearly named within different disciplines. For example, in anthropology we simply call it “The Anthropological Perspective.” Sociologists have “The Sociological Imagination.” When I first considered this distinction between “subjects” and “subjectivities,” I realized that for me the content is really just a means to an end – the ultimate end being “The Anthropological Perspective.” For a long time I did not even realize this, and I constantly struggled to pile on content to make sure that I “covered the ground” necessary. It was only later that I realized that if I could inspire the proper perspective, the students would be gathering “content” to serve this powerful perspective for the rest of their lives.
So here’s my question to everybody: Within your own particular field, is there a particular “subjectivity,” perspective, or way of seeing and interacting with the world that you are trying to inspire in your students? In your mind, is this perspective more important than the “content” or “subject-matter” of the course? I would really be interested in hearing more about how this resonates or conflicts with ideas from other disciplines. If you have time, let me know what you think, and how you approach your own class.

Astrophysicist, writer, blogger for the Huffington Post and director of the US National Center for Earth and Space Science Education had much to contribute. The fact that I can engage directly with someone so far removed from my own sphere of influence needs a mention.  That is the power of Social Media and twitter in particular to advance conversation and learning.

Jeff is in favour of tablets. I've captured some of the tweets out of order, but the rationale for tablets is still present. Tablets allow the above to happen.

I'll at some point reorder that conversation, but I didn't want to lose the thoughts it generated, so there it is. More food for thought.  More shifts to be made.  

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Chaos in and Around Room 208

You should know that there are many things that don't always run smoothly in my classroom.  Things that I plan don't always turn out as intended. Kids have off days. I have off days. Sometimes, particularly when we are trying something for the first time, we hit roadblocks or have planning issues.  Sometimes ideas I thought were good, could have been better implemented.  This is part of the game of teaching.

For the past two weeks my grade 7's have been making movies.  This is our first time through this kind of activity and it definitely has not been headache free. It has taken longer than expected. Filming in small groups around the school has been disruptive ... finding quiet places to film or completing outdoor shots has had supervision issues.  Scenes have had to be reshot.  Storylines have broken down and had to be reconceived. Creative conflicts between group members has occurred.  Absent group members have caused delays and the rewriting of scripts. And I've had to be away during some of the filming days.  We're now experiencing problems uploading to moviemaker in order to edit and add soundtrack.

We could abandon the entire task, but helping students develop resiliency and persistence is part of our jobs as teachers. Teaching them to embrace and then brush off failure, giving them the opportunity to evaluate and then resolve mistakes and allowing them a safe space to work through difficulties will in the end be a much richer experience.

This process has turned out to be about more than just making a movie and through it I've come to realize that classrooms and projects that always run smoothly and predictably mean that risks are not being taken and it is in taking risks that we learn.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Remix Manifesto: Content Creation and Copyright in the Digital Age

Join filmmaker Brett Gaylor and mashup artist Girl Talk as they explore copyright and content creation in the digital age. In the process they dissect the media landscape of the 21st century and shatter the wall between users and producers. Creative Commons founder, Lawrence Lessig, Brazil's Minister of Culture, Gilberto Gil, and pop culture critic Cory Doctorow also come along for the ride. 

Information on creative commons licensing can be found here.

Network Literacy: Redefining What it Means to be Literate

This week I reached a moment of clarity thanks to Greb McVeryy's blogpost.  "we must be constantly redefining what it means to be literate"

Part of what teachers and schools are struggling with is that literacy is being redefined and many of us are uncertain or do not have a clear picture yet of what exactly the new literacies are nor how to incorporate them into our programs.

I've gathered a few links and resources that may help.

The first explains that when students and educators use social media in education they are developing "Network Literacy" - the ability to effectively tap social networks to disperse ones' own ideas and media products".  I would argue that network literacy goes well beyond this.  It is much richer in what it offers including the ability to make contact and engage with people outside of one's knowledge domain, the ability to engage in global discussion, the ability to respond directly to ideas and events, the ability to strategically develop network relationships in order to advance reciprocal learning and the ability to break through the noise so that your voice is heard.

The next resource is from the Western Canada winner of the Mindshare Learning digital classroom video contest, Shelley Wright.   This is so worth viewing because Shelley outlines how to incorporate network literacy into the learning process.

Lastly, is Steve Wheeler's slideshare, Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age. Slide 22 in particular should be viewed as it identifies the new literacies that fall under the umbrella of "Network Literacy".

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Developing the Language of Explanation Through Problem-Solving

I haven't blogged about my 6's in a while, but they too have been busy.    I've introduced them to MIT's Scratch, a wonderful kidfriendly design tool that teaches the logic of programming.

With any tool I introduce, I follow a process which I've refined over the past year.

Step 1:  Begin with exploration and play.

All learners need processing time for this.  There is no point giving instructions or expecting them to accomplish a specific task until they  have a basic understanding of the purpose and function of the tool.  For Scratch, learners attempt to figure out independently what the tool is and how it works.  They visit tutorial sites, observe those already familiar with the tool and click through screens and on buttons to see what happens.  We have had 3 periods for exploration.

Step 2:  Sharing and Challenges

At the beginning of our Scratch sessions we now begin with sharing accomplishments, current projects and challenges that have not yet been solved which takes 3-5 minutes.  This is fun and interesting.  Learners become very excited to hear what others are working on.  This is also an opportunity to find out if someone else in the class has already solved a design challenge and to learn from them.  Knowledge spreads rapidly through the class.  It is useful to hear what design challenges have not yet been solved as it causes other learners to begin thinking and suggesting how a problem might be solved.  I will record one of these sessions at a later date.

Step 3: Explaning and Documenting

As students solve design challenges they call me over and we record the new achievement using my iPod Touch.  We screen capture while the learner explains what problem they solved, how they solved it and what their game can now do.  They must explain clearly and sequentially  which allows them to develop the language of explanation in a very natural and meaningful way. Other students listen while we record and quite often will pop over to observe.

Here, Dexter called me over to share his discovery.  He can visit other creations to study their programming steps and determine which ones he might like to replicate.  He shares how to do this with me.


William explains that he can make an object react to the cursor.


Once again, the atmosphere in the lab is relaxed and fluid.

Today students figured out how to make objects bounce off sides, how to record a sound and create a loop and how to make objects spin.  One student discovered variables and another determined the function of the x y coordinates. With variables, a student realized that he is now able to create levels and will work on this the next time we are in the lab.

This type of task is highly engaging, involves creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, analysis, language and math. My role once again is facilitator.  For those who have difficultry expressing clear thoughts, I prompt them to slow down, help with vocabulary and aid in the process of explanation, all in a non-stressful environment. What's not to like?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Congratulations to all My Students!

What an honour. Our video submission was selected as the Central Canada winner for the Mindshare Learning Digital Classroom Contest.  We've won $15 000 in technology for our classroom and I will be attending the ISTE conference in San Diego in June. THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

This was our winning submission, but I highly recommend visiting the MindShare Learning site to see some amazing work being done across Canada. The winner from Western Canada is particularly interesting because she outlines the entire student-led inquiry process and shows how social media and technology fits in.



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