Saturday, February 9, 2013

What do you do on a snow day? by Shirley

We learned early that our school would probably be closed on Friday because of the pending snow storm that could bring up to 19 inches of snow to our area. For many schools that meant a day off with students having no connection to their teachers or classes.

Here at PDS, that is not the case, and middle and high school students make plans to continue our learning using digital means on days when school has to close. My students and I are well prepared for this kind of closure and we enjoy using Edmodo for online classes. Our schedule of classes for Friday was, Humanities 1 at 10am and Humanities 2 at 11am. We all signed onto Edmodo and classes began.

The first class discussed World War 1 and Josie, our head of school’s visit to share her knowledge on this period with us. Students answered a few questions that I posted and they replied to each other. I attached a WW1 picture which the students studied and wrote about it, and finally they composed poems about the war on their Google Docs and shared one line on Edmodo with all of us.  

The second class is collaborating with St Mary’s grade 6 in Canada on a read aloud project (learn more about it in my previous post), so we began the day by discussing how well it is progressing. The students enjoy using TodaysMeet to communicate with their buddies and Google Docs to collaborate. They then answered some questions about the book, The Phantom Tollbooth and finally wrote some interesting poems on Google Docs which they shared.

Thank you to George, our M/S head who joined us and contributed to both classes. Classes were over by noon and students could get on with their day. I had a quick lunch and then onto my next adventure.

As I said in my previous post, I was invited to present at TeachMeetNW, at 3:30pm our time - 8:30pm in Ireland. Having this snow day enabled me to take part in most of this unconference, so I signed into the Google Hangout about 2pm to see what was happening and began Tweeting.  I also chatted in the hangout with two other teachers also presenting from afar. Quite amazing to see us all on the screen as I talked to Damien, the organizer from Derry, Ian, a deputy head in Islay (a small island off the coast of Scotland) and Peter a teacher in England. Some great ideas and quick presentations were shared as teachers' names were picked. My turn came and it was time to share my take on EdCamps in the USA. It was very strange presenting to an unseen audience. I had shared my  screen so I could only see my presentation and no one else. Having to present in only 7 minutes was also quite a challenge but I finished on time. This was a new adventure for me and it was a lot of fun and wonderful to be part of this global sharing and learning event.  What a great way to meet new educators to add to my PLN.

I am the picture on the bottom right
Here is part of the Twitter feed from the unconference and a link to my Google

My school day was finally over by about 4pm, although I did continue to tweet with my new friends in Northern Ireland. All in all quite an exciting snow day!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Teaching is never Shirley

How much can one learn, share, demonstrate in a few hours? At a conference or workshop that could be quite a bit and of course in the classroom we expect a lot. Last Thursday was no different than many days in our eight day fun packed schedule, but the variety of happenings was quite exciting.

One of our 7th grade students, Cam was recently asked to create an imovie about our innovative new Learning Commons to be shown at an upcoming NAIS conference - See Laura’s blog post for more about this and a link to the movie. This was a wonderful opportunity and challenge for this youngster who is also teaching an imovie class to his peers and me. We had to do some final edits and get the movie to Jamie in Memphis so at 9:30am the watching, reading and editing began and by 10am Cam had the last edits to finalize later in the day...onward to the next venture...

Cam with his new microphone
I then met up with Liz, a visiting teacher from The Randolph school, who had come to observe for the morning. We had a chat about our new learning space and how it has changed the way we collaborate, share and learn together. We looked at our middle school eight day schedule on our large screen for the students to follow and talked about my Medieval Global Studies curriculum. We ended with how technology can change our teaching and should be integrated into what we do.

At this point, I was also getting ready for a Skype call with grade 6 at St. Mary’s, our buddy school in Canada. We are in the middle of a great collaborative read aloud project, involving TodaysMeet, Google Docs, Animoto and The Phantom Tollbooth. My morning task before class, was to set up my my laptop to project our Skype call and also display the pages of the book - dual screens showing and we were ready...

What is a Humbug? Our takes on this character from The Phantom Tollbooth...

Our Skype call began at 10:40 with Liz observing. As I read the next chapter aloud to both classes, all students used TodaysMeet to have a thoughtful discussion on characters they could relate to and share what predictions they had for the next chapter. Our two classes really enjoy this kind of online chat, sharing, responding and questioning, and also finding out a lot about each other. One of my 6th graders recently said, “I think it is great to work globally. This may be the only time in my life I get to have a book group with people who live in another country. I love listening and sharing my ideas with them.”
Skyping with Canada

At 11:30 I had to change hats once again as I found myself in a Google Hangout with Damien McHugh from Derry, Northern Ireland. He is the organizer of Northern Ireland’s TeachMeet and we had met on Twitter during #niedchat. This was a test run as I had been invited to present on EdCamps in the USA to the first TeachMeet in north west Ireland. There were four of us in this hangout and it was fun to talk to colleagues so far away and test screen share options and sound levels. Everything worked well and we signed off ready for the actual event


And then there was exciting morning at PDS!

Snow Day by Laura

We are in the early hours of what might be a blizzard, or at least a pretty big storm.  By the end of the day yesterday, our head of school had sent a note to parents explaining that we would be closed today, and that teachers were making plans to have learning continue-- through digital means.

I've taken a look at my browser history to see what that meant for me today.  Here is a summary:

I slept in, checked email on my iPad, and since it wasn't snowing, went to the gym as I would have on a normal school day.  Came home, ate oatmeal (nice, since I usually eat cold food in the car on the way from the gym to school).  Also stopped at Starbucks for a soy latte, another snow day goodie.

Opened my laptop around 10:15am to post a snow day assignment for my students. 

Around 10:30 I had a conference call with some colleagues, at another school, who wanted to talk about what it was like to have students bring a laptop of their choosing to school rather than require the same device for all.

Around 11:00 I read student work.  They are writing scripts to be turned into commercials.  I gave them feedback through Google docs and wrote to teams suggesting that they finish scripts today.

Read a peripatetic article, in Education Week, about schools using cloud computing.  Thought it might be interesting for the folks I had conference called with earlier so sent it to them.

Read an email from a colleague about a twelve year old who sent a balloon into the high atmosphere.  Followed the link and watched the video.  Got goosebumps and dizzy-- it was that cool.  Tweeted the link.  Around noon I wrote to the colleague who had send me the link and included the others he cc'ed.  One wrote back to say, "Let's build our own high altitude balloon," generating  a brief flurry of exchanges with links to product options.  (Stay tuned.)

Read an article about the importance of introverted kids learning to participate in class.  Only agreed in part, which made me remember that I had an open tab on my browser with an ASCD webinar, about using a strength based approach to working with neurodiversity in students.  On the way to the webinar video, I check my Cosm account website to see if the soil temperature probes we buried earlier in the week had variations in the readings since the snow had started. (I'm especially keeping my eye on the one 6" down to see if we can show that snow acts as an insulator.)

Before watching the neurodiversity webinar I wrote to some colleagues and sent them the link to it, in case they were interested.  Then I grabbed my knitting, put on headphones and started to watch.  About ten minutes into it I realized that I was going to finish the knitting and be left with nothing to knit during the storm.  I hit pause and drove to Michaels, spending too much money.

Returning home with enough yarn to knit my way through the next few years of snow days, I finally watched the webinar video. Checked email, and then read a MiddleWeb blog about STEM-- it was good.

Around 3:30 and back to email.  One student needed the link to WeVideo, since that is where their movies are being made.  Two other teams had written to have me edit their scripts.  One wrote to send a link to her team's finished video on WeVideo, making me happy since it meant her team had had a collaborative snow day!

A friend, who is an English teacher, contacted me through Facebook to share some links about the Brooklyn Academy of Music's The Laramie Project Cycle.  (My son is in a school production of Laramie this weekend-- well, at least we hope there will be at least a Saturday performance!)  I spent a little time watching those videos and sending them to my son.  It was now pushing 4:00pm.

Was it a productive day? Yes, and without sacrificing the whimsy of found time that snow days have brought to teachers and students for decades past. I didn't do anything that wasn't interesting to me.  I have a feeling of being somewhat caught up on my sleep/reading/watching. I hope my students feel that I was accessible to them, and that they were able to have a similar day of whimsy and interest.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

It's Calm by Laura

Shirley and I were asked by Jamie Field Baker, of the Martin Institute for Teaching Excellence in Memphis, TN, if we could provide a video of our new Middle School Learning Community.  We knew that our head of school, Josie Holford, had already made a terrific video of the inspiration and renovation itself.  What was missing was the perspective of the school year occupants-- the students and the teachers.

Agreeing to help Jamie, we turned to the movie maker in our midst who had the strongest skills-- a seventh grader named Cam.  Jamie set up a Google doc and a firm deadline, we passed it onto Cam, and he got to work.

We had a wonderful time collaborating.  He let us function as producers.  We watched multiple versions and asked him to take new shots, boost the sound, and razor out seconds of footage that didn't fit.  He got a slice of life working with us a colleagues-- not teachers-- and pushing to make Jamie's deadline.  At the end of the process we told him three things:  "Thanks!", "Great job!"  and "We didn't treat you like a kid, but like a colleague."

What struck us as we watched the interviews with the students?  The number of times (some were left on the "cutting room floor,") that a student being interviewed mentioned the calm atmosphere of the Learning Commons, the central space of the new Learning Community.

Pulling about eighty middle school students into a common area would not be the way to foster calm, according to conventional wisdom.  There is no doubt, though, the Learning Commons is a calm space.  Students spend time there working.  During mid-day recess, the volume might grow a bit louder, but it always returns to a quieter, focused hush when classes are in session.

We aren't sure why.  George Swain, the MS division head suggested that perhaps students are calm because they know where everyone else is.  Or maybe it's because the atmosphere is so pleasant, with light, color, and potted plants.We hope it's that the work is interesting.   No matter what, in the few brief months that we've occupied the space, the community has set a standard for maintaining an atmosphere for engaged learning.

Here is Cam's movie.  He started with Josie's work, edited it a bit, and then added his own.  It will be show at an upcoming pre-conference workshop at the NAIS national conference at the end of February.