Sunday, November 1, 2015

Children don’t change but Education MUST!

Every year as I get to know my students better, I recognize very similar traits from students from the past years. Kids like to learn and if they don’t then there’s something preventing them from doing so. When I hear rumblings about children being lazy it really irks me as I totally disagree – students are not lazy; they are either not being empowered and challenged or there is something preventing them from being active learners. 

 My 6th Grade Students - this year

I remember way back at the beginning of my career, having children in my class who had major trouble reading and writing even at the basic level. With such huge classes (over 30 students) it was difficult to help them in individual ways and to be honest; I didn’t know how to help them. Teaching college had not prepared me for anything outside of the norm... as if all kids were “the norm.”  Students with challenges were left to stumble their way through work sheets, text books and tests, with varying degrees of success and usually feeling inadequate, hating school and generally feeling horrible about themselves.                
                                                                                                                          My 6th grade students - this year

Has education provided support, help, advise, for these children that need something different? I guess that in some ways there have been improvements. Accommodations are made as children are tested and diagnosed with a number of learning problems, but do we really help children feel better about themselves? I wish I could get in touch with those learning challenged kids of the past. Where are they now and what life decisions have they made? Could I have made school easier and more fun for them? If only I knew then what I know now!

I don’t think I ever really conformed to the tests, textbooks and worksheets required at any time during those first years. Group work became my new solution and I spent much of my time creating laminated work cards for each group, where children could choose from a variety of tasks. At least students could complete the work in their own time, talk to members of their group and have some choices, and I had time to spend with each cluster. There were also wonderful sewing classes, woodworking, cooking and other weekly active activities, but those seem to have disappeared over the years.

My first PBL experience many years ago in Scotland. We studied fairy tales, chose Snow White and designed, created and built this float, including costumes for Gala Day. These students were problem solvers, creators and makers.

Isn’t it strange that the Education system in place today hasn’t really changed since the 1940’s yet look how our world has changed! Gone are the days when everyone had to memorize all the information needed for their cubicle jobs, working solo doesn’t seems to be the norm any more and people tend not to settle for one career or work for one company for life. The walls and borders have come down and the world today seems much smaller, as we we connect live through the many devices, tools and programs available. So why have tests become the most important part of educating in education today and why is it not changing? 

Alfie Khon states in his book, The Case Against Standardized TestingStandardized tests are not like the weather, something to which we must resign ourselves. . . . They are not a force of nature but a force of politics-and political decisions that can be questioned, challenged, and ultimately reversed."  

Another innovative educator, Bill Boyd recently wrote this interesting article “Still Raising the Scores, Still Ruining the Schools

I loved when I found, private, progressive schools in the USA. At last, I could teach the way it came natural to me. I loved making choices about curriculum, sharing my passions with my students and learning about their passions. Children called teachers by their first names and I could build relationships with each student with the small class sizes. There were no more standardized tests to give, no more grades and lots of hands on activities and fun collaborative projects. . 

I have really enjoyed changing my teaching style, especially during the last ten years or so. I have learned so much from my PLN (from Twitter), PDS colleagues, global connections, students and parents. Technology has made teaching so much more transparent and powerful in so many ways.  I have been able to implement a much more student centered classroom, with student led teaching, student decision-making, technology integration and global collaboration with many students and experts from around the world. My job has become more of a coach and facilitator than the teacher who was expected to know everything about everything. I know this way of teaching is slowly emerging in schools around the world, but not quickly enough. The results are that students enjoy coming to school to learn and feel they have a voice in their own learning, curation and creating.  If we value education, we must prepare our young people to be global citizens, problem finders, creators, and life long learners in this ever-changing new world.

My students over the years have not changed, but education MUST!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The First of The Lasts

September 9th, 2015 was the first of many "lasts" for me this year. I have gone through many, many first days of school over the years, so was this day going to be any different from all the others? In my mind this was very different, as this would be my very last time welcoming a new class of students and preparing for a new school year. I wondered just how many students had I greeted every fall for the past 42 years? How many ways had I prepared for that first day of school? This was the first of my "lasts" that will continue throughout this year and end in June.

I vividly remember stepping anxiously into my first classroom, all those years ago at St. Mark’s Primary school in Barrhead, Scotland.

This was where I had gone to primary school and I loved this small school and all its friendly teachers. I was about to become the first former student to return as a teacher. I was so nervous about my new position and becoming a member of the faculty with some of the very same teachers I had when I was a student there. I really wanted these kids experiences to be productive, happy and fun like mine had been. Suddenly all those college courses I had taken and all the student teaching I had done seemed so far away and irrelevant as I looked into the 37 pairs of eyes staring at me from the many rows of shiny desks. My primary two class was anxiously sitting awaiting my direction. 
I stood quietly, wondering how I was going to occupy them for that one day and couldn't even begin to think about the rest of the school year or imagine what tomorrow would look like. I had just been told that morning that I would be teaching a primary two class so there had  been no time to ponder, think or plan. I remember worrying about how I was going to learn all the students' names and how could I really ever get to know them with so many in the class.  A daunting task to be sure, having this great responsibility of educating these young minds.

So what did I do? I chose to ignore the piles of different textbooks on the shelves, at least
for now and I began by moving all the desks to the sides of the room. I had everyone sit in a circle on the floor and we began talking and getting to know each other. I told them stories about my life and then they shared stories about themselves. I read them a story from a class library book, had them draw pictures about the story and somehow it was all ok. We explored the classroom, found some neat supplies, blocks and books and we got through that first day. My first year of teaching had begun!

What did I do this year to begin this last, first day? Well, actually it wasn’t so different from the first time all those years ago. I wanted to make these kids 6th grade be the best experience ever and students really are no different today. We moved our chairs into a circle and began talking and getting to know each other. I told them stories about my life and they shared stories about themselves. I showed them a few Ted Talks and we talked some more and wrote. And so my last year had begun - one last time!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Blogging - The best laid plans...

The best laid plans...

Few people these days will argue with the fact that technology is changing so quickly that it is difficult to keep up with all of the new apps, social media platforms and other cool tools. When I began my blogging class a few weeks ago, I had some specific ideas that I wanted the students to follow but they turned out not to be the ideas the students had. I should have known better than to have so many preconceived ideas with a group of great, creative middle schoolers who keep up with many of the social media updates and use them. 

Our first blogging class went well with students finding and sharing blogs that they liked and wanted to follow. Feedly accounts were set up and interesting bloggers were found as student interests and passions emerged. Comments were then written, revised, edited and posted and finally it was time for individual student blogs to be created. 

This is where my plans fell apart. I had shared a mix of sites recommending different blogging platforms but many of my students had minds of their own and decided mostly to choose different ways to blog. I had to decide quickly to either quell their ideas and force mine on them, or trust in them and let them blog their way. Taking risks and trying new ideas is my mantra, so I really had no alternative but to set them free and see what happened. 

The platform of choice for most students was Tumblr, which markets themselves as a place to "effortlessly share anything." This and the following is taken from their website ... 

"Post text, photos, quotes, links, music, and videos from your browser, phone, desktop, email or wherever you happen to be. You can customize everything, from colors to your theme's HTML." I am not a huge fan of Tumblr for blogging, as it seems to be a more developed version of Instagram, the number one social media platform for teenagers and a place where you find and share mostly work of others.


Three pairs of students choose to write together and three created individual blogs. Tumblr and Wordpress were the two choices of platforms.

Since then, everyone has worked on many aspects of their blog. Widgets, themes and pictures have been added, posts written and sites shared through Twitter.  It’s been wonderful to share and comment on each other’s posts and see how diverse the student passions are.

Today is our last blogging class so I asked each student to share a comment on our time together. I hope you enjoy their comments and will take a few minutes to browse their blogs.

Adrienne and Lilly’s blog - Moosebug
Lilly: “This class helped me create and run an organized and fun blog. I learned about widgets and how to put them in my blog.”

Adrienne: “I liked this class a lot, I learned how to efficiently write and post interesting pieces of writing. I also learned a lot more about putting widgets on blogs.”   

Ethan and Will's BlogRatingz Top Tenz
Ethan: "This class has been a very fun experience for me. This is my first blogging class, and it is amazing. When I was put into this class I was not looking forward to it. Now I wish that this class lasted longer."

Lia and Alex's Blog - Through The lens
Alex: "Writing is not just a thought but also creativity. That’s one thing I learned in this class. You have to think about what you write but also have a story behind it."
Lia: "This class has definitely given me a chance to do something I wouldn’t normally do for fun, and I’ve enjoyed it very much. I like the fact that I can put my photography out there where anyone can see it."

Cole's Blog - Movies Immediately
Cole: "This class includes lots of useful information on blogging and technology. It also helps demonstrate what kids are thinking and writing."

Henry's Blog - Exotic Shoe Laces
Henry: "This blogging class was an educational and enriching learning experience for me. I was taught how to use different platforms for blogging like Tumblr and Wordpress and it was very fun to creatively express my opinions on my blog and I will continue to post on this blog after the class is over."

Striana's Blog - My Blog
Striana: "Blogging was a great experience. I learned many useful techniques and I really enjoyed myself."

Monday, March 9, 2015

D Day activities by Shirley

Tomorrow begins our new middle school mini courses. This is an opportunity for teachers to offer a variety of workshops that include their passions, interests and perhaps subject areas.  These courses meet for almost a full day on D Days and a shorter meeting of 80 minutes on H days. Our school runs on an eight day schedule so we meet roughly once per week for four weeks.

My offering is a basic course on blogging, something I love to do, but recently have fallen off the wagon with the consistency and development of my own blog. So time to change, regroup and try again….

I hope to be inspired to write a continuous stream of interesting blog posts using my students for my inspiration. Blogging needs to be done regularly and my hope from this workshop is that I can find the time to write weekly short posts both reflective in nature and informative and useful to other educators. I hope be to write about this workshop and what we hope to accomplish, learn and share with each other and the rest of the world. 

Day 1 Agenda
Following great blogs is part of becoming a successful blogger. Today we will find some great student blogs to follow, curate them using Feedly - a news aggregator, read some inspirational posts and comment on what we liked about them. Then we will explore the platforms used and decide on suitable platforms for us...