This past week, I attended my first ever technology conference: Teacher2Teacher, held in Bow Island, Alberta. Now, my sister-in-law lives in Taber, AB and we have to drive through Bow Island to get to Taber. I wondered, what in the heck kind of conference could be held in such a small center. At first, I was sceptical. However, in connecting with other educators from around the world who would be attending this conference, either as presenters or participants, I became more and more excited. I ended up having a great two days of learning and sharing. I went to 8 different sessions over the course of the two days. Some of the sessions confirmed what I was already doing as valuable, some opened up my eyes to things that I could still put into place this year with my class, some just opened me up to future possibilities.
The first session that I went to featured James Hollis (of www.teacheronlinetraining.com), @jameshollis on Twitter, talking about how to create a Magic 8 ball Notebook Application. This is a multiple choice type question application where, when the answer is put into the middle of the 8 ball, it adds an 8-ball type response. For example, “Outlook Not Good” shows up for an incorrect answer. This is something that I will have to play around with and try. There was not enough time in this session to play around with it. Just like with most other Notebook pages, once I figure it out and create one template, I should be able to use this as a quick check of understanding, or as an attention-grab at the begging of a lesson.
The second session I attended featured Harvey Almarode (of www.HarveysHomePage.com ), @MacHarvey on Twitter, talking about how to use the SMARTBoard to engage students in their learning. He started his session with information on activating memory. He talked of the four parts of memory: Semantic, Episodic, Procedural, and Emotional. The first is what traditional teaching is based on… Semantic is learning facts, symbols and figures. This involved reading, memorizing and practicing. He quoted research as saying that 90% of the information we learn in this way alone will be gone within 30 minutes. The second part of memory is episodic. This is learning we can link to location, circumstances and/or events. Harvey suggested that if we are teaching a particularly difficult concept, we should try to introduce a new episodic event to which we can link learning in order to help students remember. For example, teach the lesson in the library, so that later, you can say “remember, we did this in the library” or introduce a special picture or avatar on the SMARTBoard that is used only for this lesson. The third part of memory is procedural. This is learning linked to hands-on, moving, and using manipulatives. This can include students in moving things around on the SMARTBoard and moving around the room. Harvey pointed out that although there are virtual manipulatives to use on the SMARTBoard, these cannot replace the actual real-world manipulatives for early learners. The last part of memory is emotional. This is learning that can be linked to how the student feels while learning. Harvey said that something as simple as smiling while learning can release serotonin which will make the student feel good and help them remember what they are learning. He suggested using smiling face clip art such as the free clipart pictures from http://www.phillipmartin.info/clipart/homepage.htm or having the students create their own avatar at http://www.buildyourwildself.com/ to add to your notebook pages to give that little “smile”. After this, Harvey went on to show us how the math lessons on his webpage can answer at least 2-3 of each part of the memory at any given time. All these lessons are available for free download from his webpage. His only requests (and Phillip Martin’s for use of his clipart) are that we attribute where they come from, and that if we create something, we will in turn share alike! This was a great presentation.
The third session I attended on Thursday was called a Feature Teacher session. This particular session featured three grade 3 teachers showing off their stuff. There were so many ideas and ways to use the SMARTBoard in the classroom that I can’t possibly talk about, or remember, all of them! Amber Pinchin, Janessa Connor, and Judy Parley presented some of the things they did in their classroom. One of the teachers has a question on the SMARTBoard each morning when the students come in. The students must move their name from the side to the category that answers the question. She uses this as both attendance and a way to review content. She gave two examples of the types of questions she uses. The first type is a quick review of content. For example, she had the students move their name to the category of the number of vowels in their name. This type of question have a different answer for each child (because it is based on their name) so they can’t just copy and it allows for the teacher to do a quick-check if they know what vowels are. The second type of question is one where she would use the answers later for another activity. For example, What colour socks are you wearing today? She then uses this information in later lessons, for example to talk about fractions or make a graph in math. I was also introduced to some of the games available in Notebook to work spelling, vocabulary, sequencing, and other concepts. These are all available by searching FLASH in Notebook. One of the teachers also shared how she set up her daily agenda in a notebook file so she can go back and see what she has assigned during the week, and show students who are absent what they missed. There were many other things, but I can’t remember them all at the moment.
The last session on Thursday was that SMART French session. This was not what I was expecting and was a little disappointing, though through no fault of the presenter, Allan Thompson. This session was designed for High School Core French classes and I found that most of what he presented were way above the heads of my students’ interest levels and did not fit well with my curriculum. I did, however, come out of his session with one gem of information. As a take-away from this session, we received a poster with 20 brain-compatible teaching strategies. This list is a good resource when planning lessons to make sure that we cover many different learning styles in our planning.
My Friday morning began with a session called “Get in the Lit” with Helen Mowers (of http://techchicktips.wikispaces.com), @techchick94 on Twitter. Her session focused on using multimedia and web 2.0 to motivate and engage children in reading. Her wiki features links to FREE online books. She also has a list of websites that can be used to set up virtual book clubs. She encouraged students (and teachers) posting what they read, as well as their reactions. Then, students can see what their classmates are reading, take recommendations, and make their own comments if they read a book that has already been read. Students are motivated by what their friends are reading, and are also encouraged to read seeing that their teacher is reading as well. She suggested using wikispaces as a forum because it does not require students to have an email address to leave comments. She provides all the links and web pages she spoke of on her wiki.
My second session on Friday was about ePearl. This is a digital portfolio. It stores student work, gives the opportunity for students to choose their best work to “publish”, and the published work follows the student through their school career. There are three levels available. Level 1 is meant for K-3. This level has two components of work… My Readings and My Creations. My Readings allows for students to post what they are reading, record themselves reading, and post their own questions and/or comments about their books. There is also a link to ABRACADABRA (A Balanced Reading Approach for All Canadians Designed to Achieve Best Results for All) that comes with ePearl. This will automatically keep track of the students’ reading on this site. My Creations can include any writing or other projects the students do. In this section, there is also a spot for student reflection on their work. One last feature of this level is that all the instructions can be read to the student as can their work be read back to them. Level 2 (grades 4-8) and level 3 (grades 9-12) have the same features, but the student pages can be personalized, much like their own website. It seemed like an interesting project. I was particularly interested of the possibilities of recording and storing student reading in the primary grades to show progress and the idea that student work could follow them through the years without actually having to keep anything on paper. This is not, however, something that I as a teacher could choose to use. This would have to be something that our system took on.
The next session I attended was one that I had been waiting for. The speaker was Danny Nicholson (of http://www.whiteboardblog.co.uk), @dannynic on Twitter. I first “met” Danny many months ago on Twitter and have been learning from him ever since. He is truly a wealth of knowledge when it comes to integrating what’s out there in the virtual world into daily lessons in interesting ways. The session was called Essential Digital Resources. This featured websites and digital tools to use to make our lessons more engaging and relevant. He spoke of where to legally (Creative Commons) find pictures, audio, video, and a few other gems. He also had some interesting ideas of short quick activities to engage students. He shared all these links at http://delicious.com/dannynic/t2t . One thing I took from his session that I will be using in the next few weeks is an interesting way to use www.wordle.net . He suggested pasting the text of well-known fairy tales into wordle and having the students guess which tale it is. I have already incorporated this idea in with the attendance idea I wrote of above. This will be my attendance questions for 2 weeks coming up after Easter break! So many good ideas! He is currently working on a project called Espresso http://www.espresso.co.uk/services/primary/index.html#Scene_1 that creates a website catered to an areas’ specific curricular requirements. It is launching in Alberta soon. It looks interesting!
The last session of the day was about RAZ-Kids. This is a program that I already use in my classroom as a part of my guided reading program. I was hoping to learn some new ways to use this program, but, unfortunately, I already do more with the program than was presented during this session.
Overall, the two days were amazing! I met many amazing people (with whom I will continue to connect on Twitter), learned many amazing things, and hope to share this with my colleagues. It was a way to get PD in reading, language arts, math, science, AND technology! I hope to make this an annual event, continuing to build my virtual PLN and incorporate it into my real-world PLCs!