The #bookaday challenge

Almost three weeks ago, Donalyn Millar, author of The Book Whisper, teacher, blogger and Twitter participant (@donalynbooks) posted a challenge on her blog about reading a book each day over summer holidays.  Now, at first, I thought that this would be impossible for me.  There was no possible way that I could read an entire book every day for two months!  I am too slow a reader!  But then, I kept reading and got thinking…  Donalyn suggests setting your own goal, incorporating all levels of reading, and adapting as necessary.  So, I decided to set my own goal:

1. Read one grade 3 level book each day over summer vacation, one day in French, one day in English.

2.  Read 3-4 adult reads over the summer.

This seemed like quite a reasonable and achievable goal.  I started holidays on Tuesday, June 27th.  Here is my reading so far:

Tuesday, June 29 – Un chien à roulettes by Janeen Brian, 56 pages

chien

Wednesday, June 30- The Case of Hermie the Missing Hamster by James Preller, 80 pages

hermie

Thursday, July 1 – Follet le furet by Penny Matthews, 56 pages

follet-le-furet

Friday, July 2nd – ADULT READ – Deadly Appearances by Gail Bowen, 280 pages

deadly

Saturday, July 3rd – Le gang des petits-suisses by Gérard Moncomble, 23 pages

gang

 

I just hope that I can meet my goal!  I am proud of the reading I have done so far!  What are you reading this summer?

Teaching or Technology? Can’t we do both?

          I am currently working on my Master’s degree. I am taking a class about research methods. Each assignment that we do is to guide us through the process of writing a research proposal for a Master’s thesis. Our prof created on online forum to which we were supposed to post our research problems and questions, and through discussion, he is hoping that we can refine the focus for our topic and research.
          It has been very interesting reading about others’ topics and the suggestions from others have helped be clarify my own thoughts. My topic was inspired both by discussions of my PLN on Twitter and by my own personal experiences this year. This year I have experienced a true transformation in my teaching. I truly believe that I’ve always been a pretty good teacher, but this year, I have become a very good teacher. Getting my SMARTBoard has pushed me to do more exploring and reading about technology, technology integration, and the balance of tech and true teaching/learning. I have found a PLN that includes experts at all levels of the education system from K-University, and in all subject areas that have pushed me to question, change and adapt the way that I teach. I also started my Master’s this year. Along with those classes have come copious amounts of reading language, literacy, and educational research and theories. These too have changed how I teach. In this vein, my topic for this research proposal is studying the effects of using student blogs on writing ability and attitude towards writing in a second language.

          I know that writing my own blog this year had lead to some deep reflection. Knowing that others are going to read it has also added an element of pressure to make sure that it reads well, sounds intelligent (or at least partially so) and that my grammar and spelling are correct.  At the same time, I know that I am more likely to post to my blog about these reflections than to a notebook because there is the chance that I might get some feedback to my reflections.  And for anyone who has a blog, you know how exciting it can be to receive that message that a comment has been posted!  I am curious to know if these same things that I have experienced this year writing on my blog could work to my advantage with my students when trying to get them to write in their second language…

          So, what prompted today’s post? In the forum for my class, one of my classmates posted a response to my idea that, although I’m sure he had no intentions of doing so, got my blood boiling… He made comments about how using technology in our classrooms (and the technology available to students at home) has “has really trumped human skill development” and that we, as primary teachers are doing the children a disservice by not teaching handwriting, how to write in notebooks, teaching math facts (by using paper flipcards), and other things… He suggested that I somehow bridge handwriting and technology in my research. This was my response:

          “Good point. My focus for the study would be less about the actual technology itself, but more about using it as a means for introducing an authentic audience to their writing (other than just the teacher) and the opportunity for reflective feedback and interaction amongst students through their comments. I have no intentions of taking away the idea of the writing process prior to posting on the blog, in fact, it is a big part of what I intend to do.

          Just as an aside that has nothing to do with my project… In primary we still teach printing and cursive writing, still use flashcards, write our math in notebooks, write paper letters, and use many of the “old” methods of teaching. However, we have kids in our classrooms whose world already looks different than ours did, and with the rate of technology change we are faced with now (see any of the TED talks for some of these changes) we can’t even imagine what their world will look like when they become contributing adult members of society. I feel like it is my job to try to prepare my students for their own futures, and that means teaching them how to integrate technology in their learning.

          Thanks for your response. What is your topic?”

          What do you think? I hope that I didn’t come across too preachy or angry. I mean, I teach. I use technology to enhance my teaching, but in the end, I still teach. Without me, the SMARTBoard, data projector, laptop and desktops in my classroom would just be pretty dust collectors.

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As a follow-up to this post.  I received an answer to my response from my classmate that was in a completely different tone than the first…  He was both respectful and praising of my response and what I am doing in my classroom.  I guess my response was a good one!

A classroom fairy tale

We read some fairy tales. We identified what makes a fairy tale. Then we wrote one together using the SMARTBoard. This is the first collaborative writing project that I have done using the SB, editing using the tools provided, moving things around, using different colours for different sentences… It was a great run of lessons. Following this post is the final project. Next, they will be writing their own!

The Magic Genie
by Mme Forrest’s grade 3s 2009/2010

Once upon a time in an elementary school, there was a poor school-girl named Jane. She worked so hard but her teacher was never satisfied. Mr. Carroll yelled at Jane to do everybody’s homework every night. Jane was feeling very sad as she was filing Mr. Carroll’s papers when suddenly, BAM! A genie appeared from the filing cabinet.
Jane was scared, but she asked the genie to make Mr. Carroll nicer. The genie gave Jane a pencil to weaken the teacher. When Mr. Carroll took the pencil, his knees gave out and he fell into the fishpond with a huge SPLASH! Instead of becoming nice, he just yelled at Jane to clean up the mess!
After she cleaned up the pond, Jane went back to the genie. The genie gave her an apple to paralyze the teacher. Jane put the apple on Mr. Carroll’s desk before she went out for recess. Mr. Carroll was hungry, saw the apple and took a big bite. When he crunched his first bite, he froze. Jane came back from recess to discover that her plan had backfired. She ended up having to do all of Mr. Carroll’s work!
Frustrated and exhausted, Jane went back to see the Genie for the last time. The genie gave Jane a magic book and guaranteed that it would work. Jane read the magic book to Mr. Carroll and the spell unfroze him and gave him all the answers in the world. Knowing the answers made Mr. Carroll’s job a snap!
Now that Mr. Carroll’s job is easy, he no longer yells at Jane or makes her work so hard. So Jane, Mr. Carroll, and the rest of the class lived happily ever after!

Reflections on the year

It was this time last year that I was applying for the SMARTBoard program through my school board. It had seemed at the time to be a new and exciting way to learn more about technology and about how to get my students more involved in their learning. I knew that I was going to be starting my M.Ed. studies and was going to have a class that was almost 10 students bigger, so I wasn’t sure how much time I would have to “play” with the SMARTBoard.

Now, a year later, I am reflecting on my year and the changes that have occurred. Some were foreseeable, others were unexpected.

• My method of planning has completely changed. I mean, I still base my lessons on curriculum outcomes, but now when I look at these standards, instead of finding an activity or worksheet to use, I think about how I can make my lessons more interactive. My SB has made it easier for me to follow the “I do, we do, you do” method of teaching. I am able to prepare the templates ahead of time and to bring them back again and again, saving time during my lessons.
• Student participation and enthusiasm has increased. Students who were often disengaged or lacked confidence to participate in discussions now want to participate because they get the opportunity to use the SB. They are now even suggesting ways to use the SB and the programs we have used when I hadn’t planned on it, or thought of using it in that way. They are starting to take ownership of their learning. They are starting to tell me what helps them learn and what doesn’t. They say things like: “Remember when you showed us how to regroup on the SB Mme? I just think of that when I’m adding.” or “When you showed us how the Earth travels around the sun with the animation on the SB I really understood. Do you have one to show us how the moon goes around the Earth?” They are also talking about these things with their parents. The evidence is that I have received several emails from parents commenting about how excited their children are.
• Trying to find resources to use with my SB led me to join Twitter. This has been both powerful and informative in my growth as a teacher. I have learned so much about using my SB effectively in my classroom. I have learned about the many tools available to teach as well as have been exposed to many different projects that wonderful teachers around the world are doing with their children. I have developed my own Personal Learning Network that answers my various needs. I have colleagues who are interested in tech integration, colleagues whose focus in developing literacy skills through the love of reading, colleagues whose focus is second language learning, colleagues who are interested in making things better for students who are gifted and those who face challenges, colleagues who are interested in educational reform to make things better for all students and finally colleagues who are just striving to become better teachers. Combining all these groups together has created for me a wonderful and powerful support group in my own development as a better teacher.

There were two completely unexpected outcomes from my participation in this SB project:
• First, being a part of this project has allowed me to feel like I am valued by my staff. Not that I wasn’t valued before, but now I feel like I have something truly unique to offer my staff and my school. I have been told several times this year that I have become somewhat the “tech expert” for the younger grades. People are coming to me with questions and I am able to answer them, or point them in the right direction. My enthusiasm for what I am doing is rubbing off onto others and they are now looking for ways to use some of the ideas with their own kids. I love being able to help others, so being a part of this project has allowed for this to happen.
• Another unexpected outcome of my participation in this project is the link that I am making between my tech learning and my M.Ed. learning. I went into my M.Ed. program with a vague idea of what I wanted to focus on: reading instruction. The more I learn about Web 2.0 and student participation/interaction, the more possibilities I see for these tools to impact student reading and writing outcomes. The more I learn, the more I read, the clearer my ideas for possible research and thesis integrating these two topics becomes. There is very little research done in this field, and even less when speaking of second language learning. Isn’t it amazing that all of this has come together?

I am sure that I will have more to write about as I finish up the year. There are a few more projects that I would like to attempt with my students before June. My students are just finishing up their collaborative projects with their grade 5/6 buddies using Comic Life to illustrate what they’ve learned about the virtues. We are using Nike+ to log our distances as we attempt to run a marathon with a grade 5 class in Alberta. I am hoping that I can have my students publish one of their stories using Storybird before the end of the year. Finally, I plan on creating an Animato using pictures of my students reading all over the place to share with next year’s students as proof that reading really CAN happen everywhere!

Now, what to do next?

Update…

Hello again. It has been awhile since I’ve updated my blog with regards to my progression as a teacher trying to integrate technology into my classroom. Today I, and this blog, was mentioned in a blog by a grade 3 French Immersion teacher in Ontario that I have connected with on Twitter (http://www.funkylindsay.com/?p=796). We have been bouncing ideas off of each other for a few weeks now. It is nice to have a colleague (albeit one that is across the country) that is sharing the same journey as me, and knows some of the same frustrations of teaching in a second language. It was her blog mention that inspired me to update today.

Last weekend, I participated in a virtual 24-hour read-a-thon (http://24hourreadathon.com/). This was a very unique experience. Each participant (numbered in the hundreds) was reading in their own space, in their own time, and posting their progress through Twitter and their various blogs. During this event, various activities were posted around the net hourly in order for you to take reading breaks. Prizes of books and other reading stuff were awarded for these events. There were designated cheer-leaders who were posting positive words of encouragement and praise throughout the 24 hours. I posted a couple of these challenges to this blog and managed to read for about 16 hours, with a grand total of close to 500 pages read. This event takes place twice a year, in April and in October. I loved the experience and will be encouraging my students and families to participate next year! Maybe even having a mini-event in my classroom. It is something to think about.

Now, the whole point of getting the SMARTBoard in my classroom was for it to have an impact on my students, not just on me, right? So, what have I been doing with my students lately? Well, in my M.Ed. class this term, we have talked a lot about the teaching strategy of “I do, We do, You do” when teaching any new concept. First, I will do it to show you, then we will do it together, then you do it on your own. I have really taken this to heart this year and my SB has made this process both easier for me to accomplish and more engaging for my students. Using Notebook to create lessons has allowed me to create templates that can be used over and over again (I do, we do, you do). It also allows me to save our work so that we can refer back to it in later lessons. This has become a regular part of our daily lessons.

Many of my students have come into my classroom with little or no computer skills at all. The SB has allowed me the opportunity to teach the class basic skills like opening windows, saving, changing font, bold, italics, center, and many other simple skills. In the past, I would either have taught these things 26 different times to students on individual computers, or simply projected on to a screen. Now, I am able to show them as before, but then invite them to come up to change and manipulate as well before I send them to computers. It truly does make a difference for them. They recently finished “publishing” a French book report using Microsoft Word that will be proudly displayed around our library for the other students in our school to see.

Another project that we have been doing is a collaborative project with the grade 5/6 classroom. Our school is studying Virtues this year. Our students were placed in groups (with both grade 3s and grade 5/6s) and were each assigned a virtue. They studied their virtue, came up with a storyline that represented that virtue, took pictures of themselves “acting” out this skit, uploaded their pictures, and are now in the process of creating comics of their storylines using Comic Life. The older students are mentoring the younger ones. This project, so far, has been a great success! My students are learning so much and are becoming more and more comfortable around computers.

The last thing that I wanted to talk about is something that I introduced to my students as something they could do at home. I am constantly trying to find new ways to encourage my students to read, to find books that they like, to share what they are reading, to be proud of their reading… (A lot of these ideas are written about in a book I recently read called The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller.) Since my students seem so taken with technology and the computer, I looked for a way to incorporate this with my goals for reading. I signed up for a Shelfari page (www.shelfari.com) and started putting the books that I was reading up there. I purposefully chose to put professional books, personal books, and books that my students were reading to set the example that all kinds of reading are valuable. I then also book talked about these books too. Almost half my class is now on Shelfari, updating their bookshelves, sharing with each other. They send me notes, they send each other notes. I also sent a note to the parents to ensure that their parents were the primary holders of their child’s site so they could monitor them. This online sharing has transferred to my classroom in real life too. I have students who are regularly doing book talks and often ask to share their bookshelves with the students who are not online. I provided all my students with notebooks that are divided as the Shelfari bookshelf are: Books I want to read, Books I am reading, Books I have read. This way all my students are involved in this sharing!

So, there you go, this is my latest update.  Next I hope to find a way to promote physical fitness using tech.  Ideas?

The first book I ever loved

Encyclopedia Brown - Boy Detective

Encyclopedia Brown - Boy Detective

Encyclopedia Brown was the first character I ever felt a kindship to… I was a quiet, bookish girl who spent all of my spare time reading, or helping my school librarian shelve books (with the hopes of finding new books to read!) At the time, there was a section in the library that was off limits to me because I was too young and couldn’t possibly understand the books, but the librarian used to let me “sneak” books from this section as I was shelving. I was pretty much a loner, because in the real world, being bookish just meant that you were a know-it-all.

Encyclopedia was bookish AND cool. I mean, he had a best friend that could knock out even the meanest bully and his dad asked him to help solve police crimes! And to top it all off, I could solve most of the crimes that he did!

Now, with the rebirth of the book series (so that they look more contemporary), I have introduced my own students to these books that bring back so many good memories…

Readathon Challenge Hour 14

I would like to see The 39 Clues books made into movies. I love these books. They are a little like the Amazing Race, history and travel all rolled into one!

I think that Maggie Smith would play a fantastic Grace Cahill, the know-it-all, know-everyone, secretive but loving grandmother.

Read-a-thon

Well, it’s another first for me. In 10 minutes, I am going to participate in my first ever virtual readathon!
http://24hourreadathon.com/

I came across this readathon through my contacts on Twitter. I am following all those reading around the world as they update their progress and share opinions about the books they are reading. What a neat experience.

I am going to start my journey with Book 8 of The 39 Clues – The Emperor’s Code.

Teacher2Teacher – My thoughts

                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!

Using SmartResponse

I used the SMARTResponse system for the first time this week with my students. It was quite successful. I used it to take a quick picture of how my students were doing in 2-digit addition. It gave me a quick overall picture of who gets it and who doesn’t. It allowed me to know which kids I needed to review with (1 of which was a total surprise to me!) It was a great experience! Will attempt a science assessment next week.