The Great Lego Challenges

Alright, the title might be a little facetious. They weren’t really THE great Lego challenges but they were a fantastic way to start a new school year with students who are new to me. 

September started with me in a new school and yet in a similar role to my last – prep teacher, teaching STEM. As with many teachers in my position, I was trying to think of what might help me to get to know students better; to see what skills they bring; to see what they might enjoy. With a whole bunch of Lego available to use, I thought we would start the year off with a couple of Lego challenges and it was definitely a great decision.

During our first session together, students were tasked with creating the first letter of their first name or creating something that starts with that letter. Students were given my basic design and I shared with them that my name was Ms. Lambert and that I absolutely love plants and that’s why I chose to add a variety of plants to my letter. It was incredible to see the variety of designs created and it was a great way for students to introduce themselves to me and potentially new classmates. Students jumped right in and exceeded my expectations with how creative they were. 

Once the individual challenge was completed, students were then tasked with building the tallest, free-standing structure in groups of 3 or 4. I admired in some cases how students were methodical in how they were going to design their structures. I watched as they discussed what they would need to start off their build. I think I admired this because I’m a huge planner and I recognized this trait in some students. This was important for me to identify as I’m trying to be more intentional about what I do and why. Just because it’s my thought process when building, doesn’t mean that it will be the same for all students and there’s no greater value because I think this way. Don’t get me wrong, I always think there should be some sort of plan in design but I might have been the person drawing out the base before picking up the materials.

That said, the pressure was on, especially for the older grades. Many jumped in and were amazingly flexible as they built and met up with challenges. I loved how each group kept going no matter what challenges they faced. And there were many. Structures got too heavy on top and fell over. Students turned in the “wrong” direction and structures came tumbling down. Pieces seemed to fit and then didn’t. The challenges were endless. 

During this process, I also appreciated that groups were willing to share their design ideas with one another. All-in-all, I would have to say that it was a great chance for me to sit back and observe students in action. I made notes as they progressed and asked questions about their designs. Although each class from K to 5 was given the same challenge, it was incredible that no two structures looked the same. Groups added their own flair and made the structures their own.

I’m not quite sure what this year will bring in terms of challenges but I have to say that I have an incredible group of students that I get to work with and I know that they will be up for whatever challenge is thrown our way. 

I hope that you’ve had a great start to the year!

sounds

I love walking around and peeking into classrooms – especially at my own school. As a SERT, it does not seem as weird when I show up unannounced in the middle of a lesson or work time since I am always in and out over the course of a day. In the spirit of transparency, my curiosity has found me marveling in rooms at other schools too. There is so much to see each time the opportunity presents itself. Long before ever becoming an educator, I was wont to wander off the tour when given the chance – still do.  Now that I am, it would be great if we all had more time to visit each other’s amazing learning environments. 

Each of my visits offer informative insights into these incredibly and creatively constructed spaces. I’ve even made some friends along the way as a happy coincidence when my curiosity leads to conversations after compliments. I think every educator wants to check out what is going on in other classrooms, but we are given little opportunity to do so while siloed in our own schools. Wouldn’t it be fun to swap places with a teacher of the same grade for a week to experience what they do and vice versa?

Admittedly, that wonder and awe comes with a hint of professional jealousy as well. I think of the time, effort, thought, and sweat it takes to make learning come alive within them. It is a gift to work among so many talented and caring educators. Each trip to another educator’s classroom is guaranteed to give me a boost of energy and inspiration. Now imagine what would happen if we all had the time outside of our own walls?  

This has occured to some small extent during family of schools events or one-off PD sessions that happen occasionally. I always love it when another educator visits my classroom. It is validation. It definitely keeps me on my toes and, like watching a movie with your own children, you notice things that you might not sans visitor(s). 

I know that when folx come by my room, they do so with an open invitation to my classroom. Over the years I have welcomed delegations from Brazil, Denmark, and Sri Lanka. Not to mention system admin types from time to time. I always wonder what they must feel like to be back in the classroom? What do they remember from “their days” pacing the rows and teaching. What did it look like? What did it sound like? 

For me, their is this constant soundtrack playing in the classroom. Each day it constructs itself out of the rythym and melody of which we all play our part.

Now, I bet you thought it was something like a cross between Brazilian Thrash Metal, Opera, and Worldbeat and it kind of is however the beautiful noise that gets made is more of a melodic cacophony to accompany the magic that happens wherever and whenever students are being taught. If you listen close enough, you here the soundtrack that accompanies a live rocket launch or cornerstone being laid. It could come in the form of a question or a response and the a “Wait! No, I meant…” followed by an answer and mini-exhale. It could sound like 26 pistons each firing perfectly to accomplish a task or like the timed pops of fireworks at 10 pm on a summer holiday (all safety precautions observed, of course). These are the sounds that reverberate off of pastel painted cinderblock walls. 

Sure I could put on some Lo-Fi Hip Hop or share my Productivity Workflow playlist from Spotify, but they could never compare to the intersection of lives and learning going on each day. 

Like our students, the sounds we hear in class have their own rhythms. Believe it or not, there is such a thing as productive noise. It can be unnerving to new teachers who enter the classroom still holding on to their own experiences as learners, but now nearly a decade past those carefree days from K to 8. At risk is losing the energy in a room when order is the only expectation. Teachers each need to work out and manage their “acceptable noise” levels with students. We must also be willing to renegotiate these terms from time to time. Setting routines and irreducible minimum expectations starts in September, but must be consistent from then to June. 

This might require a few changes to be achieved. With the sun burning brightly and birds chirping, the energy/noise levels in classrooms seem to be set to 11 out of 10. As such, a little more outside and movement time built into the day has helped. I am also adding in more time to productively self-direct or collaborate. My recent art classes saw us touring the school and then partnering up to co-create something. Through all of this, the room was filled with creative conversation with only a few moments of chaos.

I wonder whether someone else would hear it that way if they visited? I guess there is only one way to find out. 

 

Reflection as Learning

As elementary teachers, I think that we can all admit that we like a good project. As a culminating task, projects can be a great way for students to demonstrate their learning of the content of a unit. When open, projects can allow for students to share this learning in a variety of ways. In the past, I’ve offered students an opportunity to get feedback at certain points in their projects but I would admit that the larger reflection piece would happen at the end. I often felt good about them sharing what they would have done differently but this year, I’m trying to switch things up a bit. I’m wondering what a difference it would make if students were given time to sit and reflect on their work at multiple opportunities throughout the process, and then use those moments of reflection as jump-off points for further learning. How might we offer students meaningful opportunities for reflection throughout the learning process, in order to further inform their learning? In this post, I’m sharing my thoughts about what I call reflection as learning.

Feedback From Peers

In all of my design projects with students, there are opportunities for them to gather feedback on their ideas from their peers. Usually, after they have brainstormed their ideas and come up with the design that they are most passionate about, they create short storyboards to share their ideas with others.  This often allows for students who are a little more reluctant to share all of their ideas, the opportunity to sit with one, further develop it, and be ready to share it in pictures and words with others.

This year, since part of my assignment, is Media Literacy through STEM, I have been working with the Grade 2s and 3s on a building challenge that focuses on movement (Grade 2) and strong and stable structures (Grade 3). For our challenge, students have been asked to create a structure that can move objects from one place to the next, using a force – either a push or pull. They also can’t use their hands to move the objects onto their structure.  Along the way, we have had lessons about different types of movement; simple machines; structures and their purposes; and stable shapes and materials. From there, students used this knowledge to develop an idea for what they would create for their challenge. When it came time to share their ideas with their peers, it was great to hear the buzz in the classrooms as they spoke about their designs and heard from others about theirs.  For the first time in a while, I heard one student ask another if they could take a part of their solution and change their idea. The student was ok with the sharing of their idea and I watched as the other student quickly made changes to their design. This happened several times in one class and in this first opportunity for reflection on their projects, I saw just how much these students were willing to change around their ideas in order to make them even better. Often with design projects, I have found that students are reluctant to change their ideas and almost stick with what they first designed, even after getting feedback from others. This was not the case with this group. I was excited, to say the least. 

Time to Implement

I’m willing to admit that this is one of the areas that I need to grow in as an educator. Offering students the time required to successfully implement the changes needed to demonstrate learning from feedback given. Most times, I feel like I won’t have enough time if we have a project that goes on for months. Instead, I’ve settled for students sharing with me at the end – either in writing or an exit interview – what they would have changed, rather than allowing them the extra time to actually do the change.

With the Grade 2s and 3s, after students finished their designs, we did a rapid paper prototype. Given a piece of paper, glue, tape, and scissors, students were tasked with creating a 3D model of their structure in a limited amount of time. It didn’t have to be perfect but the goal was to see if what they designed would be easily built (feasibility) and what it might require as they also consider the found materials available. During the rapid prototyping, I quickly got a sense that some students were stuck on where to begin. A few were stressed, thinking about the fact that they had limited time. For some, they quickly got in the zone and began building, creating and making changes as they went. Once finished, it was time yet again for the students to reflect.

Guiding Questions

When reflecting, both orally and in writing, I use guiding questions to help students to think about their experience and also think about their next steps. After our paper prototyping, this was no different. 

This time, students were asked the following six questions:

  1. In the space below, tell me about the structure that you built.
  2. What was the easiest part of building your paper prototype?
  3. What was the most challenging part of building your paper prototype?
  4. If you could build your paper prototype again, what would you do differently?
  5. Now that you have built a prototype of your structure, what steps will you take when it comes to building your real structure? What do you have to keep in mind?
  6. List the found materials that you will need to build your structure.

Some of the answers were fascinating.

  • One student was surprised at how anxious they were about building “the perfect structure” and that when it came time to build, their anxiety prevented them from starting to actually build what they wanted. Their next step is to look back at what they hoped to design and see whether or not it is feasible and to plan out the steps of what they will do first, second, etc. 
  • Another student realized that materials are limited. While they were unrolling large amounts of tape for their paper prototype, they realized just how much they were wasting and are considering what else they might use instead to strengthen their structure. This led to us having a conversation about the use of materials for building projects and why we were mainly trying to reuse materials that were around the school. We also discussed other ways of fastening materials. 
  • One student thought that what they built for their paper prototype was much better than what they had designed and will be taking some time to re-draw their design prior to building. They want to make sure that their thoughts as they built were being captured so that they would remember them later. The paper prototyping for them was an opportunity to build with concrete materials and gave them more ideas as they worked with the materials. 

The students have been building their actual structures for the past week and it’s been such a pleasure to watch. Next, we will be moving into the Media Literacy part of our work which will see them creating commercials for their structures. I can’t wait to see what they come up with and I do know that through reflection – both for students and myself – the learning will continue.

Virtual Design Sprint

One of the highlights of this past month was working with a colleague to run a design sprint in their virtual classroom. I had so much fun working with students around a repeatable process that they could use to solve any problem! With our time limited to one day, these Grade 4 students rose to the challenge and created some incredible solutions that absolutely blew my mind!!!

What Is Design Thinking?

Design Thinking is a repeatable process that when the user is centered, allows students to gain empathy for those for whom they are designing. The process is cyclical and at any point, designers can always return to an earlier point in the process so as to create a more effective solution. 

We started our day using a Jamboard and considered all the problems that exist in the world around us. I think it was at this moment that I knew that this was going to be an incredible day! From the isolation related to dealing with Covid to food insecurity, these Grade 4 students were looking at the world with their eyes wide open. As we worked, the students took time to sort their ideas into categories, looking for similarities that may exist between problems. 

From there, the students each picked just one problem that they wanted to spend the day tackling. This is sometimes very tricky as there are so many different problems that we may be passionate about. Once they picked the problem that they wanted to focus on, the students took some time to research.  In order to create effective solutions, we must understand the problem in an in-depth way. 

Our next step was to consider who was affected and to pick someone for whom we would design our solution. Without actually doing interviews and knowing our users well, this is often difficult because we do make assumptions. This was a key part in helping students to understand that this is a process and once we know more, we often have to rethink the effectiveness of our solutions and sometimes this means going back to the drawing board.

Next, we moved into ideation and used Crazy 8s to come up with some new and innovative ideas. With most groups, there is some worry about coming up with ideas quickly but once again, these students jumped on board and came right along with me. 

In the afternoon, we spent some time paper prototyping and creating pitches for our solutions. After presentations and feedback, the students had the opportunity to reflect on the day: what they learned about themselves and the process, and also how they could use the learning in the future. 

What Was the Learning for Students?

The students walked away with some incredible ideas for how they would create change in the world. Through the use of these design tools, they were excited to consider the next steps to their creations. While I always struggle with the limitation of implementation that sometimes comes with design, with this group, I am actually hopeful for what they might create, given the opportunity to connect with someone who might support the execution of their idea. 

One idea that came from our day was the creation of an app that would record, track and report instances of racism. Clearly, over the past year, the students in the class have been having critical conversations about race and what is happening in the world around us. It’s because of these conversations and the fact that we can no longer ignore that these issues are having an impact on our children, that this student decided to focus on this topic. Although there were many features of this student’s app, I loved that the designer considered the fact that not everyone has data and that the app would work without it. They also made it easy to access and share the information so that even in a difficult situation – such as facing racism – the user would be able to utilize the app to its fullest potential.

With all of the problems and challenges we all are facing these days, I think it’s pretty incredible to learn a repeatable process for designing something new. Whether or not these ideas come to life right away, I know that these students have learned a new way of problem solving and I know that many will take these skills and apply them in the future. 

Interested in learning more about how to run your own design sprint or how to incorporate elements of design thinking into your program for next year? Join me in August for a 3-day Summer Academy Course on Design Thinking for All. You won’t want to miss it!

Note:

ETFO’s position on in-person learning remains unchanged. The union firmly believes that the daily, in-person model of instruction and support best meets the educational, developmental and social needs of students, provides the best experience for support, and is the most equitable learning model for all students.

ETFO’s expectation is that elementary virtual learning in any capacity, including through hybrid models of instruction, will end once the pandemic ends.

Final Reflections from a Remote Teacher

Wow, what a year it has been! And to think, we didn’t think things could get any wilder than 2020. I have taught grade seven online since the first week of school and am finishing up next week. I have learned so much this year about myself as a teacher and about the things that children go through each and every day. Taking away the physical aspect of school has been challenging for some students yet so beneficial for others. For most of the students in my class, it was an overall positive experience. I was so lucky to have my 29 incredible students for this online experience. 

As I mentioned in my last blog post, my students participated in an interview with me where they asked questions about their efforts in certain subjects. 

I am pleased to say that many of them took the opportunity to hand in extra assignments or to bump up current ones. My students also had a chance to reflect on the learning skills they were most proud of and ones that they hope to work on in the future. They also had great final reflections about their year online. I posed the question to them, “What are you most proud of about your grade seven year?” Here were their responses:

  • The fact that I am in a class full of kind people
  • I am most proud of my marks and grades. I have been working so hard and it has paid off
  • Not getting distracted 
  • Staying on task and asking questions if confused 
  • Attendance and coming on time 
  • How to use different websites, finishing my work on time and kind of mostly everything because online school can be hard sometimes
  • My participation
  • I think I am proud that I did everything on time and proud that I did well
  • Improved on tech. skills 
  • I try my best and that’s what I’m most proud of
  • Doing my assignments on time, coming to class on time and being respectful to others in the chat or either the mic
  • I’m proud of staying in class and working on difficult work
  • Participating, even if I get the answer wrong
  • I’m proud that me and the class did a whole year of online school
  • How well I did even though I was nervous starting
  • I’m proud of my first term report
  • Doing online learning and enjoying it even though I thought it would be boring
  • Work through the MS teams platform, virtual activities and enjoying the whole experience
  • I’m happy with my marks
  • For making it through the year 
  • Not losing focus from the IRL transition to online learning
  • The fact that i can learn both in this environment and outside in an actual school
  • Being nice 
  • Online learning in general 
  • Finding a really good friend 🙂 

As you can see, it was an overall positive experience as my students learned how to see the positive in almost all situations, especially, learning remotely.

I have also learned many things throughout this year. I have discovered some incredible new programs and have developed some new teaching strategies in math and literacy. I have also discovered some game-changing activities and routines that I hope to keep as a permanent part of my program.

Math:

 I would like to keep using the virtual whiteboard in the classroom, having six (or however many iPads I have) students using the iPad during math. These students will share their strategies with their classmates after solving on their whiteboard platform. This will be a leadership opportunity and I am hoping as time goes on, all students will want to share their strategies. This was my favourite math teaching style that occurred this year as many “ah-ha” moments occurred as a result of the students sharing their work. I think it is much more exciting working on the whiteboards rather than coming up to write on the physical whiteboard. This will also ensure that students can work in their own space if we still need to worry about physical distancing. Other students will work in their notebook or physical whiteboard until it is their day to have the whiteboard app.

 I would also like to save Fridays for games in math as a way to summarize the learning from that week. The games my class loved were: Kahoot and Gimkit (which offers about 12 different types of games within). 

Language

This year I loved meeting with a small group one day a week to teach a lesson and then they would have the rest of the week to work on that activity. I received the most amount of participation during the small group sessions and by the following week, students always had their test completed. Many students commented about how their favourite part of the day was the small language groups. Having that small group size allowed all students to share and have a turn. This was actually the only time where I heard from students that did not participate in the main call. The setting of the small groups made them feel more comfortable.

I also want to make sure I have another class novel next year. I would love having students as the readers once again and they would pass the book to the next reader after they read a page or two. This was a great way to cover all the reading expectations which I would post as questions that would follow that days reading. They would answer these questions in the chat and in the classroom I would love to have this continue either by them raising their hands or by documenting it in a notebook. 

Routines/Activities:

  • Saying hello to each student in the morning
  • Spending every Monday morning sharing about our weekends and creating a goal for the week (and if they met the goal from the week before). These goals contributed to their self regulation mark.
  • Having student shoutouts at the end of each week. A student would raise their hand and give a shout-out to a specific student who went above and beyond that week or improved in something, etc. It could really be for any reason
  • Independent work periods once or twice a week as catch up periods and instead of breakout rooms, having the middle table open for students who need one on one support
  • Asking how everyone’s break was when they come back in from break 
  • Morning music until the announcements start
  • Student-led movement breaks where students design and lead a 20 minute DPA activity on the days without physical education
  • Discussing current events rather than hoping they didn’t hear the news 
  • Openly talking about all board holidays, special weeks or months in the year and celebrating in our class 
  • Cooking lessons led by students

Teaching online is an experience that I found very rewarding as it really tested all of us to see if we could handle this change. I know that as a teacher I appreciated the challenge and I know my students definitely rose to the challenge. I look forward to blogging about my in-class experiences in September!

Have an amazing summer everyone! 

Note:

ETFO’s position on in-person learning remains unchanged. The union firmly believes that the daily, in-person model of instruction and support best meets the educational, developmental and social needs of students, provides the best experience for support, and is the most equitable learning model for all students.
 
ETFO’s expectation is that elementary virtual learning in any capacity, including through hybrid models of instruction, will end once the pandemic ends.

Passion Projects Through Design

This past month I was honoured to be able to share my love of design when given the opportunity to be a part of a team of ETFO educators working with TVO to support alternative learning opportunities for students across Ontario. For the last number of years, I’ve been using design with students as a means of building empathy while problem solving in a real way. During this recent time of distance learning, my students participated in creating meaningful solutions related to covid-19. I was blown away by the ideas that were being crafted as we looked to have a positive impact during these challenging times. Having had the chance to work on this with students during this time, I thought using a similar framework could be a great way to get students solving problems related to their passions. In this post, I’ll share a little about each of the episodes from the Power Hour of Learning. Perhaps as we look to an uncertain September, some of the ideas contained may come in handy as we work with students to continue building some of these essential skills.

Part 1- Picking Your Passion and Understanding the Problem

Designers and Engineers are the people who make virtually everything that we use on a daily basis. In this episode, we have the opportunity to learn a little more about Designers and Engineers as we start to consider our passions. Identifying a passion is a challenge for some. This task alone can feel daunting to many. Earlier today I was speaking with a few colleagues and we spoke about ensuring that we are open to the possibility that students may be passionate about any number of things so it’s important to value what students share they are passionate about. In this episode, students are given the opportunity to brainstorm their passions a bit and then they start to think of some of the problems associated with that passion. Throughout the 3 parts, I share about a design project that I worked on with middle school students a few years back. Once they have identified a problem associated with their passion, we spend some time trying to get a complete picture of the problem by answering the 5Ws and how of the problem. The episode ends with students gaining a deeper understanding of their problem but also understanding that more research about the problem might be required before moving on. We really want to get a full picture or the real story about the problem before we start to think about potential solutions.

Part 2 – Ideation

This is by far my favourite part of the design process. It’s the part where students can use some of the tools used by designers and engineers to quickly come up with new and creative solutions to the problem they identified during part 1. Using Crazy 8s, students are guided through rapid ideation and are asked to consider a specific user for whom they would like to solve the problem. The episode ends with asking students to pick one of their ideas to move ahead with. In design, we’re always narrowing things down and focusing in on the problem. 

Part 3 – Storyboarding and Prototyping

Once students have identified the solution they are most interested in focusing on, they can start to consider the steps they will take to bring their idea to life. A prototype is a physical solution that they can put into the hands of their users to test out and students learn just how to do that in this episode. Whether they are creating a physical product or program or service, students are given the opportunity to get started on a plan of action that they can take. In this episode, students are also reminded of the importance of checking in with their users and feedback in the process.  At the end of the episode, students should be ready to get started on their prototypes.

It was such a pleasure to share my experiences in design on this platform. As we look to September, I wonder how I might be able to further connect students to their passions and how that can be a way in which students can further share about themselves with their new classmates. I can’t imagine what learning at a distance might look like as we start a new school year but I do know that honouring the individuals who show up will be of the utmost importance as we get started.

I hope that you have a happy and safe summer. See you again in September!

Bitmoji Education

Love it or hate it, the app of Bitmoji has worked it’s way into education and particularly into distance learning.  From “digital” stickers for feedback to entire Google Slide Classrooms with doors to other rooms, Bitmoji is everywhere.  Bitmojis are dancing, pointing and fainting all over educational platforms.  Confession time?  I’m on the love it team and I’ll tell you why.

Bitmoji allows for a personal and creative touch to things that we share with others.  When I create short Google Slide presentations for students they are surprised to see my Bitmoji in the corners of my presentation.  Some think it is truly “geeky” but many students appreciate the effort at making the presentation a little more fun. Not having to put my real profile photo on something and being able to add a Bitmoji instead provides a small layer of privacy.  I began to make virtual, interactive classrooms on Google Slides and soon realized design and creating something so personal was a throw back to the many hours I spent playing with Barbies as a kid.  It was like planning to remodel my kitchen but without any cost what so ever.  It doesn’t feel like work.  It feels like play.  115,000 members on the “Bitmoji Craze for Educators” Facebook page all agree that it is a type of escapism and the membership grows daily.

Colleague Deanna Palmer and I created a webinar workshop for our fellow teachers about how to use Bitmoji to add some Pop to distance learning.  In the webinar we included a step-by-step slide show for educators to take away.  Find it here: Using Bitmoji to Make Virtual Learning Pop

Like with any popular craze or fad there are those who don’t or won’t buy in.  Some teachers are reluctant because they are conscious of their digital footprint-especially since in order to create the animated virtual reality Bitmojis you need to have a Snap Chat Account.  Some teachers don’t think that their students will want to see their teacher’s cartoon face all over everything in their classroom.  I can appreciate that it isn’t for everyone.  I am well aware that making learning “fun” or “cute” doesn’t make it deep or engaging.  However, if a picture can be worth a thousand words and Bitmoji can express precisely what we are feeling.  Using a Bitmoji might resonate with a colleague or student and just might make them smile. If that is what my little Bitmoji avatar does, then it was worth it.

 

What’s Working?!?

Ok…so the title is truly a reflection of my uncertainty of what is in fact working in this thing that I have called distance learning. Over the past 10 weeks, I’ve been engaged in this process with students and as we approach the final month of the year, I’m taking some time to reflect on what has – in my opinion – worked, at least for me and my students. Don’t worry, it will be a short list so not to worry about a never-ending post here!

Google Meets

Since our first week of distance learning, we’ve had Google Meet sessions that have been audio only. During these times, we’ve done check-ins and it’s also been a great tool for helping small groups through mini-lessons. Over the past couple of weeks, they have shifted slightly where students have been the ones to suggest things that we might do during our Meets. We had a Connect4 tournament and we’ve also had a couple of students who created and shared short trivia games. What I’m noticing is that these times are becoming more and more social and less and less about “the work”. Which is an education in itself. Don’t get me wrong, we work through any questions students have but it’s becoming a more comfortable forum to share in a more social way. I’m still navigating some of the ideas of great uses for Meet and would welcome any suggestions people may have. 

Podcasts

Last month, I introduced my students to the Six Minute Podcast and I must admit that it’s the one thing that is probably the most talked-about or the activity that is most tried during the week. I’m actually surprised at how many have enjoyed listening and having discussions about it. The podcast is a serial story about an 11-year old by the name of Holliday. She is pulled from the icy waters of Alaska with no memory of who she is or where she came from. She is “adopted” by the family who found her and when she begins to develop incredible abilities, she soon discovers that she’s not alone in the world. There are so many twists and turns in each episode and many can’t wait to find out more. As we have listened, we learned about writing summaries, making and justifying choices, character analysis, and more! I think when we start again in September, podcasts might be something that we keep.

Design

While I personally understand the impact of the trauma caused by the current pandemic, I felt it necessary to speak about it in an age-appropriate way with students. Having a number of students with parents as frontline workers, I knew that their experiences would definitely have an impact on our learning. We’ve been doing a design sprint – well…maybe more like a marathon at the moment – and it’s been incredible to see how it has empowered students to think about themselves as being incredible problem solvers. Today I had 3 students pitch their ideas during our whole-class Meet and I was blown away by what they designed to solve problems for people. They thought of it all. From holographic watches to stay connected with family to a new company designed to train and employ individuals to make personal protective equipment for the community, when implemented, their solutions can have an amazing impact! Through this work, they are really understanding that they have the power to bring about change not just for themselves but for others. 

Art & Physical Education

While the Arts and Physical Education haven’t been the focus of the Ministry of Education during this time, I’ve been adding them to our weekly schedule. It’s made the world of difference for some of my students. The ability to express themselves through the Arts and Physical Education has been incredible. We’ve created a classroom Art gallery and many of my students plan weekly Phys. Ed. challenges for their classmates. When I see schools re-opening and subject areas like Physical Education aren’t being included, I wonder what further trauma this might be on students who rely on these subject areas as an essential part of their school lives and their general wellness. I worry.

As I reflect on this past month, I think we’ve had many successes and these are just some of the reasons why. I’m not sure what June will hold and I guess we’ll see!

Distance Learning Ideas

During these different times, I’ve been planning for a new type of learning – distance learning – with little to no idea of how it might actually be implemented. As I plan, I thought there may be some who would find what I have done of value. I’m using this post to share some of the resources that I might use with students.

Language

Writing and Oral Communication

Persuasion is an art! To be able to develop a persuasive argument, you have to make sure that you have enough information to support your position on a matter. When you find topics that are of personal interest, people tend to have an opinion right away and can start to justify their thoughts. For this type of activity, I’m thinking of giving students one of the following prompts and asking them to come up with a persuasive argument including at least 3 supporting details for their opinion. Students can upload their arguments either in video or writing in a platform like Google Classroom and then they can possibly respond to each other’s arguments with counter-arguments. To extend this idea further, students can be grouped into teams based on their opinions and participate in a debate for or against the specific topic presented. 

Possible prompts:

  • When we start school again, we should have a 4-day school week. Do you agree or disagree?
  • During the pandemic, people have been using masks and gloves to move around the city. There is a shortage in hospitals. Should people donate their masks and gloves to hospitals?
  • When the pandemic is over, life will go back to being the way it was before. Do you agree or disagree?

Reading and Media Literacy

In our class, we’ve been reading and investigating non-fiction texts. Students were also in the process of writing their own themed magazines based on their own research on a topic. To continue with non-fiction reading, I thought it would be great to take some time to continue to read online magazines or texts. While reading, students can take notes of what they are learning using a graphic organizer like this one from Scholastic. This is just an elementary example but depending on what you are focused on, you can create your own for your students. From there, I thought that students could use what they have learned to create an infographic on a specific topic of interest. Keeping in mind that infographics have a visual component, students can use a tool like Google Drawings to create their own layout for their infographics. One online magazine that is now making all of its content free is Brainspace. There are a variety of topics that might be of interest to students. 

Math

I’ve found that hands-on activities have been the most well-received by my students and their families during this time. While there are a variety of Math games online – mPower, Math Playground, Prodigy, IXL – sometimes it’s nice to sit down and try an activity that allows you the opportunity to build critical thinking and problem-solving skills. There are so many different activities online but one that I quite like is from The Centre for Education in Mathematics and Computing. Their printable activities for students in Grades 4 to 12 are fun and educational ways to do mathematics and computer science while at home practicing social distancing. The resources include games, new problems to solve, applications, videos, pointers to existing materials on their website. Once they have finished solving the problems with their families, students can share their solutions and strategies with each other online in writing or in a video, using a platform like Google Classroom.

Design Thinking

Students can use our current pandemic – Covid-19 – to design something totally new! This is a project that can be done over time and students can share what they have been working on in an online platform such as Google Classroom. At each stage of the process, they can share their work with the teacher or each other. 

Have students start by identifying problems that they are hearing about on the news or from online sources. They could write these on sticky notes, paper or using a tech tool. Teachers could use Padlet to create an online problem board for all students to include their ideas.  From there, students could potentially design an app or a solution that could connect community members as they are socially distancing themselves or something else that they have identified as a problem. The sky’s the limit! 

After researching and understanding the problem, students can pick one specific problem, and focus on how it is affecting a specific person (user). Here are 2 recent articles (International Covid-19 and Coronavirus Affecting the Way We Do Things) that they can use along with other online sources. 

Students can use this template – created in partnership with Smarter Science and the TDSB – to document their learning throughout the process. Once finished, students can create their own pitch for their idea, creating a short video or slide presentation for their peers.

These are just some of the ideas that I’m thinking about as we venture into this new type of learning next week. I’m not sure how it will go or what might work but I’m open to learning and trying something new. 

STEAM to Foster Innovation and Collaboration

In my heart of hearts I am a teacher of the arts.  I began integrating technology into my classroom practice a number of years ago but always from a creation perspective.  There is still a misconception that innovation is synonymous with technology.  However, some of the deepest innovative learning comes from low technology.  Keep it simple.  On the whole students enjoyed being challenged and getting the opportunity to practice problem solving in a safe and creative way.

In order to practice the true design process I have been testing a number of STEAM challenges with students in a variety of grades.  When I do this, I ask them feedback on the process that we experience and how I might change it for other grade levels.  Students always amaze me with the amount of innovation that they demonstrate when given the opportunity and their feedback has been helpful to streamline the challenges.

I recently worked with a grade 6 class for a STEAM challenge and brought bags of materials for each pair of students.  In the bags were: two tiny plastic cups, 10 jumbo paper clips, 10 small paper clips, 4 large elastics, 4 paper straws, 2 marbles and access to string and masking tape.  I showed the students the materials and gave them about 10 minutes to create a design.  The caveat was that whatever they created had to have some kind of function or movement.  They could cut or change the materials as needed and did not have to use all of the materials.   We discussed the different part of the The-Design-Process and made success criteria for the challenge.  The success criteria focused on communication, collaboration, critical thinking and problem solving.  It wasn’t about who build the “coolest” thing.  There was room to be creative, there was room to fail and there was room to improve upon the design and try again.

Their creations were amazing! Here are a couple of innovative designs that two of the groups created.  To my ultimate delight-the engagement was the same for all genders in our classroom.

STEAM movie

STEAM movie 2