Water Day, Earth Day and Poetry

The ideology of an eight year old can be inspiring and heart warming. In the form of a poem, it is also honest.

For International Water Day (March 22), my students researched and experimented outdoors to see what they could find out about water. We turned this project into Water Week by creating a bulletin board in the main hall sharing water facts written on large paper raindrops. In preparation for Earth Day (April 22), students looked for signs of spring in and around the school yard. They found helicopter seeds, worm castings, clumps of moss growing in dirt and on bits of tree bark, early dandelion leaves, and trees and shrubs in bud. From the school yard, they also heard and learned to identify birds and their songs; Cardinal (easy to locate from his song and brilliant red plumage), Chickadee, Canada goose, Robin, and Mallard duck (we observed a couple, male and female, as they waddled around the schoolyard one rainy day across from our portable).

Sadly, Earth Day was no celebration at our school. Ironically, it was the day the city decided to cut down all the trees lining the sidewalk along the school fence as all of the trees had become victims of the Emerald Ash Borer. Seven trees were limbed, their branches tossed into the hopper for chipping, and the trunks sawed down to the ground in chunks, right beside our portable. Some of them were 45 years old. The fact that the city and the school board will be replanting 16 new trees in and around the school yard was a bit of a consolation to the students, however, they pined for a tree they named, “Hug Me” which grew outside the school yard gate a few metres from our classroom.

The students were brimming with questions and thoughts about what they had recently learned and witnessed.With April being Poetry Month, what better way to express yourself than in poetry? We had already explored many different forms of poetry, but to consolidate their thoughts without the constraints of a rhyming scheme (a thrill and challenge for some, a cause for deep anxiety for others), the students could share their ideas in a repetition poem that began, “Je veux vivre dans un monde où…” (I want to live in a world where…). This turned out to be a great form for a poem because everyone had something to say and by repeating the phrase, their poems took shape while their thoughts filled the page; I want to live in a world where trees don’t get sick and die; where you can hear bird songs instead of machines; where everyone has clean water to drink; where there are no iPads or iPhones; where people are nice to each other… Some students ended their poems with a rallying call, “Help me make this world!”

Their poems, written in colourful letters and decorated with drawings and images cut from magazines, will be proudly displayed for the school community at our Literacy Café in May. They are not all talk, either, for along with their proclamations for a better world, students have organized a school yard clean up and sprouted seeds for our school garden. Some have asked for help writing letters to the government to ask for protection of the Blue Whales in the St Lawrence Seaway and the Blanding’s Turtle in a wetland that was recently paved over and build up for a convention centre. In an effort to raise awareness, other students in the class have prepared messages for the morning announcements sharing what they have learned about water and about the Earth, and others still want to help out by having a class garage sale to raise money to protect the Great Lakes, “the last great supply of fresh drinking water on Earth” (quote from Waterlife, National Film Board of Canada, 2009). And so the inspiration continues and the stewardship begins.

Bulletin Boards – Teaching Tool, Art Gallery, or Wallpaper?

Every classroom has bulletin boards, some have one, some have 10! It all depends on the space you have and how you plan to use it. It is easy to set something up with plans for it to change or evolve, only to find that 4 months later you haven’t touched it, taught to it, or even referenced it!!

In my experience, Bulletin Boards end up falling into 1 of 3 categories: Teaching Tool, Art Gallery, or Wallpaper. Some bulletin boards are a blend of two or even all three of these categories. It is important to make the most of the space you have on your walls, while being cognisant of the fact that many children find too much stuff on the walls to be distracting.

When planning your walls, make sure you check with health and safety regulation, as many school boards have a maximum percentage of walls space that can be covered to stay within the fire regulation. So before you hit pinterest for some great ideas, make sure you are even able to cover the space! In my classroom, I have 5 large boards that cover almost every space that isn’t blackboard, windows or doors. The space that the bulletin boards cover is actually above the maximum percentage I can have covered in paper!! So I can’t paper back my boards as it is a fire hazard.

Many teachers like to paint their boards so they look crisp and clean all year. Again, double check with health and safety, as it is often an issue as it adds weight to the board which might not have been considered when mounting it. Especially if you are the 10th person in the classroom to paint them because the previous colours didn’t suit anyone’s decor!

Once you have established what your health and safety guidelines are, you can start to think about what is going on the walls. Ask yourself a few questions before you put something up there.

1. How will this help the students? While a Word Wall CAN help students, if you slap it all up before school starts and casually refer to it from time to time, it is not a useful tool and it is just wallpaper. Make sure you teach to it. Make it with the class and do it organically!

2. Is this something we need up for more than just today? If you only need it for the immediate future, don’t make a whole board of it. If you want to show off student work, I find the hallway is the best place for this type of thing. It gets more “traffic” from other teachers/students/parents, and it isn’t a distraction to learning. If you do need it for more than just today, you may want to ask a few more questions before you decide where to put it!

3. Do I need to put it all up right away and on my own? As teachers, we hate to look or feel like we aren’t organized, prepared, and ready to go! I recall as a young teacher, putting up bulletin boards before the first day of school. Yes, sometimes I taught to them, but generally they were just wallpaper. Many of us are guilty of putting up the whole word wall kit the day we get it! It just looks so pretty when it is done! Put it up gradually, and with the class! This will make it a more meaningful teaching tool. As teachers, we like everything to look complete and not “in progress” – but having the word wall with just 3-4 words up in September is what your students need!

4. Am I done with this? If you aren’t using it anymore, and the kids aren’t, take a picture of it and take it down! The more “stuff” you have on your walls, the harder it is for students to find what they are looking for. If you don’t need it anymore, take it down!

5. Are the kids using this? Even when you read the research, do the work, cut, past, laminate, and put up a beautiful board, the kids may not respond to it and it may not be useful to them. If you put up a board for math showing single digit addition strategies to start off the year, if they have all mastered it by December, they probably aren’t using it anymore. We have a tendency to keep things up in lieu of blank space to avoid looking like we aren’t accomplishing anything as a class! If they aren’t using it, take it down, or teach to it more, modify it, model how to use it. If after teaching to it more, they still aren’t using it – TAKE IT DOWN!!

There are thousands of blog posts and pinterest boards dedicated to amazing bulletin board ideas. Before you put one up, make sure it is actually something you need, that will get used, and that you install it in such a way that the students know how to access it.

There are great blog posts about what to do with your bulletin boards when you are done. My personal favourite is to snap a picture and create a bulletin board binder. That way, if there is still one of two children in the class that still need that bulletin board, they can go to the binder and look at it all year long! It will also serve as a nice reminder of how they looked if you end up needing to recreate it another year!

Technology and Social Media for Communication

For years I have maintained a class website. I found as parents became more tech-savvy, they enjoyed seeing the photos of student learning and reading about what was happening in the classroom. This seemed more timely, environmental and cost-effective than a monthly newsletter (as I was in a community that all parents had access to a personal computer). It also allowed parents the option to log on to the site at any our to find information or revisit an earlier post. Websites allow for documentation of the learning and growth of students.

This year I wanted to try Twitter. It was a new learning curve for me, but I could see the benefits of its immediacy. So last fall I started a Twitter account for our grade 6/7 classroom and invited parents and students to follow. Students created a logo contest in the class and selected a piece of student art to represent our account. I have found many benefits to Twitter instead of a classroom website. They include:

  • Timeliness – I usually take a photo and send a message once a day from my classroom. It is so quick and simple from my smartphone that my posts are more frequent than logging into a website and writing a post for a class website.
  • Focused – I find that my tweets are focused and meaningful. For example, I select a specific moment during math or science and take a photo that makes the learning visible. When I would write posts for my website, I often felt overwhelmed in covering all the subjects and providing enough detail.
  • Connections/Information/Networking – Sending tweets and using hashtags from our classroom has created dialogue with other educators, students, and interest groups, that would not be possible through a website. For example, my class was excited to be retweeted by Bird Studies Canada when we shared a photo of one of our students feeding a chickadee from his hand. This introduced us to information about the Great Backyard Bird Count, an accessible activity that interested students could learn more about. It also initiated an environmental leaders project to make and maintain bird feeders at our school.
  •  Reflection/Assessment – As a daily activity, tweeting from the classroom provides me with a purpose to capture learning and document it. I am then able to review my tweets weekly and reflect on the highlights or areas of need as assessment for learning.
  • Social Media Etiquette – Tweeting with my students allows for authentic discussions about how to conduct ourselves with appropriate image use. We also review our messages and discuss what they can convey.
  • Accessibility – Although my school is recognized as higher needs due to lower family incomes, some students have access to smartphones that they can use in the classroom with our Bring Your Own Device program. Others can share the iPads and netbooks that are available to our class.
  • Engagement – Each month, more students get their own account or encourage their parents and become excited about our classroom tweets that are retweeted by the Principal or the board to an even wider audience. We have participated in tweet chats with other classes, using a visual display of the tweets so the whole class can be involved in the discussion.

I have found Twitter to be an effective tool for increasing engagement and communication. I can use it to feature student voice and reach a community larger than our classroom or school. It also informs my own practice as I follow educational posts to inspire me!

The Power of Show and Tell

There is a table in my classroom that is called La table de découvertes (Discovery Table). On it you can find things that I have collected with my family, mostly when my own children were young; there are some seashells, plenty of rocks, 2 bird’s nests, a small log gnawed and shaped by beavers, snake skin molt, a stick covered in tracks made by an insect infestation under the bark, feathers, and pine cones. It is a corner of the classroom where students can visit and touch, marvel and wonder. And it is because of La table de découvertes that Show and Tell (La présentation) has made a comeback in my classroom this year. It wasn’t in my daily plans or my Long Range Plans, but because of its success, I will now be sure to include it every year.

In September, a student asked if she could bring in something for the Discovery Table. She was very excited because she had some shells she wanted to share with the class. The student presented the shells, broken and whole, which she had found on a beach while on holiday. Every student wanted to see and touch the shells as if they had never seen such things before. They asked her which was her favourite, and she told them why they were special to her. This was our first Présentation.
Initially, it was this one student who wanted to share her treasures with the class. Soon she was bringing in something every day until her mother began to be concerned that perhaps it was creating a problem.

After all, among the many items this student brought in, there was a small cupboard filled with origami stars; two small carved statues from a hot country (she wasn’t sure which one), and a zip lock bag of her cat’s orange fur. Everything was presented in detail, accurate or not, and everyone watched and listened and asked appropriate questions afterwards. I was able to tell the mother that everyone was always interested in what her daughter brought to school.

After a few weeks, eventually other students, even the quietest ones, started coming up to me, asking if they could present something to the class. Students would bring in special items from home or simply find cool rocks in the school yard and want to present them because they had a funny shape or a shiny spot on them (Rocks are a big deal in our classroom).

Now our presentations are a regular event at the end of most days, with a few flexible guidelines. This is what works for us:
1) 15 minutes for Show and Tell.
2) 3 students present within that time period. This allows time for each child to speak in as much detail as they like about what they are showing and to pass around their items. The audience also doesn’t have time to lose interest.
3) Some days we present while sitting in a circle on the floor; other days students sit at their desks while the presenter stands in front of a small table where they can display their items.
4) Limit the follow-up question period to 3 questions or comments.

What I love about Show and Tell is that it is a student lead activity that is easy to facilitate. It gives students a true sense of agency as they talk like an expert in front of their peers about something that may or may not be in our Grade 3 curriculum – like sharks or cat fur – and have an audience that is actively listening and genuinely interested in what a presenter is showing and talking about. It is also an opportunity for students to be seen in a leadership role by their peers and to get a boost to their self-esteem.

Since the primary focus in French Immersion education is oral communication, Show and Tell is a clear choice as an activity that allows for a student to “acquire a strong oral foundation in the French language and focus on communicating in French” (Ontario Curriculum, French as a Second Language). The value of developing public speaking skills can also not be overlooked, as it takes great courage at any age, to ‘hold the floor’ and talk in front of one’s peers. As stated in the Language curriculum, students are encouraged to, “communicate – that is, read, listen, view, speak, write, and represent – effectively and with confidence”. Although some students may not have the confidence to volunteer, I haven’t made a schedule indicating the days when everyone is obliged to bring something to talk about. Instead, I have quietly asked a few students if they would like to bring in something to share with the class. It may take a few days or weeks before they are ready, but, following the example of the students who have gone before, everyone who has brought something in does a fine job presenting and fielding questions.

Finally, the benefits of Show and Tell go beyond the presenter to include all students in the audience. These students learn to practice listening actively and respectfully during presentations as well as how to follow up with pertinent questions. Probably the best thing of all, however, is that there is no evaluation of Show and Tell. While I do evaluate Book Talk presentations or projects with outlines and rubrics, I feel that the dynamic, impromptu nature of Show and Tell would be ruined if there were grades placed on the students’ performance, and it would no longer be a wonderful, relaxed way to finish the school day where oral presentation skills are practiced, treasures are shared, and students lead the show.

Passion for Teaching

I learned something this fall that will stay with me as a teacher for a long time. I always encourage my students to be creative and be risk takers but I am a planner that usually takes small cautious steps to learn something new.

However, by pushing myself out of my comfort zone I learned that…..CHOIR IS AWSOME!

Let me explain. I am a music teacher who had NO INTEREST in ever running a choir. I trained as a taiko drummer in Japan and am able to play the piano reasonable well. All of my training has been instrument based and I have never once stepped foot in a choir rehearsal. Due to my inexperience, I was very nervous to run a choir so my colleague always led the way.

Due to circumstances this year, I had no choice but to step up and take over the choir. I put in an announcement for choir in October and I started with about 40 students. All of a sudden, I realized how fun it was to join together in song with 40 people and I think my excitement rubbed off on the students. Soon my 40 student choir turned into a 150 student choir and all fall we were having a blast singing holiday songs during our nutrition break. I never in a million years would have thought that I would look forward to Monday and Wednesday choir practices so much. My main focus while running this choir for the students was to have fun and that is exactly what I did as well.

I did my usually research about how to run a choir by reading books and watching videos but this time I really tried to just share my love of music with them. It is a passion of mine but sometimes I think I forget to show the students my passion when I am busy helping them with their technique or teaching them to read or write music.

There is something so powerful about stepping outside your comfort zone and stumbling into a whole new world of possibilities.

Looking Forward to January

While I am enjoying a holiday from the classroom, from time to time, occasional reminders creep into my thoughts that we will shortly be back at work with only a few weeks before the end of the first term. To quiet these reminders, I think about a few of the activities which I am looking forward to and which I will be able to comment on in my reports.

One activity all my grade 3 students are excited about is producing a puppet show of Robert Munch’s “The Snowsuit”. Before the holidays, students brought in old socks so that they can create sock puppets to be used in the play. The first week back at school in January, my students will be busy at work creating their puppets and props while learning their lines for the puppet show. The holidays can be a stressful time and after 2 weeks of a disruption in routine, many students (and teachers) have a hard time switching back to school mode. With some management and support, a collaborative activity which is student centred, like a puppet show or a play, gives students independence and structure and can be a nice way to begin the New Year. It is also a good alternative to seatwork right after the holidays.

Something else I put in my plans for the first weeks back at school is to be outside everyday with my class. With a little preplanning, I make sure I take my students outside for math – building and measuring snowmen and monitoring temperature changes; social studies – snowshoeing around the school yard imagining we are visiting Wendat, Anishinaabe and settler communities; science – observing plants in winter; language arts – using the 5 senses to describe a winter day; and phys. ed. – playing in the snow after a fresh snowfall. A letter home to inform parents that we will be going outside on a regular basis helps to have students come to school prepared with proper gear or a change of clothing in case they get wet. To guarantee accessibility, however, the school always has a collection of extra gear students can use if they are missing something warm and dry to wear.

It’s not always easy to look forward to heading back to school after the holidays. Drama and outdoor activities are perfect for January because they help with getting back into the groove and break up the daily routine with a little something different.

Kids Love to Dance

I find dancing with students is usually one of the easiest ways to get them moving during DPA. With a good selection of tunes and a variety of ‘dance’ expectations, everybody can get down, whether preteens in grade 6 or really bouncy grade 1s. Not only is it great for DPA – especially during inclement weather – it is also a lot of fun, a nice break from sitting and thinking, and a chance to be creative without being assessed or evaluated.

The benefits of dance are many; it is a great cardio workout, it is an opportunity to physically express a range of emotions in a creative, socially acceptable way, it stimulates the brain and it releases mental and physical tension.  Although dancing in public can make a few students anxious, I have found that if you make dance a regular part of your routine and set a few ground rules, students who are not sure whether they want to participate tend to eventually warm up and feel more comfortable about joining in. It can also be an accessible activity for students with a limited range of motion.

According to the curriculum, “Dance is expressive movement with purpose and form. All dance communication is transmitted through movement – that is, through the body movements and gestures of the dancer” (p. 14 of The Ontario Curriculum, Grades 1-8/The Arts). While I encourage free form and creative movement, I do not want a mosh pit in the classroom.  I rein in that potential chaos by encouraging students to think of dance as having a structure like a song or a poem, with a chorus or verse that is repeated as it tells a story or a message. For grade 3 students, this is easily understood when we dance like animals. I use a book some students made a few years ago called, “Danser comme…” In it are drawings of their favourite animals. When I use the book for DPA, I put on some music and hold up the book for all to see, turning the pages while I move around the classroom in time with the music. Often students begin by communicating an animal through sound, as in drama, rather than through movement, as in dance. It can get pretty noisy on the monkey page. When I remind students to show me that they are a monkey using a series of repeated movements and gestures, then some wonderful creative dance starts to happen. In a similar activity, OPHEA has dance movement cards as part of their Diabetes Awareness Program that are adaptable for any grade and work in the same manner. All you have to do is play some music and hold up the cards to show the dance moves to the students http://www.opheaprograms.net/EJ/pdf/EJ_PAKit_StationCircuitCards_Final_15NV10.pdf .

For music, I like to choose samples from around the world, rather than something from the pop music stations. The truth is, I can never keep up with what is hot and what is not, and at times, pop songs have lyrics which can be distracting. I want the students to be mindful of how their bodies are moving, so it seems to work better when they aren’t too familiar with the music. Lately, I’ve been playing Bangra from the Bend It like Beckham soundtrack; a collection of drum music from Japan and the Congo; Brazilian folk/techno from DJ Dolores; and First Nations electronic dance music from A Tribe Called Red. The students are really inspired by the terrific sounds and rhythms they hear and move freely to the beat.

For the older grades, line dances are easily brought into the classroom. If you can’t create your own line dance, there is a selection of line dances that can be found on YouTube if you need some inspiration. This way, the music and the moves are already done for you. The Cha Cha Slide was very popular a few years back. It is still handy to use and you don’t need a dance degree to teach it because the DJ calls out the moves, just like in a square dance. Sid the Sloth’s Continental Drift (from the film Ice Age) seems to be making the rounds at our school lately and Michael Jackson’s Thriller is always a challenge but a thrill for anyone who dances it.

Whatever resource you use, I encourage you to bring dance regularly into your classroom because it’s good for the brain and the body. And, it’s a lot of fun.

From Teacher Directed to Student Directed Learning

 

As a new teacher or a teacher with many years experience, you hear about the importance of planning for student-directed learning in the classroom. Keeping this approach in mind as you plan in all subject areas benefits student learning and also benefits the teacher. Benefits include:

  • Engaged students – most students want the opportunity to talk as they learn, not just listen. When made to only listen, they look for distractions and classroom management issues often arise. If students are provided time to collaborate on a topic that interests them, they are engaged in the process and positive learning outcomes are the result.
  • Student interest – this leads to the content. Provide students with choice and select topics within the curriculum expectations that are of interest to your group of students. Students will demonstrate more initiative and take more responsibility for their own learning if they have choice of relevant topics. For example, in my grade 6/7 class, I modelled writing a monologue from the perspective of a character. Then, the students were all provided with a rubric to create their own dramatic monologue based on a character of their choice from a book from their choice.
  • Differentiated instruction – allowing choice of topic or type of presentation/project differentiates for the range of learners. Again, as an example from the monologue assignment, struggling readers selected books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, while others selected more challenging texts like Journey to Jo’burg. Similarly, students will select an option for a project on what they are comfortable with (creating a slideshow vs. a video). By allowing students choice, you are more inclusive, not lowering your expectations for those who can surpass them, or challenging your lower level students to frustration. And as a result, the students who select the more accessible choice, often learn from the students who are demonstrating success with a more challenging topic or type of presentation.
  • Assessment – student-directed learning allows time for ongoing assessment. I have spoken to teachers who plan detailed lessons and present to the class in a lecture style format with little time for collaboration or independent research. These teachers lament that student’s aren’t “listening” enough. They also wait until the end of unit to assess students with a paper/pencil task. By facilitating students in a more self-directed approach, teachers can support student where they are at with resources and mini-lessons for those who need it. Why provide the same lesson to the whole class if they do not all need it? When students are working in small groups or pairs, or even independently, the teacher is provided the time to interact with students, find out where they are in their understanding and provide the necessary support (assessment for learning).
Student-directed learning isn’t students learning on their own. It is more like students learning within a framework set up by the teacher, and supported by the teacher. It benefits all those involved!

 

 

 

 

 

Why I Love Teaching “Unusual” Things

I have a bit of a reputation for being a quirky teacher. My students can often be found in the hallways at school, engaged in some strange new whim that I have managed to tie into the curriculum in some way. There just isn’t enough room in a traditional classroom for my students to really get into their work without feeling cramped or overwhelmed by the proximity of other sutdents.

Up until this year, my classroom was located on the second floor of the school, surrounded by other hard-working classes with students who were much quieter and more studious than my boisterous, exuberant class. I think I know why I was moved to the bottom floor this year, and I can sum it up in one word: ukulele. I’ve talked about teaching ukulele before – about how it benefited me tremendously, because I never have to teach dance any more.

What I didn’t really talk about was how the ukuleles – and other unusual undertakings like them – benefit my students.

First, let me tell you a little bit about some of the more unusual or exciting projects my students have worked on over the last few years:

– Melted crayon art: Using hair dryers, hot glue guns, bristol board, and a lot of patience, my Grade 5s explored physical changes of matter by using wax crayons to create works of art for our annual art show.

– Original musical compositions: Using online musical notation software, my Grade 5s composed original pieces of music to accompany short stories they wrote for French Writing. The following year, I had my Grade 5s use the same software to create pieces of music that represented different fractions. One activity, multiple curriculum connections!

– Board games: In Mathematics, my Grade 4s and 5s created their own versions of the popular board game “Carcassonne” to explore fractions and probability.

– Quilts: For our art show last year, my Grade 4s and 5s designed and created small quilts using sewing machines and donated fabric. The quilts were auctioned off and the proceeds were donated to charity. This project was a part of both our Mathematics and Visual Arts programs.

– Dream homes: I have had Grade 4s and 5s design their “dream home” using a set of parameters (specific area and perimeter, specific rooms they must include, etc.).

– Weblogs: As part of my Language Arts curriculum, I have had my Grade 4s and 5s create personal weblogs (password protected) where they responded to writing prompts, wrote about their lives, and read and responded to peers’ posts.

It has been a phenomenal experience teaching my students to do these things. Some of them are REALLY fun, some of them are REALLY hard, but they have all been beneficial. These projects have allowed my students to explore the curriculum in ways that they wouldn’t have imagined on their own.

You’ll notice that a lot of them have to do with Mathematics – and that’s been a conscious focus on my part. When I ask my students at the beginning of the year what their favourite and least favourite subjects are, the majority of my students list Math as one of their least favourite subject. I try to change that by having them look at Math in a different way. A lot of my students don’t realize, at the beginning of the year, that Math is an integral part of music and graphic design. It’s exciting to watch them discover fractions and patterns in a musical composition, or figure out ratios to make different colours in visual art, or carefully and painstakingly measure out quilt squares to ensure that they will fit within the design they have envisioned. These activities help my students see that Mathematics has more to do with everyday life than just adding up numbers or memorizing multiplication facts. They see why Math is important to learn and how they might actually use it in the future. It is made less abstract by being placed in a real world context.

The blogs, on the other hand, give my students a purpose for their writing that goes beyond “writing in a notebook that only my teacher will see.” Their voices as writers change when they are writing for their peers instead of their teacher. It’s exciting to watch them interact in their second (or third, or fourth…) language through the comments on their weblogs. It’s also a way for them to make connections with other students that they might never have spoken to or sought out before. I have watched new friendships form in our protected online sphere, then watched as those students brought that friendship into the real life classroom. By having them write for one another instead of me, I find that my students are more willing to take risks with their writing and worry less about getting it “perfect.” They have fun. They talk about things they wouldn’t have talked about before. They enjoy writing.

These projects take a lot of forethought and preparation. They are not small undertakings by any means, nor are they particularly easy. There is a learning curve with these kinds of things, and not all students will enjoy all of these activities. It’s worth doing things a little outside the traditional realm of teaching, though. I’ve never seen some of my students laugh as much as they do when they’re making up a ridiculous song on the ukulele about smelly feet. I also never imagined that a group of very athletic, very boyish boys would take quilt design and sewing quite as seriously as some of my students did last year.

The best part, though, is seeing every student in my class find something to be proud of. Sometimes it’s the fact that they got up and performed a song in front of the class, other times it’s the new skill they learned, other times it’s that they actually knew HTML before I taught students how to make weblogs and they were able to jump in and help other students learn. It is really exciting and rewarding to see my students engaged in these activities and taking charge of their learning.

Even if I’m a giant disruption to my colleagues when I take over the foyer of the school with six sewing machines (and 50 students) every Monday morning for two months straight… or when my 25+ students are scattered through the halls of the schools plucking away at the strings of their (mostly out of tune) ukuleles… or when we blow a breaker on one side of the school with all our hair dryers so none of the hallway outlets work.

I am that teacher. My students are those students.

We have a LOT of fun learning.

Using Twitter in the Classroom

Sure, Twitter can be used to find out what Kim Kardashian had for lunch today, but it can also be used to connect classrooms, teachers, and school communities.

Today I am going to talk about connecting with your families and students through Twitter.

Twitter is a powerful tool if used properly. The first step is choosing a “handle” (or name) that isn’t already taken. Remember there is a limit of 140 characters in a tweet, so don’t make your name too long! You might also want to make your name somewhat generic and not directly related to the specific class/school you are at, as that may change next year! Go with something that is specific to you – @TaylorsClass @LearningRules @ClassroomFun @EduFun. Choose something that you can take with you to your next class, your next school, your next experience. It takes a lot of work to build followers and to develop a good collection of people to follow, you don’t want to have to start from scratch each year.

If your goal for this twitter account is just to post stuff to the parents and students in the class, it might be wise to make it a “disposable” account and make it specific to that class and year so you can change it up each year. You might wand a more specific handle: @TaylorGr2_2014 @learning2015 @gr2FI14 – again, be creative!

Once you have settled on a handle, you need to get followers. You don’t necessarily need lots of big name followers for this account – your goal is more to connect your classroom community, possibly connect to other classrooms, share what your class is doing with your school, board, and PLCs. You can do all of this by sharing our handle with those who you think would benefit from seeing the information you are sharing.

Before you tweet, double check the guidelines in your school board around posting student work, names, pictures, etc. Don’t post pics or names of students or their signed work without parent consent.

Even without pics of students, you can still share lots of valuable stuff on your twitter feed. You can tweet text explaining what you are doing, questions that parents might want to ask their kids about what they learned today, agenda messages, reminders, etc…..the list goes on!

Twitter can also be used to connect to famous people. We used to write letters to authors, but now we can tweet them! I have had students write stories in the style of Mo Willems and then we tweeted them to Mo (@MoWillems) and Pigeon (@The_Pigeon) for them to see what we had been working on! We sent Canadian Astronaut Chris Hadfield (@Cmdr_Hadfield) tweets from each of our grade 2 students the day he left space, thanking him for everything he did to educate and inform us while he was up there! Twitter really does make the world a lot smaller!

As a teacher, I have tweeted what my class is doing and it always feels great when parents, other teachers, admin, or anyone really, comments on what we are doing! We often share questions we have, the “I wonder” questions that come out of inquiry – Twitter is an excellent resource for expert knowledge.

If you decide to use Twitter in your classroom, make a point of tweeting at least once a day. Even it if is just to say that everyone is having fun today! I like to print pages that have 140 boxes and teach my kids to write “tweets” about their day and then I will type them in at the end of the period, day, etc. We also post those 140 box sheets on the wall on our “twitter feed” so other classes can see what we are up to!

Twitter seems to be sticking around. We might as well embrace it!