Friday, 31 October 2014

Last week of October

Happy Halloween everyone! There are so many amazing things going on in the division. I am very pleased to be able to share some of them with you again this week. As always, if any of this is of interest to you or if you have any questions, please contact me. You can find all of my contact information on the Contact Me page of this blog. If you would like to schedule me to come to your school and work with you, please either complete the scheduling form on the Contact Me page or email me.


Radio Plays

This week, I had the good fortune of visiting Bassano school to help out with some Halloween Radio Plays. It was great to hear the scary stories that students put together for their plays. I found it very interesting that we used a high tech format to put together a very old form of entertainment. 

The students spent time before I arrived writing and rehearsing their radio plays. We then recorded the plays. For our purposes, we used Garage Band on a MacBook as that is what was available. However, the recording of the plays could be done using Audacity. The next step was to save the projects as MP3 files so they can be shared. 

I will visit Bassano again as the students finish recording their plays. The final step will be to post the recordings online for parents to be able to access. This is a great way to share both student writing and student creativity. In addition, it is a great way to let parents hear what you are doing in your classroom. 

Sharing the Stories

Earlier this week, I was able to visit a part of Alberta I had never seen before. I made a trip out to Gem to help the teachers there share the stories of the community. As I drove out to Gem from Brooks, I thought about how the landscape had changed over time and how it remained the same. I wondered if the landscape looks very similar to what it looked like 80 years ago. This is the story the teachers in Gem would like to tell. They want to use photography with their students to enable the telling of local stories. They are going to use Google Drive and Google Docs to have students take pictures of their area and begin writing and sharing their story. Using the technology available will enable the teachers and the students to collaborate and begin to create both a written and pictorial narrative of the area. 

We all have a story to tell, whether it is one of rural farming or city life. Using the tools we have available to us, we can help our students and families within Grasslands schools share their stories. 

MHC Collaboration

On Tuesday I attended a meeting with Terry Chapman, Dean of Arts and Education at Medicine Hat College. At this meeting we discussed the concept of accessing expert knowledge at Medicine Hat College for classrooms at Grasslands Schools. In an earlier post, I wrote about VROC (Virtual Researchers on Call). This organization connects K-12 teachers with experts in science, technology, engineering, and math. To my knowledge, nothing like this exists for humanities teachers. Therefore, collaborating with Medicine Hat College to establish a database of experts in the social sciences and business fields may be very helpful to Grasslands teachers. In the meeting, Dr. Chapman asked me what topics I thought might be important to our teachers. So, I pose this out to all of you. If you had the ability to ask experts in history, business, literature, political science, or geography questions, what would they be? Are there topics that you would like experts to speak with your students about? 

Our discussions with Medicine Hat College are in the preliminary stages but it would be very helpful to have the thoughts of Grasslands teachers. If you have a minute, I would really appreciate hearing from you.

Chrome Classroom

This is a project that is about to begin with 10 teachers in the division. They are going to pilot 1:1 teaching and learning using Chromebooks in their classrooms. The cohort of teachers will participate in professional development related to 1:1 pedagogy. The aim of the project is twofold. First, teachers who participate in the project will improve their own understanding of emerging technologies and innovative teaching. learning and assessment practices. Second, the teachers participating in the project will act as innovation leaders within their own schools, providing learning opportunities and sharing with their colleagues. This is an ambitious project for the division. We are looking forward to working with the cohort of teachers in moving this project forward.

Friday, 24 October 2014

What's Up This Week

Google Docs with Students

This past week, I spent time with two different groups of students in Alcoma and Brooks Composite High School working with Google Docs. We began by logging in and setting up their drive. We talked about the utility of the drive and how it could help keep them organized and remove the need for an external drive. That was the straightforward part of the presentation. The piece that really got them excited was the collaborative nature of Google Docs. I created a Google Doc and shared it with two students in the room and my wife, who was working from her office in Brooks. The students were all amazed at how quickly ideas could be share. They got a kick out of seeing their comments appear on the document. As well, they were equally as impressed seeing the comments my wife made.

While it was a lot of fun, we also discussed how the share feature could be used to foster greater collaboration between members of the same class, different schools and students in different countries. In addition, we spoke about the ways teachers could use Google DOcs to provide students with feedback to promote their understanding. It was great to work with the students and see how excited they were about collaborating with each other. 

Sites and Stuff

I am often asked for websites or apps that teachers can use in their classrooms. As such, I thought I would draw your attention to a few that I think are both interesting and have great utility for your classrooms:
  1. Read and Write for Google: This web based App provides premium features free for teachers. It is one of the better text to speech apps that I have come across. In addition, the premium features give you speech input for Google Docs. If you have students in your class who experience difficulty and may benefit from a text to speech app this is definitely a good one to try.
  2. Virtual Researchers on Call: I have written about this site previously but am so impressed by it I thought it could use another mention here. VROC is a site which is free for teachers in Grasslands Public Schools. It is a database collection of experts in science, technology, engineering and math. Once you sign up and receive a log in from VROC, you will have access to their experts. You can take a look at recorded presentations, invite an expert into your class, or sign your class up for a STEM mentor. In addition, the Partners in Research component hosts live events with STEM professionals. Teachers and students can join the live stream presentation and Tweet their questions. This offers teachers a very quick way to bring experts into their classes.
  3. Instagrok: This is one that came across my desk earlier this week. It is a very powerful tool to create dynamic graphic organizers with your students. You can input any search term into the search bar and Instagrok will create a web for you. All of the information on the web can then be expanded. You can increase the difficulty level of the web to provide you with more detailed search results. In addition, students can create their own webs and share them with other students. This is a site that offers a lot of possibilities for content in classrooms.

Connected Teaching and Learning

Early in my teaching career, an administrator asked all of his staff: "are you a school teacher or a classroom teacher?" His goal was for all of us to see ourselves as connected to all students and to one another, not just as isolated practitioners only worried about ourselves and the students in our room. 

The concept of connection has changed dramatically in the past few years. There is a wide variety of platforms which enable teachers to connect and collaborate. I already wrote about the collaborative power of Google Apps for Education. Today, I would like to share my thoughts about Twitter.

Twitter is an amazing resource for teachers. With Twitter, you have the capacity to develop an immense digital professional learning community. This means you can share and collaborate with and ask questions of thousands of teachers. For me, this resource has proven to be truly invaluable. There are so many ways to use Twitter for yourself and with students. I would be happy to meet with you and help set up a Twitter account. Below is a list to some Grasslands teachers who are already connected and on Twitter. I'm sure I've missed a few and, if I have, I apologize. If you are on Twitter and would like to add your name, either write a comment on this post or send me an email and I will update the list. Also, if you are on Twitter and would like to connect with other Grasslands teachers, please use the hashtag: #GPSD6. 


Grasslands Teachers on Twitter:
Sean Beaton: @backcountrynut
Vince Hill: @vhill01 
Nathan Hodgson: @BassanoBroncos
Alicia Olson: @ali_ciaolson
Jeneen Armstrong: @bassanojeneen
Tim Rodgers: @tpsrodgers
Amanda McCrimmon: @missMcCrimm
Linda Andres: @LindaAndres1
Bassano School: @BassanoSchool
Marg Grosfield: @MargGrosfield
Shawn Lachapelle: @lachapelles
Gord Bramfield: @nodgroadog

Friday, 17 October 2014

The First Few Weeks

What's Going On?

Over the past few weeks, I have thought about how best to share all the amazing things that are going on in Grasslands with all of you. At first, I thought a showcase website would be the best. You could all go to the website and see the things that your colleagues have done. However, because so many of the projects are on going, it will be a while before they are ready to be showcased. As a result, I thought it would be better to update you with a weekly blog. This way, I can let you all know about the things I am working on with teachers in the district and you can read about all the things going on. So, what follows is a description of some of the things I have had the good fortune of being involved with. If you would like more information about anything, please let me know! Rather than put this at the end of every piece, I will say it now: if you would like to work on any of these tasks in your classroom or your school, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Google Drive and Google Apps for Education

The most common task I am asked to help out with is setting up Google Drive with teachers and students. At the most basic level, Google Drive is a hard drive in the "cloud." It allows users to save any document they wish. You can create folders and store items just as you would in any hard drive. The advantage with Google Drive is that you and your students have access to all items on Google Drive on any device that has an Internet connection. The other advantage is you and your students have unlimited storage on Drive. 

That is the most basic level. But there is so much more that you can do with the tool. You have access to all of the Google Apps for education. This includes the capacity to create, edit, and share documents, spreadsheets, presentation, and websites. The opportunity for student collaboration and formative assessment are endless. For example, I worked with a group of teachers at BJHS who are going to use Google Drive and Google Docs to promote peer editing of written work. 

Google Sites

Effective communication is a key success factor for teachers. We need to effectively communicate with our students, their parents, and each other. One way to stay in touch with parents and keep them up to date is through a class web page. I have worked on setting up pages with teachers at Uplands School, Griffin Park School, and, in the near future, BCHS. Again, Google Apps for Education offers a straightforward tool to create these pages. 

Google Sites is a quick way to create professional web pages that can be shared with your parents and students. You can link them to folders in your drive to provide parents and students access to assigned tasks, daily lessons, or materials for extra practice. You can include external links to web pages you would like your students to use. Again, the options are broad. I like the fact that using Google Sites is very straightforward. Much of the construction is through drag and drop. There is no need to know code to create the page. 

Student Movie Making

Providing students with multiple means to represent their understanding of topics you cover in class is a core aspect of differentiation. Making short movies with them is an excellent way for students to demonstrate what they know. I was invited to Alcoma School to work with a group of Junior High Students and their teacher on making short films. We are using Google Drive as a method of collecting images and video clips. We are discussing ideas about how camera angles, lighting, and music can help create theme and tell a story. This is a multi-step project that engages the students in a very different way. However, they seem to be really enjoying the process. Once we have completed some movies, I will be sure to share them with everyone. 

Digital Art Portfolios

One of the advantages of using Google Drive and Google Apps for Education is the capacity and ease with which you can create digital portfolios with your students. There is a great deal of research to suggest that creating digital portfolios which incorporate student reflection and promote visible learning, are of great value to student academic performance. 

I am working with a teacher in Bassano to create digital portfolios in a high school art class. The first step in this project involved creating a folder for every student in the teacher's Google Drive, sharing the folders with the students, and having them upload digital copies of their work. The students were encouraged to take pictures of their work so they can be submitted to the drive. At this point, they are submitting everything.

The next step is to create blogs for all of the students so they can comment on their work and provide personal feedback about their art. This will be done in written format or in video format. The blogs will host pictures of the work and students will include their feedback. In addition, their classmates with offer some constructive feedback about the work that is created.

This project has huge potential for any class in any grade in any discipline across the division. Creating digital portfolios provides a visible artifact regarding growth over time. Students, parents, and teachers can all see how the student has grown in their learning journey. In addition, the portfolio can "travel" with the student from grade to grade. As well, many post-secondary schools ask to see portfolios of student work. There are many ways to utilize this tool within classrooms to promote improved student outcomes.

Google Classroom

A new tool within the Google Apps for Education suite is Google Classroom. This is Google's version of a Learning Management System. While it does not have the same functionality as other systems like Blackboard or D2L, it does provide teachers with a free tool with which they can create a course shell. I am working with teachers in Rolling Hills and at BJHS on using Google Classroom. Teachers can link Google Classroom to their Drive so that they can "handout," collect, and "hand back" assigned tasks digitally. Students do not need to print any of the materials off if they do not want to. There are a number of advantages to this. First, a student cannot say they lost a handout. It is always available to them on any device connected to the Internet through Google Classroom. Second, you can provide the student with feedback on their work and encourage resubmission if necessary. Again, all digitally through Google Drive. 

This is a very effective, straightforward tool you can use to help your students stay organized and up to date with what you are doing.