Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Legally Prohibited from Being Spontaneous in University

Next week at this time, I will have had two first days of school. I will, of course, be returning to my classroom with my brand new grade 3/4s. I will also be starting a brand brand new adventure - teaching in the Bachelor of Education program at the University of Ottawa.

I have been "partially seconded" (a term that many on campus at the U of O have told me is only used by BEd profs) to the University of Ottawa for a single Bachelor of Education course this fall. I will be teaching a class of 35-40 pre-service teachers in their Language Instruction course. 

Many summer moments were spent collecting resources, reflecting on my own experiences in teachers' college and (attempting) to crowd source information! I love connecting with local and international educators on Twitter, and sent the survey below to people that I know in real and digital life. (If you're reading this post and want to fill it out, please feel free!)

I got some great tips and feedback, which I, of course, made into a slideshow (I'm kind of into slideshows right now, in case you didn't know).

Now, I'm down to the wire. Monday was spent in a faculty meeting with the new Director and Assistant Director of the program and my new colleagues. Because of the big change over, there were lots of details to be worked out.

I returned to campus on Tuesday after spending some time getting my grade 3/4 classroom ready. I got to explore a lot of buildings on campus to get my employee ID, find my university classroom (which is beyond amazing, by the way) and arranging for a key card. ALMOST all details are now taken care of. I'm still trying to access my class lists in InfoWeb and hope I'll be able to do that before meeting my students on Wednesday.

Before I explain the title of this post, I'll let you in on a few details. I feel like I'd love to teach BEd students, but when the opportunity for a partial secondment was posted in our school email conference, I hesitated. Luckily, I have fantastic, supportive, cheerleading colleagues. Two of them forwarded the information to me and told me to go for it. Caving to positive peer pressure, I did. At the very end of June, on one of my final days with the Rainbow Eggheads, I was shocked to get an email saying that I got a position. As a partially seconded professor, the school board releases me for 14 days in a term (September-December) to teach a single course to a single class of pre-service teachers. I'm looking forward to the opportunity to determine whether or not I really do love to teach BEd students, while still keeping my foot in an elementary classroom.

By Friday, all BEd professors have to submit a course outline, or syllabus, to the faculty. Each prof is then responsible for distributing a paper copy of this syllabus to all students in his or her class in their first lesson. I am a planning addict (and generally overplan by a factor of four, each year could be four times as long, I have enough planned!) and had a lot of fun writing lists of all the ideas I wanted to impart upon my BEd students. The tricky part came in narrowing down my ideas to 12 three and a half hour classes. The trickier part is, we were told in our faculty meeting that course syllabi are legally binding. They cannot be changed once the course has started (without a LOT of difficulty) and students could charge us if we do! Whoa. Just planning so specifically so far in advance (my class runs until December) feels like a bit of pressure. Knowing I'm married to those plans feels like a heck of a lot more.

I've tried my best to tie together my plans and look at the course as a narrative, moving from big ideas to more specific details in a logical way. You know when you've been working on something for a really long time and you can't even accurately judge it any longer? That's how I feel about my course outline.

Interested in being part of a BEd course? I'd love your help. Check out the course outline and let me know what you think. There is some detail in the document, but I have a lot more on supplementary documents (as well as the 12-14 slideshows I'll be sharing in the "listen" portions of the course). Please feel free to leave a comment here, tweet at me or comment on the doc itself. Also, consider filling out the survey at the top of this post to share your ideas.

On Wednesday, when I hand this document out, I'm married to it. If you have any suggestions or objections, speak now or forever hold your peace.

Peace out.

***Bonus points for anyone who recognized the blog title as a reference to Conan's 2010 comedy tour.***

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Being Brave: Straddling Divisions

I am entering my tenth year of teaching next week. I spent six years at a grade 4-8 school, teaching in the intermediate division (grades 7 and 8). This coming year, I had expected to be teaching grade 4/5. I've taught grade 4/5 twice (well, really only once and a bit because of being on medical leave three years ago), but taught 5/6 last year. Because of student enrolment, some of our classes had to be changed and I will now be moving to a grade 3/4 class.

I teach at an alternative school and one of our core tenets is multi-aged learning, so we purposefully plan for combined grade classes. There are so many advantages to teaching two grades in the same room. All students have built-in leadership opportunities and can model appropriate behaviour within the classroom; having a carry-over of students from year to year allows for consistency in routines; learning with people of different ages helps students understand that we aren't all on the same developmental schedule and people learn in different ways on different days.

As the first week of school approaches, I am planning ways to share routines and expectations with my new students. I read a post by Matt Gomez, a kindergarten teacher in Dallas, Texas, about his only class rule: "Be Brave". The idea of bravery ties beautifully to my own philosophies and the "recipe for success" my students and I worked from last year, "ADD EGGS" (accountability, dynamism, drive, engagement, gratitude, generousity and support) as well as some new ideas I have for this year about storytelling, experimenting and thinking big. I look forward to sharing the expectation of "Be Brave" with my new team next week. I am excited to learn what they think bravery is and then to reflect back on that later in the year and see how our ideas have changed and developed.

I try my best to embrace change bravely. When the chance to try something new came up, I reminded myself to "Be Brave" and take the opportunity to teach something entirely new to me. A grade 3/4 class was formed at my school and I'll be the lead learner with this group, starting next week!

In the past, the combined grade classes I've worked with have been within a single division (in Ontario, where I live and work, elementary grades are split into three divisions 1-3 are Primary, 4-6 are Junior and 7-8 are Intermediate). In the nine years I've been teaching, I've supply taught in all grades, but I've only had classrooms of students from grade 4 upwards. My students and I have always been in one division and worked with one set of colleagues in divisional activities. With half of my class in the Primary division and half in the Junior division, I will get a more clear picture of what is going on in the whole school. I'll also have a hard cap on my class numbers, a wonderful advantage and guarantee for a smaller class than I've ever had before! I talk a lot about how small class numbers make all the difference in education and now I'll get to test that out myself!

I know that children coming out of grade 2 into my room next week will be at a very different stage from the amazing Rainbow Eggheads who I said goodbye to last June at the end of their grade 5 and 6 years. I will be entering what I'm sure will feel like a completely different world from what I'm used to, but that will put me on even footing with my new students. We'll all be starting something brand new together. Bravely.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Mini Maker Faire Inspiration

I had a great time exploring the Mini Maker Faire at the Museum of Science and Tech. I didn't get enough time to poke around, as I messed up and went to the wrong museum first. As a chronically late person, I was happy that I was actually early today and I had time to zip over to the Science Museum after confusedly showing up at the Aviation Museum.

Not only did I get to participate in a panel, I got to see, first hand, how generous and exciting Ottawa's Maker community is. It had the same sort of frenetic feel of Comic Con, but I was even more excited to talk to exhibitors because of the educational implications.

There is an incredible amount of cool stuff happening here in Ottawa. Some of it, like the OPL's Imagine Space and Maker Junior, I already knew about. So much more was new to me today, I got to try on the masks of an incredible artist named Ian Langohr; see Maker Creative's Skittlebot in action as it analyzed colours of Skittles to learn to create art; have custom hockey pucks created; speak to members of ecotonos, who incorporate nature, design and manufacturing; and see a chocolate 3D printer in action. I only wish that Hitchbot had been a guest today. I'm totally into that guy right now.
I wish I'd learned what this was made with, but this beautiful sign, and many others around the museum were made out of styrofoam. 
The parking lot was jammed, yet I was still surprised by the huge crowds. 
I was so excited about this for Tiiu!
 Tiiu, my awesome teaching partner, has been experimenting with aquaponics through the end of last year and the summer. There have been numerous challenges, and I was excited about this 3Dponics system for her. 3Dponics combines hydroponics and 3D printing to create an open source hydroponics system with 3D printable components. The whole system, including a water pump and recycled bottles only costs about $20 to make. The creators said that they could do classroom visits and, despite being very intimidated by Tiiu's HUGE aquaponics system (including fish), I see this way of using hydroponics as very workable for a brown thumb like me.
3D printers have gone multi-coloured!
 There were a lot of 3D printers on display. This exhibit was unique, as they had a multi-colour printer and a chocolate printer! I think that a multicolour printer has potential, but as a colour nerd, I'm not happy with the colour choices yet. Talking to the gentlemen at this exhibit, they told me that my dream of a 3D printer that mixes colours and makes gradations is only 6 months away. I think I'll be much more aesthetically pleased at next year's Maker Faire.
I almost couldn't leave the main exhibit room because of this R2-D2 in my way. 
It was awesome to have these little faces in the crowd during the panel. Even better to hear Skye's perspective on how tech helps to engage students and Gavin's perspective on how to get parents to buy in!
I can't believe I didn't spot Pat in the crowd, but was thrilled to see him. What a team. These are my FOREVER (and EVER) students, even though they've graduated from my school!
#skittlebot was very cool. By posting this selfie, we have a chance at winning some Skittle art! How much do Fiona, Julianna and Skye look like triplets here? 
The girls were particularly excited to show me this 3D printed robotic hand that can be customized for people with different needs. This one is set up for a child missing their middle two fingers and is controlled by movements in your wrist. 
The most ridiculously awesome character masks I've ever seen. 
And they're not that heavy! Inside that one is me! I like the confused girl in the background.
The cuties got some free custom pucks for a sick classmate and her sister, both awesome hockey players!
I think that the Mini Maker Faire should be held during the school year and teachers be forced to attend. So many of the people there are already converts and totally into the maker movement already. An event like this would do wonderful things to convince apprehensive educators about the power and importance of making!

In each of the makers I spoke with, I noticed pride and a sense of accomplishment. The novel ideas that they brought to life represented countless hours of questioning, building, testing and refining (and often, fundraising or crowdsourcing). I love that making is about mixing craft with technology in innovative ways. Makers are the blue sky, out of the box thinkers that I love to talk to. A former student who was taking me around after my panel told me that I'd have 1000 questions for all the makers and limited me to 3 per maker, as we were quickly running out of time. Bringing students to an event like this would surely excite and inspire far more than just telling them about it. I feel very fortunate that there is such a generous making community in Ottawa and look forward to bringing Luc and Alison back to my room and inviting new creators into my Experimental Prototype Classroom of Tomorrow (stay tuned for a blog post explaining the new name!).

Ottawa's Mini Maker Faire - Maker Education Panel

This weekend is Ottawa's forth annual Mini Maker Faire. If you haven't been yet, I highly recommend popping by tomorrow. It's held at the Museum of Science and Technology (not the Aviation Museum, where I first turned up this afternoon). 

My friend, Luc Lalande is one of the most interesting humans I've met in a long time. He is a founding partner of True Innovators here in Ottawa, owns a Community 3D Printer, is on the board for Artengine and is the incoming Executive Director of the University of Ottawa's Entrepreneurship Hub. He decided to offer a panel discussion at this year's Mini Maker Faire, including people with different points of view and ideas about making in education. I'm honoured that he asked me to be on the Maker Education Panel. He is so wonderfully organized that he made a blog post, sent us all the structure and questions and made sure we were all prepared. I like his style!

Because of Luc's great organizational skills and attention to detail, I was way less nervous than I could have been (which brought my nervousness down to a 9/10!). I always worry in events like this that everyone will suddenly realize that I don't know anything and they'll think: "Her?" and question why I'm included in such a great group of people. Anyway, my chronic overthinking wasn't worth it. Everything went really smoothly and only one person recognized my pen spinning on stage as nervousness.

My role on the panel was to answer the questions: What kind of learning occurs when students are encouraged to use educational technology and digital tools? Why is this kind of learning important? Each of the other guests had their own questions to address and we were all encouraged by Luc to "hack" the panel and add to one another's responses. Other members of the panel were Alison Evans Adnani, who I've gotten to work with through her Maker Junior company; Alison's son Nanik, who is a middle school maker; Paul McGuire, the former principal at St. Gregory's and incoming to St. Anthony's; and Rick Alexanderson, a tech teacher from St. Peter High School

When sitting on a stage and talking, I realize how ineffective the "sage on the stage" method of teaching can feel. It's hard to figure out if your audience is engaged or not as they sit back, relaxed in comfy seats. I much prefer involving the audience in presentations so I can make sure I'm meeting their needs and addressing their interests appropriately. Luckily, I had some great supporters in the audience who were familiar faces to look out at and assured me that we were informative and interesting. 

Of course, I made notes to keep me on track, but I was happy to have some paper with me as I took a lot of notes during the session. I've just finished transcribing my chicken scratch.

What kind of learning occurs when students have access to educational technology and digital tools?

Teachers who successfully embrace educational technology are comfortable with: 
  • admitting we don't have all the answers
  • asking for resources
  • being opportunistic and taking advantage of ideas and opportunities
  • communicating our goals effectively to students, parents and administration
  • failing
  • flexibility
  • improvisation (things will inevitably go wrong when trying new technologies or old technologies in new ways)
  • learning new things (and the frustrations that go along with learning new things!)
  • taking risks
  • putting some time into professional development and learning
  • student leadership
  • uncertainty
Really great classrooms are led by futurists who recognize that the skills and tools we give our students today will help them in very real ways in their lives. Leaders recognize that they're preparing students for the next steps in their lives.

What are the benefits for students?
  • transformative: students have ownership over their learning and realize their own powers and abilities
  • collaborative problem solving
  • depth of understanding is evident
  • demonstrate that they know how to think
  • differentiated learning: opportunities for all to thrive and share
  • engagement
  • empowerment 
  • leadership: students help peers, other students, staff to solve problems
  • perseverance: through frustrations and failures, they explore creative solutions and iterate
  • sense of accomplishment
In a very quick hour, we got through a lot of ideas and stories. I was happy to have students and parents in the crowd who were able to offer their persepctives during the Q and A. Stay tuned for a post about how "tech is the new sex ed", inspired by the hilarious father of a former student.

Some of my key learnings from the other panelists include:
  • Rick's advice: If you want to try something new and you don't have qualified or interested staff, start by offering a club for eager students.
  • Rick's high school students have partnered with Carleton to make 3D-printed robot kits. They'll visit classes and teach them how to use them.
  • Alison and Nanik talked about how the curriculum comes alive through making. Nanik is engaged when he works with his hands and becomes motivated to learn.
  • Maker Junior operates on the principle that we should not just receive, but be active creators.
  • Paul describes his role as a principal as the main helper in a school and he is there to enhance the experiences of teachers and kids.
I was happy to speak with many enthusiastic educators at the end of the panel, and had my first ever tiny taste of celebrity. One gentleman came up to me and said his wife was really hoping to meet me, but wasn't able to stick around. I have a fan! My former students who were hanging around thought this was hilarious.

Did you make it to the Mini Maker Faire? How do you think we can bring more Making into our classrooms?