The iPad Crate Experience at Heath Traditional

An iPad Crate was delivered to Heath Traditional Elementary in the Delta School District earlier this month under the care of Sherrie Bennett. Because technology and inquiry are the hot button topics in this District’s ‘Big Bold Vision,’ these mini iPads had to pack a big enough punch to fill these heightened expectations. Boy, did they deliver!

“I always thought my students were engaged, but since the iPads entered the classroom – it’s spiked 3000 percent!”
– Sherrie Bennett

iPads provide an accessibility and a convenience very hard to come by in other educational tools. Without the wait time for other devices or the headaches of compatability issues, the iPads have given students at Heath Traditional a chance to create and showcase their learning in an exciting way. Engagement in Bennett’s classroom has taken off into directions that has her buzzing with excitement. Her energy about how these students are learning is contagious.

Student reflections on the iPad experience

Student reflections on the iPad experience

Bennett understands that iPads can only be successful in the classroom if they are implemented with a carefully thought out objective and lesson design. For each of her assignments she has set out a criteria that includes student choice, clear purpose, and just the right amount of structure to focus learning; but not so much as to overwhelm and stunt her students creativity. The rubrics she has created and assessment formats she follows provides accountability from her students. Even those students who seem to inherently struggle in regular classroom tasks were excited by the iPads and were willingly (and without teacher prompting) following criteria. This attention to detail is missing in most of their school work and is a delight to see here in moments of creation and learning.

Some of the most exciting and heartwarming iPad moments have been with students who struggle throughout almost (if not) all of their core subjects finding success with these iPads. These students have been able to shine and take ownership of their own learning. They now have something that they can be proud of and that they can teach others how to do instead of being the one always asking for help. A welcomed change for all of these students and teachers.

Student reflections on the iPad experience

Student reflections on the iPad experience

When a Gr. 3 student, whom has an abundance of one-on-one learning support time for basic literacy, was able to use the iPad to prove her competency – it brought happy tears to their classroom teacher’s eyes. Throughout the year it was believed that this student wasn’t able to read on their own and always needed assistance. With the simple recording button on the iPads camera, this student was able to record themselves reading. Their classroom teacher upon hearing their small voice read words they’ve struggled so long to read, she broke down in tears. Here was audible proof of their achievement. This moment was captured on the iPad and now they have proof of the ability they believed for so long they didn’t have.

Engagement in learning does not come with just handing a student an iPad and saying ‘here, go and learn!’ Often I am at schools where iPads and apps are being used in a way that I find misses the point of this technology. It’s meant to help students create and learn – not be a digitized, glorified worksheet keeper. But even with these apps that mimic worksheets, the students will be very excited at first with the novelty of the iPad, but then boredom will inevitably follow.

Instead, Bennett has picked out apps and focused students on creation. For each of her subjects she has found ways to have creation be the focus of student learning. What follows is a breif overview of the assignments she has had her students do.

Mathematics:

Students used the iPads camera to snap photos of Math found in our everyday lives to prove that “Math is everywhere.” Instead of having students just complete drill activities on these devices, she had students thinking of how Math fits and functions in our everyday life. Sure a clock is Math – but how! A definite question that leads into inquiry based learning – and in Math at that!

Reading:

Students were to create their own books on ‘inferring’ via the app, Book Creator. Here students are finding images to explain how they infer what is happening in the image. Because of the iPads useability, this eliminates the issues of connecting to a printer (which is always an issue), saves paper, no cut and paste (huge time saver), and no poster board that no one wants at the end of the year (less waste). The iPad gets all of those details to move out of the way for the main purpose – creation, creativity and learning.

Students are to find images (or take ones) they can infer about – which means they’re scouring google for that perfect one they want. By default, these students are inferring with all the other images they come across.  Here the thinking of inferring is the focus and not just definition and matching.

Science:

Because this is a Gr. 7 class, she had her students have free reign of choice on apps for their assignment (There are 4 experiments, choose 2). They had a day to play around with apps and find one that is inspiring to them. But, upon spending some buddy time with the Grade 2’s who shared how book creator works and all the things they’ve been able to do with it, the Gr.7’s were inspired. They knew then that they wanted to use the app shown to them by the little ones for their own assignments. An indication that some apps when used for specific purposes are engaging for all ages.

Student reflections on the iPad experience

Student reflections on the iPad experience

Their experiments involved the concept of ‘density’ and because of the ability to video record and the neatness of the experiments they had more reason to be engaged. They dove right into the ‘science’ part of it by wearing lab coats and being very thorough with their experiments. Because of the recording, they were very “involved in the moment” as Bennett explains. “Because they were able to view their experiments over and over again and show others, there wasn’t just the idea of follow instructions and do this and that and get it over with. Instead they were being very careful and detailed in their experiments. They were almost like mini Bill Nye’s while explaining their experiments! It was fabulous!”

Reflections and Feedbacks:

Students were required to complete a reflection as well as a self evaluation of their learning. The bulk of the reflection asks studetns to think about their learning, challenges, problem solving, purposes and future changes in their process.

As well, Bennett was able to give students consistent feedback on their projects. She was able to do this because the iPads are handed in to the crate after every class. Because of the ease of access to the charging crate, it was easy for her to go through assignments and give quality feedback. This is much harder to do with laptop carts used for multiple classes. The ‘instant on’ capability and app consistency among these iPads is a definite time saver. These iPads have helped Bennett use her time more efficently and effectively. I feel that these iPads are only this effective when they are a set for an individual class as this access would be much more difficult to achieve if they are a school set to be shared amongst all divisions.

The experience Bennett and these students have had with these iPads has been a refreshingly positive one. From having struggling, discouraged students find their forté with technology, enabling students with a way to show their progress, to having students create their learning instead of going through the motions has me excited thinking of what more they can do given the time and freedom to do so! I even had a chance today to see these students at work and to see their bright, beaming faces when they figured out a neat trick they could do or when they showed off their tech-savvy projects.

It really is wonderful to see kids proud of their learning, especially when it’s coming from those who have struggled for so long. I look forward to seeing what comes of this school next year with their tech grant and how these students will find more successes in their learning. It’s exciting to imagine what would happen with class sets of iPads and a more thorough use of them – since this was only a brief but meaningful dip into all that technology can offer.

Reflections on China and Bill Gates’ Call for Teacher Feedback Systems

Bill Gates: Teachers Need Real Feedback

In his TED talk that aired on PBS for TED talks Education, Bill Gates argues that countries that score highest in reading proficiency correlate with those that have teacher feedback systems in place.

He points at Shanghai as the top in these scores. When I was doing my short practicum in Xi’an, China (and also observing teaching in Beijing and Shanghai) I was able to sit in and take part in this feedback and observation rotation system. I am not convinced it’s doing the job Gates believes its doing there in China, but I do agree teacher’s need constructive and thoughtful feedback.

In China, teachers would video tape their lessons to be sent in to their governing education board. But, the lesson that is being sent is one that the teachers have done multiple times with the exact same students that has been viewed & critiqued by multiple teachers and crafted into a lesson that has nearly all students showing success before they even reach the camera stage outside of their classroom. This did not happen in the first lesson they tried out though. Yes there are positives to redo a lesson over and over again, but does that make best practice? I love how teachers are supporting one another and trying to find ways to make the lesson successful, but their ways of encouraging that success are troublesome to my education philosophy.

The teaching methods in China are highly dependant upon external rewards. Most of my notes and my writing while observing these lessons were criticizing and wondering about the function of external rewards in learning. Teachers carry tins of stickers around to be awarded to students with correct answers, each group is given stars or hearts on the chalk board when they’re quiet or if they participate. So much so that every lesson I observed, especially the ones in front of the camera, felt like a game show with the students trying to win the grand prize of the most stars and stickers. I guess you could call this engagement, since most of the students want to win the prizes but I wouldn’t call this a ‘full education’ in the poetic sense that I like to believe education can be about.But it sure does give high scores on exams.

Maybe Gates is too much about the numbers?

Sure, Shanghai has impressive scores. So does Korea, but in third place amongst those numbers is Finland, who doesn’t have a Teacher Feedback system in place. I find myself looking at Finland from time to time in awe of how their education system works; the amount of support and funding received from government and the community. So maybe achieving those high scores it’s not just about the feedback system but also the cultural forces surrounding the success of these students.

I find the issue in our North American classrooms is less about numbers and more about learning and engaging learners. The numbers will come later. Our culture is vastly different than Asian cultures that usually rely upon drill, stratification, standardization, and high work ethics. This doesn’t seem to exist in full swing here in Western culture (or wouldn’t work as fluidly). The task we have is to engage our learners and inspire them to put forth an effort that isn’t rewarded immediately with a sticker.

Regardless of what numbers Gates uses and his reasonings for it, I have to agree with him.

    Teacher feedback is very important and crucial.

I know as a student teacher I had consistent feedback, video taped myself and had peers observe me teach as well – this was integral to my growth and development. I don’t think I’ll ever be at a stage where I’m not calling myself a learning teacher – because I really hope I don’t stop learning and improving upon my skills. So as much as I had an overwhelming amount of learning at the very early stages of my development, this doesn’t mean that the learning is done – especially  when you’re a teacher.

Taking the time to have yourself video taped to be viewed by other teachers with constructive criticism is helpful in professional development. No, it does not require a specific Microsoft camera geared for this purpose only – most of our mobile devices and the technology supplied in the classroom are equipped with video recording capabilities. Problem solved. (I should note he did not specifically propose a Microsoft camera as the solution (since I could not tell the brand of the camera he showed), but I’m wondering about the cost of 5 billion dollars for the US to have these feedback systems)

But again, if we are to have these sessions be video taped and observed by our colleagues schools need to be given more funding to have collaboration time for teachers. So instead of spending this money on cameras to do the observing, the funds can be diverted to teacher time to go through the recordings and make thoughtful observations and well put together suggestions.

As a a TOC, I get to see all the wonderful things that happen in various classrooms of all grade levels. I find things that excite me, that I’d love to try out in my own classrooms, and things that I see wouldn’t gel with my teaching philosophy. I also see how great something can work in one classroom, but not in another. To be a full time teacher and have my own classroom would be a dream. But I would hope that I am not limited to the walls of my room and would still find opportunity to be inspired by others and to have others help me be the best I can be for my students.

Professional development starts with self and if I’m never observed as myself teaching, how can I know what to do better. This is something that can tell me more than the calculated average of my classroom.

A Classroom Activity with zenpencils.com

Recently discovered zenpencils.com and now I check it almost daily for a new post. http://zenpencils.com/comic/90-ira-glass-advice-for-beginners/ What a beautiful concept – take a quote that is already inspiring and gripping, and lay over top of it images in a comic format … Continue reading

The point of my blogging, how I lost sight of it, and how I’m getting my groove back

When I first decided to create a blog, a teacher once asked me, “Well, what’s your main point in even having one?” I remember replying very enthusiastically with thoughts like: I want to have my own thinking be visible and not be stuck in my head so much, I want to share my ideas and hopefully have other people contribute or change my ideas based on comments they’ve made or other links they might lead me to..

But then I started blogging, and I noticed that maybe I’ll have one person look at it every once in a while. And in all honesty, I was pretty sure it was on my own self clicking on the link to see what it looked like on the world wide web to a complete stranger. This left me feeling unmotivated and discouraged because I felt like I was talking to this great void, bursting with ideas but because it was going nowhere.. I started to write less and feel a little insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

And then another thing happened: I would have things to write about while I’m out TOCing, I get home, I start writing but then I get preoccupied with grammar, fixated on diction, and then I wind up with all these entries that haven’t made it to “post” because of my own insecurity about how I write and what it might say about me as a professional or even a person.

I was on a hike with a dear friend of mine and he asked me why I cared so much and I explained how I was worried about grammar and all the little things and that’s when I caught myself. I value my ideas more than I value how they are said. I know that I can be grammatically correct and I have the capability to write a thesis and long essays but my original point of this blog was ideas, not the forms of writing. I always tell my students, don’t worry about spelling or grammar right now, those things can be negotiated later – it’s more important to get those ideas down, that stream of consciousness and the beautiful things your brain and heart can come together and create – than to worry about an apostrophe’s placement or if it should be semi colon or just a plain old regular colon.

The best way to have the highest student performance is to have the perfect balance of stress

So, things are going to be different now. I’m going to post in a way that worries less about the nitty gritty details of writing and more about the importance of ideas being writ. As for the great dear void that I seem to write to, well eventually that void won’t be so empty and one day will be filled with colleagues of mine whom I can connect with and find inspiration from. That is my hope, and that is what I see for myself in the future. Much like my feelings about being a TOC, who wants to be an integral part of a school community but has to drop in and fly out, I want my little speck of impact on the blogosphere be connected with a community of like minded individuals wanting to develop their teaching craft further and connect with one another.

I’m not going to worry if my ideas change over time because I hope those who do read my blog realize the dynamism of the ideas I have and the opinions I hold. I’m forever trying to find ways to change not trying to find ways to stay static or of a particular dogma. By postponing my posts (pun!) I’ve missed the point of my blog entirely. My blog is meant to capture my learning, my ideas and my growth. But in delaying what’s being thought, by preening and playing with how I’ve said it, it loses it’s relevancy over time.

This could also depict my own interest towards my ‘unposted posts’ after they stay ‘unposted’ for too long.

Staying relevant and current is important and is important to our students and their learning as well. As teachers, we have to have their prewriting to draft to good copy all done within a particular time frame to keep the relevancy of that writing in their lives and their excitement on paper. Otherwise, creativity falters and you’re less likely to receive a final product with pride if they have too long to finish it and it’s done poorly. So putting time limits on activities is important to give that jolt to work and urgency needed to inspire their best work.

So here are my new blog rules for myself: remember my purpose, proofread once, hit post once it’s written, stay relevant. 

Also, because I love to nerd out over things almost unnecessarily, I’ve inserted two graphs. One was introduced from a former teacher/mentor of mine, Ray Appel, about student performance in timed activities and the other I made based on my personal findings with blog posts and interest/relevancy which you could also relate to how I even feel about my own posts that I leave alone for too long.