The Fear of “Who Is Really Out There” In A Virtual World

I was drawn to Schwier’s post on Shaping the Metaphor of Community in Online Learning Environments because I believe that major learning opportunities are being missed when we deny students access to communicating with the online world. Schwier remarks,

Virtual learning environments happen when the process of learning takes place outside the boundaries of face-to-face contact, typically online. But environments are not necessarily communities. For a community to emerge, a learning environment must allow learners to engage each other intentionally and collectively in the transaction or transformation of knowledge.

I agree with his statement that environments are not the same as communities with regards to the levels of engagements and interactions with others. But their is still this underlying fear that their are more people on the internet with more intentions to do harm over good. I, however, feel that it is much the opposite.

Here is an example of how a simple Tweet changed a complete day of learning…


“Twitter” by Andreas Eldh is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Grade 2 came to visit me in the library and we read a new and exciting book called “Those Magnificent Sheet in Their Flying Machine” by Peter Bently. In the book, some daring sheep borrowed an airplane and visited the world. They pondered visiting places such as Timbuktu, Kalamazoo and Saskatchewan. Well, the students were over the moon that Mr. Bently would include Saskatchewan in his book. After our reading, I decided to tweet Mr. Bently about how amazing his books were,

Well, he responded…

And his question…

Led to this “small” assignment from the class…

Even though the teacher did most of the tweeting, the students played an integral part in communicating with the author. How amazing to share their story with someone who is already established in the writing community. This could be an example of a “ringer” as described by Schwier.

When teachers choose to keep social media out of the classroom, what important learning opportunities are we missing out on?

Back to Schwier, our learners need to be able to interact with others outside of their everyday lives in order to be able to grow themselves. We need to be able to teach them how to be safe and smart online, but also how to access people that can help us online as well. But how to do we do this with such young minds?

Our module project is geared for Grade 3 students. We certainly are not going to set them up with individual twitter accounts and begin their digital identity for them. But I think it is important that they understand that there are safe places for them to discuss ideas, provide opinions and share with a much wider audience.

laptop-819285_1280One of the forums we discussed to allow students to share their ideas and thoughts is using to share about books they are reading. Last semester, I did a vlog about Bookopolis and how it can be integrated into the classroom. Because our module is based on the new OTC documents, and we plan to use literature as a resource to provide more information, students can use Bookopolis to share their ideas and opinions on the books they have read with a much wider audience then their peers in the classroom.

We are using the LMS Google Classroom to create our module. Within Google Classroom, we can create a questions that students can respond to and reply back to fellow classmates. This may seem more enticing to some teachers as it is a more closed circuit and can be monitored more closely than open platforms such as Twitter or Instagram.

However, if we want the class to reach a more open environment, Twitter would be my go-to platform. In this particular case, I would create a hashtag in reference to our module (maybe something like #SKFNpastpresent or #SKtreatiesprepost – obviously something to play around with). By using a hashtag, we can keep track of responses we get from the Twitterverse. I would invite a couple of students to ask an open ended question about what they learned from the module that day to ask out to my followers (or the class followers) using the hashtag. As the teacher, I would vet answers for appropriateness and share them with the class using Storify.

It is great when students get an opportunity to discuss with their peers about what they are learning, but I believe that by introducing them to a much wider environment (such as the world) their are plenty of opportunities to grow their community and their learning environments. If we begin to teach them at a young age about how to use the Internet for good, then that will last them their lifetime. But, if we shy away from it, then what are they missing out on?


A Tale of Blended Learning as an Itinerant Teacher: My Pass and Fails…


CC Image via Pixabay by geralt

Did you note the plural on “fail” in the title… Yup, that was on purpose. As a classroom teacher, I really enjoyed using a blended learning approach with my students. I used a flipped classrooms for a science unit, I allowed students to use their own creativity to demonstrate knowledge of an outcome anyway they felt they could- most created a video or used PowerPoint while some wrote and essay or did a live presentation. But my teaching assignment has changed and I find that incorporating blended learning as an itinerant teacher has become much more difficult.


CC Image via Pixabay by Couleur

The first big challenge is the lack of time I get with my classrooms. I see one group of Grade 4 students for 45 minutes a week – and well, let’s face it, it takes them about 20 minutes to log on to a device, find the right website or LMS I am using and then, after the plethora or questions that tend to dominate the small group working on the device, I still have the other students seeking help – and now their classroom teacher is at the door ready to receive her students back. “Okay mes amis, we will pick up from where we were next week!” And so I start all over, again.


CC Image via Pixabay by OpenClipart_Vectors

The next big challenge is finding the support in the classroom. If I am working with a teacher who does not use technology in any way in the classroom (for various, but usually obvious reasons), the students are not able to function with the technology because they don’t necessarily have the “know how”.  And once I finally get it going, my time with that particular class is up. See you all next week…

I won’t say this is the last challenge, because we all know their are many more new and exciting challenges ahead in our careers, but my final challenge for this blog is delivery. Every teacher uses technology differently. Some use LMS platforms, other simply use one function online (Google Docs or web searches) and others are fully integrated. My favourite thing to hear is “Well, our teacher doesn’t want us to use Google Translate.” or “We don’t use Google Classroom because our teacher thinks it’s too complicated.” As an itinerant teacher, I try very hard to keep things as “normal” in the classroom as their teacher. I follow the same expectations or rules that the regular classroom teacher sets up, I make sure the same routines are followed and I try to make my entrance to the class as seamless as possible. But sometimes I can’t quite seem to get past the “Well, our teacher…”. I want to scream “DO I LOOK LIKE YOUR TEACHER?”  Of course I don’t scream it, my internal monologue is screaming, but I feel like, as an itinerant teacher, what I want to do and what I’m limited to doing infringe on who I am capable of being.


CC Image via Pixabay by 3D-Man_eu

Okay – philosophical rant is over! Let me get to the point of this blog. Yup – I deliberately started with the fails of blended learning as an itinerant teacher, but let me share with you a pass that I had this month! It’s Grade 5/6 social studies. Can’t teach the same unit to all the students because, well – those two curriculum are about as different as salt and oil. So, I did a lot of blended learning where I would work with one grade while the other accessed lessons and activities through our Google classroom page. We’d flip flop so that each grade got more individualized and traditional teachings from me, while the other group worked on honing skills. I decided that, for this particular unit, the students would write a test at the end to demonstrate their knowledge. Because I only see them twice a week, I decided to give them 7-8 different websites, YouTube videos or interactive games in order to do additional studying at home to compliment the studying we were doing together. Everything was laid out on Google Classroom. It was perfect!!!


CC Image via Pixabay by eslfuntaiwan

Then came time for the tests! I decided – let’s use Socrative and make the test online! Their new feature allows kids to go back and review and revise their answers! On the plus side – Socrative would correct the test for me so long as I clicked on the right answer or provided it. It was glorious! Most of the students thought it was great! They felt that taking a test online was “cool”. I was happy to get instant results, I could see where each student was at on the test and I could see if a student was struggling with a particular question. At the end, all I had to do was click on “Finish Test” and “Download Results”.

Wait – only “most of the students thought is was great”, what about the ones who didn’t think it was great. Well, they didn’t NOT think it was great, blended learning is all good and all, but it isn’t the answer for the perpetual lazy student. The morning of the test, I was doing 8:37am supervision. A couple of students who were writing the Grade 6 test came up to me and asked “Madame, is their a re-write for this test today?” My inner monologue started up “A re-write? You haven’t even written the test yet? What about all the practicing, learning, Google Classroom sites I provided? Did you not study for this test?” Oh wait, that was my outer-monologue. “Sorry Madame, I didn’t bother with it. So, is there a re-write?” Right- that’s when my inner-monologue started, and I can’t type what I was thinking.

As much as I have plenty of love for blended learning, technology in general and the desire to make sure my students get every learning opportunity available, I find that, as an itinerant teacher, my hands are sometimes tied. I do try my best in the short bursts that I have with my students. And, slowly, more and more teachers are exploring new ways to incorporate technology into their learning styles, but as long as I am the teacher that only comes in once or twice a week, I need to make sure that I don’t overwhelm them with so much. In order for me to deliver what it is that I need to teach in the time I am given, I have to make some concessions and compromises. And that is how I continue to learn and grow as a teacher as well.


Will Adobe “Spark” Something New For Me?

With this being my 4th class with Alec, I am always learning new things, but this particular week challenged me. I needed to find something “new” to try with regards to teaching with technology. A lot of the suggestions put forward by Alec and Katia are ones that I have already tried or am already using as often as possible. It was Jenn that inspired me. She has spoken quite a few time about Adobe Spark and I wasn’t all that familiar with it.


CC image via Flickr by Vernon Chan

Bates wrote:

Different media have different potential or ‘affordances’ for different types of learning. One of the arts of teaching is often finding the best match between media and desired learning outcomes.

These particular sentences resonated with my own personal belief about teaching. No two children are alike, so how can we teach one way to all of the children? Back in my days (yup, I’m about to date myself…), we were only taught one way – with notes, worksheets and textbooks. That was fine for me, but, as I look back on my classes in elementary and secondary school, I can “see” the struggle that some of the students in my classes had. In elementary school, my particular group was known as “that class”. It was quite challenging in terms of behaviour. However, maybe it was because some students were never offered what they needed in order to feel successful. Granted, technology today allows for those students to explore more options in terms of what they need in order to learn. Today, I feel that it is my duty as a teacher to make sure I explore all different types of media that will allow my students to be successful. So I was up for this week’s challenge! I wanted to create something that would supplement our Module Assignment and fit a Grade 3 learning level.


CC image via Pixabay by JeongGuHyeok

I thought I would put together an Adobe Spark Page that described how First Nations used all the parts of the bison. The Smithsonian Institution National Zoo already has an amazing, interactive piece that describes all the parts of the buffalo, so I decided to re-create it using Adobe Spark. I would have likely just directed the students to the Smithsonian link, but I knew that for some students it would be difficult to navigate the very wordy sections. Using Adobe Spark Page, I was able to narrow down the text to just the information they would need. Thankfully, the Smithsonian site has a great terms of use policy that allows for usage with proper attribution, which I greatly appreciated.

I did like using Adobe Spark as a teacher, but I feel it is beyond the capabilities of students younger than Grade 5 without a lot of help from a teacher. I chose to do an Adobe Spark Page because it had the most options I was looking for. I could make it interactive (links), it was visually appealing and it had more features to it.

Adobe Spark Post confuses me. From playing with it, I gather it is simply a “digital poster making” page. I did not see a use for it based on what I was wanting to accomplish.

Adobe Spark Video was my original choice. However, I soon realized that everything needed to be pre-recorded and saved to my laptop. I could not pull from YouTube and it would not connect to my laptop camera. This was a major negative for me. The editing features appeared to be easy to use, but unfortunately, it didn’t have the 1 feature I really wanted: to be able to record directly from my computer or pull video from YouTube. It would appear that I will have to have a chat with Stephanie to see how she managed it!

Adobe Spark Page is a new way to create a PowerPoint or Slides presentation. You do need to have a log in and password to access it, which is always a nightmare when working with younger students. However, as a teacher, it is a new way to provide information to students. The ability to share it with an online link or an HTML embed allows teachers to share the content in various ways with their students.

I would recommend that you give it a try and see if it is for you. I could see myself using it again, but it isn’t necessarily my first choice.

Parts of the Bison

It’s Movie Day in the Classroom!

Circa 1987ish:

“Oh boy! The teacher is setting up the movie projector!”

“I wonder if she’ll pick me to help switch the reels?”

“What are we watching?”

“Who cares – it’s a movie!”

Using movies (or videos) in the classroom has always been a discussion among teachers and parents alike. In fact, this past Friday, our Principal was dealing with parents upset over students watching movies in class over the lunch hour because “it’s too much screen time” and “has no educational value”. Thankfully, the Principal pointed out that lunch hours were not instructional times and, with 30+ students in a lunch room, putting on a movie or Tumblebooks or whatever was at the teachers discretion so long as they comply with the school rules about only showing “G” rated material. If the parent was not satisfied, said student could bring a book to read or simply go home for  lunch- or, ironically enough, play on his/her iPad.

But what about movies during instructional time? Do they hold any educational value? Are they time fillers so teachers can complete their copious amounts of standardized tests? Or rewards for the class who behaves and fills up their reward sheet?

I was never one to show a movie for the sake of showing a movie. There had to be an educational purpose. When learning about Mali in Grade 3 social, we watched the desert section of “Planet Earth” so students could comprehend what a Sub-Saharan country was like. When I teach Shakespeare to Grade 3s, we compare the story of Hamlet to the movie “The Lion King” and the comparisons are shocking, by the way (especially for students in Grade 3).

When Potman wrote:

“…We now know that “Sesame Street” encourages children to love school only if school is like “Sesame Street.” Which is to say, we now know that “Sesame Street” undermines what the traditional idea of schooling represents.”

I don’t feel that Sesame Street, or Sol, or The Wiggles undermine traditional teaching ideologies, I feel that they helped advance them. In my last post, I included a YouTube clip explaining how our school system hasn’t changed much in 150 years,  but cars and telephones have immensely – due to advances in technology. So why are school systems slow to accepting technology as a driver for change? Why are some teachers and schools still allowed to shun technology in the classrooms? Why can’t TV shows, radio and movies help students understand certain outcomes?

In fact,  French Immersion has an outcome specific to using French radio and television in the classroom so students can experience the culture and different accents in French.

RA : 8.VC.3

Démontrer une appréciation* pour les émissions radiophoniques, ou télévisées, ou pour le contenu d’autres moyens de communication audiovisuels d’expression française destinée aux adolescents et aux adolescentes.

When I taught Grade 8,  I would use CBC’s program Oniva to deliver this outcome to our class. Oniva was designed specifically for  students in Fracophone and French Immersion schools in Western Canada.

I have to agree with Andrew in his post that today it seems that educational apps are the major focal points in education. While teachers will still use YouTube occasionally to help explain something, there seems to be more of an emphasis on what kind of apps we are using in the classroom to support learning or the newest educational software for students. I am hearing more teachers asking for subscriptions to Mathletics or Raz-Kids over movie licenses and a hiatus from YouTube due to bandwidth issues. And the latter may be the reason why…

YouTube used to be a go to. But now, our schools are plagued with slow internet and the impossibility of streaming any sort of on online digital video without it buffering. And with the stories of school divisions being sued over illegal use of movies (due to improper licensing), maybe teachers are choosing or being forced to forgo movies and television in the classrooms.

Regardless, I believe that there is a spot in the classroom where viewing can be a beneficial, pedagogical tool. And with regards to teachers having to be “entertaining” in order to ensure that students stay engaged, I’ve spoken with so many people who hated going to school – both teachers and parents. It was boring and repetitive in assignments and just memorization. I remember how that was! Maybe teachers today want the profession to be more entertaining and engaging so that both students and teachers feel like the school is a place where they want to go everyday.


What Kind of Teacher Are You?

PLE/PLN and learning theories by Chris P Jobling, on Flickr
PLE/PLN and learning theories” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Chris P Jobling

Six years ago, I had to teach one of my past University professor’s children. Needless to say, it was quite terrifying to start. I mean, here was a professor who taught me how to teach. How will I measure up? Have I experienced enough to live up to her expectations?

At our first Parent/Teacher/Student conference, I was a bundle of nerves. I didn’t know what or how to prepare for our initial meeting. I was expecting a conversation surrounding outcomes and teaching methods. Her first question however, was nothing I could have anticipated:

“Since having children,” she began, “has the way you taught changed?”

At first, I think I had a lost look on my face. I pondered the question, wondering if it was a trick one. But in the 20 seconds or so that it took me to come up with an answer, I knew that, yes, becoming a parent did change the way I taught.

I don’t think of teaching in terms of educational theories. I’m not one to put fancy names to ways I do things. I don’t operate or think in that fashion in general. But what I do know, is that in my 15 years as an educator, I know that my styles of teachings have changed over the years to meet the needs of my students. Some of that is from becoming a mother and observing first hand how babies learn and grow into toddlers, and how toddlers learn and grow into children. I also had the opportunity to watch that in my classrooms.

My first few years of teaching, I would call myself a “Traditional Teacher”. The kind of teacher that curriculum theorist Franklin Bobbitt would be proud of. I was making sure my students were ready for their next step in life – Grade 2. They needed to be able to read, write, add and subtract. I pushed worksheets, memorization and made sure that they would conform to societies norms and expectations.

After a couple of years, and a particularly “ingenious” idea to get rid of annual “messy desks” speech, I decided to get rid of my rows upon rows of students and bring in round tables. This small change would begin a major shift in the way I taught my students.

I guess this is where I began to move away from the Bobbitt approach to teaching and lean more towards John Dewey‘s way of experiencing learning. This is where I adopted a more constructivist model of learning with my students. I would observe my students sharing what they were doing with those around them. They would support each others learning, discuss ideas and debate answers. I remember one student grabbing manipulatives to show a table-mate how to make groups for multiplying because he knew that that student needed hands on materials to help with his learning.

This supportive environment allowed my students to become more socially aware of those who they worked with. Now, it wasn’t all roses and diamonds… There were definitely some students who couldn’t handle themselves in groups and needed a more defined space to work. But that was adapting to the needs of the students. Some students thrive with a more constructivist approach to learning, while others require a more behaviouralist approach.  Regardless of how they are learning, the important fact is, is that they are learning.

Today, some classrooms and schools are adopting more “modern” ways of teaching. Inquiry based learning, genius hours and Makerspaces are dominating conversations throughout schools. Technology has also played a huge part in the shift of classrooms. I remember having 1 computer in my classroom and using programs to help students learn to type. Now, students are coming in with their own devices in Grade 2 already savvy enough to download apps and search Google for answers to pressing science questions.

I recently viewed a YouTube clip called “I Just Sued The School System!” which described how archaic our school systems can be and how we need to allow change to happen.  Some school divisions are excelling at allowing changes to happen in individual classrooms and schools. But this isn’t always the case and some teachers, division offices and (mostly) parents feel that kids should learn the way they did 20 years ago. I personally believe that small changes help others “get their feet wet” and allow them to see why these changes are beneficial to our students.

Cars didn’t evolve overnight from a Model-T to a Minivan. Cars changed as society changed and as technology advanced. So too must our education system.

1925 Ford Model T by ** RCB **, on Flickr
1925 Ford Model T” (CC BY 2.0) by ** RCB **
IMG_0463 by mjfmjfmjf, on Flickr
IMG_0463” (CC BY 2.0) by mjfmjfmjf