Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Blogging Basics for Parents of Classroom Bloggers

Recently, John D’Arcy and I co-hosted a CISPA parent information session about our new CDNIS Lower School blogs. New to CDNIS this year, a Wordpress platform is being used by all classrooms, teachers, Grade 5/6 students, parents, administrators and specialist teachers. It has been a huge learning curve, setting up individual access points, interconnected and open to all participants, to form a massive collective community of learners. Now the entire Lower School community can access and participate within this virtual area for enhanced communication and sharing of learning, achievements and general school news. The 5D DISCO blog is a great 'jumping in' point! 
If you weren’t able to make it to the presentation, you can view my presentation PREZI file below and please feel free to ask your own questions here in the form of a comment. I look forward to hearing more from you!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Students: as Children, as Gamers, as Leaners

Children are engaged when they game. Children revel and excel at play. Children enjoy fair competition. Children love to learn.
Students aren't allowed to game. Students rarely get to play. Students are discouraged from being competitive. Students disregard learning.

When did playing a game, refining one's skills, honing self-awareness and challenging one's personal best somehow begin to be seen as non-synonymous with learning? When children play challenging games, in the physical or the virtual world, they are exemplifying an authentic love of learning.

As educators, we are responsible for creating 21st century learning environments for our students and ourselves. This climate must be real. We must stop calling the world outside of school, the real world. We need to acknowledge the attachment children have to gaming, encourage it and start to understand that it is reflective of a passion for challenge, growth and continued learning. Let gaming invade your classroom!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Student Portfolios & Learning Reviews

It's that time of year again, the first time our students take home their beloved red binders to share their learning with their families. Last year, our school piloted an alternative assessment and reporting strategy which included compiling portfolios of student learning throughout the year. The main idea is that this red binder can more authentically represent a student’s growth and development over a grade level year, when compared to a traditional report card.

In my classroom, key elements for developing these portfolios include:

  • Student ownership and investment
  • Awareness of progress and development
  • Demonstration of knowledge, skills and understanding
  • Communication in the form of written feedback between teacher, student and parents
  • Reflection of the student as a learner, fostering metacognition
  • Celebration of achievements, abilities and strengths
Here is a video that I produced as an informative tool for families going through this transition from traditional reporting to what I believe is a more authentic and realistic representation and assessment of a child's learning over time.

Three-way learning reviews include parents + student + teacher and focus on a discussion of the child's strengths and accomplishments. A highlight is setting goals for the upcoming reporting period and possibly for the rest of the year. This goal-setting task is not easy, but as we develop these habits over time, I have begun to observe students' understanding and conceptualization of their own learning styles, strengths and needs. Students who are in control of their learning are ultimately more empowered to challenge themselves and develop confidence in who they are as learners.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

School Music Videos

My first introduction to making music videos with students was watching the delight that Mr. Malkin took in editing and creating Paleta with at Colegio Bolivar in Cali, Colombia. This video, you'll notice, has more than 33 thousand views!

Since becoming a homeroom teacher myself, I have made a point of having a class song each year. It must be a song that we can all learn the lyrics, one which we appreciate because it has a meaningful message and that hopefully we find very fun to sing along to. Working with Gr. 5 means that I need to be careful in my song selections (possibly a little more careful than Mr. Malkin was back in 2005 when he let his Gr. 9 students choose a Daddy Yankee song with scandalous lyrics and pretty inappropriate innuendoes).

In 2008-2009 my class, The 5E Explorers, memorized and recreated, Michael Jackson's We Are The World That was a blast! In 2009-2010 we learned the Black Eyes Peas' song, Where Is The Love? And although we never actually made a final production, we often had fun taking pictures and even recorded a few clips throughout the school of us reenacting the original video. In general we listen to and watch music videos at least once a week for most of the school year in Grade 5.

For this year, the 5D DJs haven't chosen a song yet and I'm not sure that we'll really have time to make a music video, but I have a couple songs in mind if we do get around to it.

Today in class we watched a wonderfully creative video-off. The following videos were produced by film classes in rival high schools in Seattle, Shorewood and Shorecrest, as a sort of video battle. First, Shorecrest created their version of Hey Ya!

Then, Shorewood responded to the challenge with this, 

Both videos, playing with lipdub and reverse video techniques, included almost the entire school body. I think it's pretty entertaining stuff, these energetic and enthusiastic student-centered videos. If the effects don't quite make sense to you, or you're not sure why these videos are amazing, then watch this video, which shows behind the scenes of the Shorecrest video, explaining how was originally filmed (with the leads walking backwards) and also with some filmer commentary that also might help to make more sense of it.

Of course, these videos circulated like crazy about a year ago and created a buzz of excitement. Schools everywhere wanted to join in the fun, boost school-wide spirit and be famous on the internet! Some schools responded with videos of their own, not done in authentic reverse video style, but in a way parodying this new genre of teenage hit project, sometimes termed the "Hall Rock" (this is actually a really great example of reverse video made by CLC (Communications Learning Community) high school program).

Today in Gr. 5, after showing these 2 clips and attempting to explain (somewhat unsuccessfully) to 10-year olds, exactly what these videos involve from a filming and editing perspective, one of my students showed me this little beauty.

I am pretty sure that I had a lot more fun watching this than my students did, mostly because they can't quite conceptualize exactly what the backwards choreography entails. I think it's just plain amazing!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Cross-Class Summative Task

Amidst what I thought was a moment of fantastical creativity, which would undoubtedly be dismissed as unrealistic by my teaching colleagues, I devised and proposed the idea that our Summative Task for our second Unit of Inquiry of the year be one where we divide the students into groups cross-classes, having one team member from each class (5A, 5B, 5C, 5D, 5E). This design model means that teachers will work as mentors with specific groups, giving them the opportunity to work with students they don't know yet. It also gives the students to opportunity to work with other students they normally don't see during class time. My Gr. 5 teaching team is enthusiastically on-board plus approval and support from the curriculum coordinators and we're a go! It could have turned into a logistical nightmare, but we figured it out and have mashed together a schedule fairly straight forwardly with blocks of class time where we all have classroom programme time together in the mornings. 

The students will work collaboratively on a WebQuest that I have been constructing about Matter & Materials. Each individual student will be assessed on their teamwork, cooperative group decision making and conflict resolution. The groups will be assessed for their presentation of knowledge and application of skills conducting research, evaluating online sources, problem solving and critical thinking. The project gives the students the opportunity to work independently and authentically practice their reflective writing skills with a detailed daily project journal.

Here is a link to the completed WebQuest. It focuses on the groups preparing a project about a material that they have chosen to investigate. They will present their findings in a Gallery Walk for all classes to see, after 2 weeks of project work. It was an awesome learning experience and Quest Garden is a great tool to use if you're starting out, especially to familiarize yourself with all aspects and relevant reasons for creating a WebQuest.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Creating a WebQuest

The Grade 5 team has begun planning our next unit of inquiry under the transdisciplinary umbrella of how the world works. A heavily science-based unit, which involves investigating the ways humans use scientific principles of matter and materials as well as how matter undergoes changes.
The unit will be presented to the students as an inquiry into:
- how we use the scientific principles of chemistry (concept: function)
- the challenges/benefits that can result when we change matter to create materials (concept: causation)
- what causes changes in matter to occur (concept: causation)

For the students' summative task, in order to demonstrate and apply their understanding of what we've learned throughout the unit, they will do a guided inquiry in the form of a WebQuest. For this task, I've decided to learn about designing WebQuests from scratch, in order to create a product that is authentically formulated and connected to this unit of inquiry, specifically. I began my research at WebQuest.org the ultimate birthplace of the WebQuest.

Your first question may be, "What is  WebQuest?" From the website you will discover that a WebQuest is an inquiry-oriented, constructivist lesson format that involves completing an interesting and doable task that relates to a real life activity in which most or all of the information that learners work with comes form the web. The model was created by the legendary, Bernie Dodge at San Diego State University.

A WebQuest allows students to take on certain roles and often work collaboratively in the classroom to complete the assigned task. There is a high level of ownership over the learning process and project process, while the teacher can step back, observe, evaluate and assess where students are in their learning journey. The growth and development becomes experiential, as students have a road map of the required learning, but do not know the best route or what the destination actually looks like until they get there. 

So my learning journey about designing and developing our very own Matter & Materials WebQuest, could actually be looked upon in the same way as the students setting off on their own WebQuests. I used the WebQuest.org website to find everything I needed to understand the design elements and structural considerations, including a 30-day trial to QuestGarden: Where Great Quests Grow. Here, I was blown away by the amazing amount of resources and guidance that the site delivers to its users. Take for example the page about choosing design patterns, which outlines that templates can be organized in terms of the dominant thinking verb that underlies them. The fives thinking verbs which inspire higher-level thinking, derived from Bloom's taxonomy, are: design, decide, create, analyze and predict.  

If you're an educator who is interested in using a WebQuest with your class, this is the place to start. If you're an educator who is ready for the challenge of creating your own WebQuest, this is the place to start. I will include a link to my WebQuest once it's fully active, so you can see the results.

Monday, September 27, 2010


As a special event in our current unit of inquiry, this morning we welcomed a guest speaker (and school parent) to tell us about a project that he has been involved in for the past 2 years, called Intersect! For their summative task, our students are creating a new invention in the realm of communication technology. In this project they will demonstrate their understanding of how communication technologies function in society, as well as how they connect people and their audiences, thus becoming a tool for self expression and the sharing of ideas and information.

To kick off the presentation, our guest speaker, Mr. Stacey Baird, showed us a quick video introduction to Intersect! To my surprise and delight it was a scribed animation clip, not unlike the RSAnimate ones I blogged about yesterday on the LEARN portion of this blog. This is really catching on.

Intersect! is still in beta development and is worth checking out. It rivals Facebook as a way to connect people and communities through multi-layered stories, intersecting space and time, creating a collection of shared memories and experiences.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

How We Express Ourselves with Communication Technology

In my classroom, 5D, we’ve kicked off out 1st unit of inquiry of the year. It is a unit based on the transdisciplinary theme, How We Express Ourselves and the central idea is, “Changes in communication technology create different types of connections between people and their audience.” 

This is a very exciting unit for this grade level, because within the first week of school all of my students receive their very own macbook pro which is part of a 1:1 learning and teaching technology program designed to integrate technology into our IB curriculum. The computers stay in specialized cabinets where they can be charged and locked at night.

As an integral part of this unit, we began learning about blogs. Blogs are a fantastic way for people communicate their ideas to a global audience. My class will soon start their own student blogs and we will continue to use our classroom blog to share what's going on, start conversations, ask questions and eventually strengthen our school community by giving everyone a platform for their voice as well as an audience to receive them.

This week we dug more deeply into our unit of inquiry. We are creating time-lines of important changes in communication technology throughout history as well as learning about ways that communication technology connects us to people and communities around the world. The 5D DJs have begun a journey into the wonderful world of PREZI an online presentation maker program.

Another great inspiration came from watching the following TED talk by Pranav Mistry about his ideas for the future of technologies that allow humans to interact with their physical environments in different and new ways. Although some of the ideas here seem far fetched and hard to completely comprehend, the students drew out many ideas and inspirations for their summative task for this unit. They will have to invent a communication technology of the future, demonstrating their understanding of what a communication technology is, how it can be used by people around the world and how it creates connections between people. There should be some fantastic projects that come out of this working task and who knows, maybe even the next big ideas for an invention in communication technology will be born in the 5D Disco!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Welcome to the 5D Classroom

Welcome to our Grade 5 class! We are in an International Baccalaureate school in Hong Kong. As an outdoor and experiential-learning educator who dreams of a classroom with no walls, but is currently confined to small spaces, I inspire my indoor teaching and learning with a fierce passion for technological integration which can help dissolve the physical confines of space. Our classroom is a high-energy, differentiated, culturally diverse, internationally-minded, inquiry-based, typhoon of learning and growing.