Monday, December 29, 2014

Fall 2014 Reflections Part Two: Getting Started with Self-directed Learning

This is my 23rd year of teaching and, by far the most groundbreaking for me. This summer, through Twitter, I found out about Genius Hour.  I learned more through the many links on Twitter and the comprehensive Live Binder created by Joy Kirr. I regularly blog about our work this year with self-directed learning. In this two part reflection, I want to share excerpts from my posts with the focus of how we got started (Reflection Post 2) and then ongoing progress (Reflection Post 3). 

Self-directed Learning: Getting Started

I am very excited about incorporating self-directed learning into my curriculum. I work with two awesome fifth grade teachers who embraced the idea when I shared it with them. Great to not be doing this alone! 

We had two sessions where we got all the fifth graders together to brainstorm ideas and do an activity to see what a project might look like.

Now we are working with the students in our homeroom only. The students filled out a survey about their strengths, interests, life experiences, etc. They also listed whether they had an idea for a topic and project.

I have met with 8 students the past two days. Each initial student conference lasts about 10 minutes. It is time consuming in the beginning, but once they get going, the conferences will simply be me checking in on progress and facilitating learning/process. 

Self-directed Learning
Students are learning how to research their topic and are taking two column notes: main idea/details. Also, in their spirals, students are writing reflections about the process. This week, I have a surprise for my students. They will each have their own blog on Kidblog. This will raise the stakes for the kids since now their work will be seen by the world! I am hoping to share my students' work with my Twitter PLN  and Facebook friends and get some immediate feedback for students. Please read their blogs and leave positive comments!!

New Developments with SDL

Students are almost ready to start blogging about the process of self-directed learning. My teammates and I drafted a permission letter to parents explaining Kidblog and online safety guidelines. Students will get their passwords when they pass in the signed permission slip. 

It was exciting, earlier this week, when @joykirr contacted me through Twitter about putting my blog on the Genius Hour live binder. She also put me in contact with @robynthiessen who facilitates the Global Genius Hour Project.  Our self-directed learning blogs will be part of this project. Students around the world will see Room 16's blogs! We will be able to see others' blogs and share praise and feedback. I will explain this to my class tomorrow. They will be excited, I  am sure!

We have been lucky to have access to the computer lab the last two weeks. Not anymore. Time to get creative with laptop/ iPad accessibility.

Learning to draw

Building a Lego City

Ice Age Interests

Researching Goalie Jerry Cheevers

Sewing Project Runway Wannabe

Blogging Begins

On Friday, I gave my fifth grade students the blogging permission form and told them that they will get their passwords when they return the signed form. As of today, there is only one student who has not returned the form. Many are blogging and commenting. They love it!

Of the 20 forms I have received, only six parents did not sign permission for their students faces to be seen. That was surprising to me. I thought more parents would be wary of this. I was pleasantly surprised.

I am creating mini lessons to improve the quality of my students' blogs, as well as a kid friendly blogging rubric.

With Kidblog, I approve all blogposts and comments before the public sees them. I like having that safety net!

Please read my students' blogs and leave encouraging, helpful comments. If you have trouble getting on to the blog, please let me know. I may need to double check my settings. I think it is ready to go though!

We Have an Audience

Our progress with blogging is exciting! Students are thrilled to be getting comments from all over North America,  as well as the Bahamas and New Zealand! Our blog has over 4,000 views after one week of blogging!

Now that students see they have an audience, they are stepping up their game for sure! I am almost done with the blogging rubric. I shared it with my team and am revising based on their feedback. I will share it when done. I shared examples of great kid blogs and will be showing them how to cite sources next week after our overnight field trip. The rubric will also clarify what is expected and includes relevant standards.

Here are a few pictures that show examples of posts and comments, but please visit our site   read the blogs, and leave a comment! You will make their day! 

Blogging Rubric

Here is the blogging rubric that I created for my students' self directed learning blogs. It is a work in progress. I was inspired by an article I saw on Twitter, "Your Rubric is a Hot Mess: Here's How to Fix It," posted by Jennifer Gonzalez. The single point rubric is just brilliant! We tend to look at the "Meets" column while grading a rubric, so why not just have that on the rubric with space for not meeting and a space for exceeding. Our report cards are standards based anyway, so this is more organic/informative about each child's progress. As much as possible, I used the language on our report cards...common core standards. I recommend the article and feel free to use and tweak this rubric for your needs.

Blogging Rubric
Student: ____________________________                          Month: __________________

Room to Grow
Progress Towards Standard
On Target
Standards for this Performance
Above and Beyond
Evidence of Exceeding Standards
Criteria 1: 
Clear and Coherent Writing
The student clearly expresses original ideas and stays on topic. Writing is appropriate for the audience. Each post has at least 5 sentences.
Criteria 2: 
The student wrote at least one post a week. 
Criteria 3: 
Follows the Writing Process 
The student’s posts show improvement from planning to final draft due to drafting, revising, and editing. 
Criteria 4: 
Prod./Distribution of Writing
The student commented on other blogs at least once a week. If applicable, the student cited others in their research and writing.
Criteria 5: 
Use of Media
The student enhanced their blog by regularly using video, audio,   images or other media


Sunday, December 28, 2014

Fall 2014 Reflections Part One: Classroom Setup and Book Talks

Due to summer professional reading, EdCamps, the Scholastic Reading Summit and Twitter sharing/chats, I have incorporated many changes in my classroom, as well as enhanced former practices. So at the calendar year end, I feel the need to reflect on this school year so far. 

Classroom Set Up
My blogposts about this topic: July 24, July 30, August 27, Sept. 11

After seeing many tweets from educators who had transformed their classrooms into creative working spaces, I was inspired to do the same. First, I got rid of my cumbersome teacher desk. It opened up a good amount of space in my room to have three tables. We didn't have enough tables to seat all students, so I kept some student desks and clustered them together to form two more "tables." The desks are turned around so that they are empty and easy to move around. Students have areas around the room for their materials and there are no longer messy desks to clean! This new setup created spaces around the room for students to work, not just at the tables/desks. Our classroom library has a larger hangout space now too.

Book Talks
My blogposts about this topic: July 17, Oct.17, and Nov. 26

Going to Alice Ozma's workshop on Book Talk Clubs at the Scholastic Reading Summit this summer was motivating, as well as challenging to me. How would I make this work within the school day, during Reading Workshop? 

I announced the opportunity to students and those who were interested met with me during workshop time once a week. They were given two weeks to read their books and then students wrote drafts of their book talks. It was interesting to watch students give each other feedback. They were able to successfully identify what needed improvement in each other's writing and give advice on how to make it better. Once revisions were complete, an educator from the local television station came to teach the booktalk club how to use the film camera and edit their talks. The talks were then posted on YouTube. 

I am pleased with how the first round of book talks went, and now we are tweaking and changing things up for round two! Incorporating QR codes on books in our library that link to videos and audio book talks is one project in the works. 

I will share more reflections in the next post which is all about self-directed learning. I may do a third post about math and other topics as well.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Evolution of Our Blog

The blogging we are doing for self-directed learning is fantastic. A few days ago, I reflected on the progress the students have made and how much stronger their writing is getting. I know I want to continue the post a week assignment. However, there are a lot of things that the kids want to blog about and this week I changed the focus a bit. 

Students need to write a self directed learning post two times a month and the other two posts a month can be any other school/learning related topic they want to write about that week. Many will do more than one a week now that they can write about anything. From their comments, you can see they are psyched!

Students are already venturing out to new topics. This week, every day, I have heard students saying, "Hey, you should blog about that!" In math, three boys were working on an enrichment word problem and asked if they could blog about their process and eventual success in solving it. I was thrilled! It will be fun to see how this blog evolves even more now that they have more freedom of topics!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Differentiation and Flipping

This year, for the first time, my team decided to reframe homework to make it more purposeful. Many aspects have been going well. Due to circumstances beyond our control, however, we are having to give math homework every night, Monday-Thursday. To make it the most purposeful learning experience for our students, we will differentiate the homework and also some nights it will be a flipped lesson, watching a video at home to prepare for the next day's lesson.

I am researching the best screencast options and put out a question about it on Twitter to see which one people like the most. One of my teammates likes Screencast- o -matic. 

We use the Singapore Math/ Math in Focus program. It includes reteach, practice and enrich resources, so I will use that to differentiate when I do send something home. I will not send the same page home for everyone. 

Also, our team discussed that 20 minutes is a reasonable amount of time considering we do not want to cut into their reading time and time to work on their self-directed learning projects. Not to mention, studying for any check-ins/quizzes/and tests that may be coming up. We will make it clear to the students that they should not work beyond twenty minutes, especially if they are struggling with the work. Sometimes, homework will be to look over the day's class work to become more familiar with the steps, etc.Differentiating will hopefully avoid some of the homework with tears. I hope to share and reflect more on this topic in this blog.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Collaborations and Presentations


One of my students is working on stop motion animation and taught interested students how to use the Lego Animator app.

Here is the link to his blog page that includes some short videos.

Another interesting collaboration is with two students who want to start an online baking business. They want fifty percent of their profits to go to charity. They hatched their idea this week during SDL time.

More students have presented projects the past couple of weeks.


This student's presentation was very well planned and lasted 20 minutes.

Gerry Cheevers:




Wednesday, December 3, 2014

SDL Magic: Penn is Such a Nice Guy!

One of my students was inspired to study magic for his self-directed learning project after seeing an amazing magician during an overnight school trip. When I met with this student a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that I had a friend that knew Penn Jillette of Penn & Teller fame. I contacted this friend who contacted Penn. His directions were for Kevin to come up with five questions to be answered. Below are the questions and Penn's answers. What a guy!!

1. When did you start doing magic and what or who inspired you? 

I started doing magic when I was 18.  That's when I met Teller.  He changed my mind about magic and magicians. He showed me that it was a true art form that could be done in a way that respected the audience and was truthful.  That was a major change in my attitude towards magic.

2. How did you learn to do all the tricks you do? Did you have a mentor? 

I learned the tricks I know by reading, studying other magicians and tons of practice. My biggest mentors are James "The Amazing" Randi, Johnny Thompson and Teller.

3. What is some advice you would give a young magician?  

Practice, practice, practice.  Be completely original and different than anyone else.  Find one skill that you are good at and hone it until you are better than anyone else.

4. What are the best resources to learn more about tricks and illusions?  

There are hundreds and hundreds of books and now with the web, your access to information on magic is limitless.

5. What is a simple trick or illusion that I can perform for my classmates?  

Our National Magic Trick, known as the "thumb tip and hanky" is a great trick to do for classmates.  Send us your address and we'll send you one along with our special Penn & Teller trick cards.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

My Latest Self-Directed Learning Post

I told my students at the beginning of the year that I would not assign anything that I haven't done myself. With blogging, I am going through what the students are going through. At times, not knowing what to write about, or working all week to make a post the best it can be.

Along with my personal blog, I am also posting on our class blog about my SDL project. Like some of the students, I changed my topic when it wasn't as interesting or motivating as I thought it would be. Now I have a topic that I could write about for the rest of my life! Relieved really. I have empathy for students struggling with this. 

Another great benefit to blogging myself is that I can model how to cite sources, use my own words to share research, write in depth about a topic, use appropriate media, etc.

Here is the link to my Kidblog SDL page: