Thursday, 28 November 2013

Rhythms with Drums, Patterning with Rhythm

For many years I have introduced my class to Stomp. They loved the ideas presented in the video, and I would guide them, teaching specific beats, rhythms, and techniques. I would give them different materials to play with, and we would have a good time. 
Live performance of Stomp.
This year I have tried to step back as we have been working through a project-based learning model. Instead of specifically telling my class what I wanted them to do, I just showed them the video. I didn't micromanage any part of what happened after they watched Stomp. I showed the video, and then I let them think about what they would like to do. As a result I have seen more great ideas, and unique ways to create the performance, than in any of the other years I have taught.

Unique sounds with unique instruments.
Students were coming up with their own ideas, their own beats and rhythms, and putting it all together quickly. In the past when I tried to get this independent thought process going, it was a bit of a struggle. This year I have a class that is developing confidence in thinking for themselves. It has become natural, they are no longer constantly looking to an adult for answers. They formed drumming circles and started to jam.

Lots of "found" instruments creating different sounds.
Playing with the different ways to make sounds with an instrument.

Happily this confidence continued when I issued a challenge to the class at the end of our jam session. We have been studying patterning, and I asked them to represent their drumming somehow as a pattern. As a BYOD class, I had everything from paper and pencil, whiteboards, to music apps on devices. There was a great variety of answers, and they all made sense and showed the rhythms, beats, and/or instruments that groups had been using. I think fractions might be discovered next as we explore at the different rhythms in class.

Actual instruments visually represented with the number representing percussion.
Recreating the pattern in Garage Band.
Pattern represented with sequence of musical notes.

Stomp is going to be our Christmas performance this year. I was hoping they would think of that! As we use technology daily, my students are naturally think ing of how to integrate some of the technology into the show as well. When someone mentioned it would be cool to see a video close up of the drummers techniques while they are on stage, another student suggested using Facetime with two iPads: one filming the close ups of the performance, and the other broadcasting the video to a projector. 

The most exciting part is that they have three weeks to create their performance. The scariest part, as a former micromanaging teacher, is that I have no idea what it is going to look like yet. But I am sure that it is going to be fun, engaging, and memorable!

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Mystery Province with Google Hangouts and Today's Meet

My class had a pretty cool experience today. We met up, hung out and talked with Bridget Scott's class in Prince Edward Island. We used Google Hangouts to meet and ask questions to try and discover which Province the other class is from. Students also asked each other questions via Today's Meet, trying to glean clues from the other class. I have been trying for a while to set up meetings with classes in other Provinces. The trick is knowing which social network to use.

I tried to set up meetings with teachers outside of Ontario through Google+ and Twitter. I am fairly new to the whole PLN thing, and I was very impressed by how quickly people were jumping in, and offering to help. The hard part is getting it organized with another teacher in a different province, and time zone, and coordinating when we are studying Provinces and Territories. 

I found, a great site set up by Brent Catlett. This was perfect for finding classes in the United States, and other countries, but less so for Provinces. Brent was however, very helpful and set me up with educators in other Provinces. 

I set up a Google community for Canadian Teachers who want to meet up with classes from other Provinces. It hasn't quite gotten off the ground yet (5 members if I include myself). I thought this would be a good idea for other teachers, as this is a unit of study across Canada in Grades 4 or 5. 

I also tried to find people through Twitter, and had some success there as well, but it wasn't coming easily. I know that I have to connect with more people to make Twitter work better. I have people I follow from BC, and Ontario, but other Provinces are harder. 
I would love an opportunity to connect with a class from the Yukon, Nunavut, or North West Territories, but no luck yet.

So I turned to a social network I hadn't thought of before. I asked fellow co-workers, and parents of the students I taught, or have taught in the past. Everybody knows someone, or has a cousin out east, ect. This has been the most successful Social Network so far. I imagine as I meet more people on Twitter, and through Google+, I will make more connections there as well. In the end, it doesn't really matter which social network the help comes from, the best part is just how helpful everyone is. Thanks to everyone who helped me make a connection!

Friday, 22 November 2013

Recipe: One Kid-Created Play, with a Dash of SAMR

I was so proud of my students on Wednesday evening. They had been working on a play that they performed for their parents, and they pulled it off without a hitch! The reason it was so impressive was because they had total ownership of the design, backdrop, props, set, and all changes to the script. As we have been working in an inquiry-based model this year, there have been a lot of opportunities for students to shine in class when they share their learning, or creations. But the play was something everyone came together to do, and I wasn't exactly sure if it would all turn out.

As a teacher used to leading everything, I stepped back and let them figure out what they need to change and what they need to do to make it successful. The end result wasn't perfect, but it sure was amazing! The excitement on stage was palpable, and they did an awesome job of acting. 

The growth I've seen in my students is hard to describe. They have carried this project through, took on all the work themselves, and have become successful in producing their very own finished product. Everything was designed and made by the students. They used digital technology to create backgrounds with Minecraft, which were very effective in giving a backdrop to every scene. 

They used technology to record their voices over a music track in a loop it so that it would play in between each scene, giving information to their audience. They designed, built and modified a web page for the play until they were happy with the result. The website shared information about the upcoming play with families, and also with students from another school. Their self-authored website is here.

We were lucky enough to be able to perform our play for a live audience at our school, and a virtual audience as well. We wanted to share our play with students from another school. We realized we had to figure out a way to do it without busing them here. Happily, technology was there to make it easy for us. Using a Google Hangout, we were able to link up with the class and not only have a live audience, but also a virtual audience watching our play all at the same time. The definite highlight of the day for me was the first time I heard virtual laughter streaming out of the computer as the other class watched the play. 

This is the SAMR model of how people use technology, developed by Ruben R. Puentedura, Ph.D. This helped me to think about how we could best utilize technology when working on our play. I had heard of this concept for the first time this year, and it really fit with what we were doing in class. It forced me to look critically at how I am using technology, and to make me really think about how I could better use it to expand our learning opportunities. Reflecting on my own practice, I could see that the top two levels were what I wanted to achieve this year. That is when I decided we would try to promote, and share our play with others beyond the four walls of our school. The resulting experience was well worth the effort.

I would like to sincerely thank Mr. Michael Frey and his class. They were on the other side of the Google Hangout, and they provided us with critical feedback the following day through Today's Meet.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Inquiry-Based Learning+Open-Ended Math (Student Choice+Student Voice)=Engagement!

Differentiation and engagement: two big concepts for me in my class this year. When I am able to ensure that both are a part of my teaching, then I know that students will have opportunities to be successful. 

Over the last couple of years I have been using more open-ended math questions. These are math questions that have more than one possible solution, or more than one possible way to solve the problem. It gives students choice, and that allows them to really think about the math they know, and what mathematical strategies they can use to solve real-life problems. 

For me, the best part of open-ended math questions is the multiple levels from which students can engage with the problem. Everyone can get the answer, using their own level of ability, and feel successful in their mathematical learning.
For example: If I want to know what two numbers could be subtracted to equal 123, I could get two very different answers from students:

  234                                   9, 012
111        or                      - 8,889
  123                                       123

I have found this increases the confidence of students who would  be overwhelmed by a page of 30 math facts, and take over an hour to complete the page. They can do the math, but not as quickly as other students. In the same way, I don't have students done in ten minutes, claiming they are bored. Everyone is engaged at their level.

This year inquiry-based learning has really expanded the opportunities in math. Open-ended questions have become even more open-ended as we use more personal choice and technology to create, remix, and design our math work. Students love having the choice, and when the opportunity is available, they will stretch their thinking with topics that are of high interest.

Today I posted a math problem on the whiteboard.

                "The answer is 7323.
             What was the question?"

Everyone decided what their question would be about. Then they searched for images using CC Search. The math was figured out on scrap paper, on whiteboards, or directly on devices. 

One of the added bonuses with BYOD and technology in general is that paper use is greatly reduced. I have seen on Twitter that some classes have measured how much paper they have reduced over a year, and calculated how many trees they have saved. It sounds like something we might like to do at the end of the year, maybe we can plant a tree to celebrate. In our class this year, variety is the spice of life. Everyday is different, and that is starting to become the "same old, same old".

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Inquiry-Based Learning in a BYOD class

I attended a workshop this summer on Inquiry-Based Learning. It is happening in Kindergarten this year in our school, and it seems to be a fantastic way to engage the students in class. I wanted to bring this approach into my classroom this year. I tried this in a limited way last year, we called it "20% Time". I had heard about this at a Google Summit I attended in Kitchener, and it was very intriguing. So after Grade 6 testing was finished, the last month of school, my students were involved in several projects around the room. Some were instantly engaged in an activity they wanted to pursue, others joined in to something they thought was interesting, but in the end everyone got involved in something. It was difficult for the students at first, because they were so used to being told what they were doing, and what they need to learn.

This year I decided it would have to be a consistent part of my classroom culture if it was going to be successful. It would have to be something we do, an organic part of the learning that goes on in the room. It was hard to understand how it would look, or how it would work, or even if it would work. But I was determined to give it a try.  We created an "Awesome Ideas" board in our room. Students could post ideas here that they would like to do in class.

At first I thought that the whole class should be involved, a project that everyone was excited about. We were reading a book that the class really loved, and I thought they might really enjoy turning it into a play, so I started planting the idea with little hints. It worked, and the whole class has been excited and focused on creating, and practicing their play to perform for others. When we are working on this task everyone is engaged and focused, they are making something that they wanted to do, and they are naturally interested, as it is their own creation.

Engaging the whole class doesn't always work though. It is a group of students with many different interests, so they will naturally gravitate towards different things. I decided to create a space in the room for their ideas, so we could put them up for everyone to see. I initially thought this would spur everyone on to the same idea, but instead it helped me. I began to see that they have different ideas, that are all really great ideas. This was when I began to realize that my model of an Inquiry-Based class would have to change.

With their own devices at school, and the internet at their fingertips, students are starting to realize just how quickly they can learn about something they are interested in. We have spent time learning how to search effectively to find the information we want.

Two girls came in from recess and asked if they could do some research on berries they had found at recess. I let them slip off to work on it, as they were willing to share their results with the class. They came back, and asked if they could speak to the Principal. It turns out that the berries are poisonous and the girls saw younger students playing near them. They were concerned, thinking they might be poisonous. They presented their information to the Principal, backing up their argument with the research they had done on the internet.

On Friday, our class was working together on something that I thought everyone would be engaged in. However, there were three boys at the back of the room who were not. They're currently interested in slingshots, and had created a model out of paper clips and elastics. My first instinct was to tell them to put them into their backpacks and pay attention to the lesson. I realized that they still wouldn't be engaged in what I was teaching. How do I get them to work, and to learn something?

"Those are actually pretty cool, I like the design of them. Would you like to write a blog post about how you designed and built them?" Three excited faces nodded. Off they went, and they were focused until the lunch bell rang. Next week I think they might want to learn how the slingshot has been used throughout history. They could be researching on the internet, reading about a topic that is a high interest topic for them, analyzing information and deciding what to share with others about slingshots. A well placed question might get them researching how the Aboriginals in Canada used slingshots and that might lead to the other weapons that were typically used.

It is hard to take a step back and give up some of the control. I have always been the voice at the front of the class, sharing knowledge, inventing fun and interesting ways to try to get everyone involved in the lesson. Now I am beginning to realize that there are 24 people in our room with great ideas, and varying areas of interest. As we learn about all the great things that catch our interest, my role is to ensure that we still cover the curriculum. I am still the leader and I still have a vision of where we need to get to, but there is more than one path we can take, and as Robert Frost wrote:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.