Sunday, 13 January 2019

Snow Day Dreaming

This week, my class was lamenting the lack of Snow Days this year.  This may be something that many City schools don't have much experience with.  But for any kid that rides a school bus (and that's most of my class), the dream of a Snow Day starts in November and doesn't die until late April. We often have a few each year. This school year, there hasn't been one yet.



Early in the week there was a forecast for Snow Squalls in our region, and that got the Snow Day talk fired up.  I reminded them of my theory about Snow Days.  If you talk about them before they happen, you've jinxed it.  You cannot talk about it and you should avoid thinking about the possibility of one.  For a Snow Day to occur, there has to be the right mix of weather conditions, happening at just the right timing (so the roads can't be cleared before the bus routes begin), with the important element of no expectation of it.  If you are dreaming of a Snow Day, you have to keep that dream as a silent little kernel of hope in the back of your mind.  Say the words, "Snow Day" and you can pretty much guarantee you will be at school the next day.  They said the words.  Hence, no Snow Day this week.



I got a little nostalgic talking about this with them.  Or maybe I'm just reading too many of Doug Peterson's "Whatever happended to.." blog posts.  As an adult, Snow Days don't have the same excitement for me as they did when I was a kid.  In my 24 years in the classroom, they have only closed the school twice.  So, for adult me, a Snow Day means that I will be bundling up in my heavy coat and snowmobile boots for the miserable drive into school on hazardous county roads.  I've had days where my travel time doubles or triples thanks to Old Man Winter.  That white knuckled drive is not fun.  At school, I always have a few students who make it in, so we can't really run a regular day.  Generally those intrepid Students and I use the day to catch up on work, get some good one on one consultation time or work on our Passion Projects with lots of help available.  It's a good day for the students that attend, but it's not the same without our whole tribe there.



I grew up on a dirt road in rural Elgin County.  I remember many Snow Days.  There were so many days where the buses didn't run.  I seem to remember being sent home early on more than one occasion.  There was even a day where we got in the school at the opening bell and our teacher told us not to take our winter gear off, because the buses were on their way to come to take us home.  Once when I was really young, there was a terrible blizzard ('77 or '78 - maybe both) that shut things down for at least a week.

Picture from www.theweathernetwork.com
I remember one nearby school had to call the army out in their caterpillar track vehicles to get students home safely in the storm.  Lots of folks had no hydro for an extended period.  Dad had a generator, so we were still toasty warm.  But, I do remember he had to go to town on the snowmobile to get milk and essential groceries.  The snow piles on the side of our road were legendary.  They seemed to be trying to cover the hydro poles.  One year, we could literally step off the roof of the garage onto a snow drift.

Picture from www.theweathernetwork.com
As a kid, Snow Days were heavenly.  We'd hear Bill Brady give the bus cancellation notice on CFPL AM radio and we would cheer! We could go back to bed.  We could sleep late and then get up and watch TV (not that there was much on for us on daytime TV back then.  Maybe Mr. Dress-Up or the Friendly Giant before lunch on CBC.  In a storm we only got 3 channels - CBC, TVO and maybe CTV). I always liked to read whatever book I was engrossed in at the time or play board games or barbies with my sisters all day.  You could watch out the window and mentally estimate or exaggerate the height of the snow accumulation.  When it was really blowing, it was a thrill to notice if the snow had obliterated the ability to see the mailbox at the end of our lane way.  If the storm died down, you could go outside for a bit and build forts in the snow drifts.  There was always hot chocolate with extra marshmallows for us on a Snow Day.  It was like a holiday that you hadn't planned on.  A gift in the depth of winter.


Nowadays, we don't seem to have as many of them.  Maybe it's global warming, or weather cycles or better snow removal equipment or more snow efficient vehicles with 4 Wheel Drive.  Possibly, it's all of these things.  But, I still remember the excitement that the possibility of a Snow Day brings.  So keep dreaming of those Snow Days, kids.  April is still a long way off.



Does your school experience a lot of Snow Days?   What memories do you have of them from your childhood, or even recently.  What do you do as a teacher when the buses don't run and you only have a few students in your class for the day?  As always, I welcome your comments below.

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

There Are No Rules in Blogging

What makes a good blog post?  I'm not sure I have the answer to this one.

I was podcasting with Sean Gaillard recently and we talked a bit about this.  I asked him what made him hit publish and were there blogs he started but then abandoned? He said once he started a post, he generally worked at it and hit publish, rarely abandoning an idea.  He then turned the question back on me and asked what my response to the same question would be.  I decided I needed to reflect more on this, as I have abandoned posts I've started before.  He challenged me to blog about that.  Well, Sean, here is what I've come up with...



If you do a search for writing a good post, there is plenty of advice out there.  Most of these Blog-sages" look something like this.   They all talk about having a catchy title, tailoring your post to a specific audience, adding in visuals, keep the post short and sweet and end with a call to action.  I must admit, until today, I haven't really considered this.  I like a catchy title, but I don't always come up with one.  I tend to keep my topics centered around education, but I can meander too.  I often ask a few questions at the end, but more to encourage some feedback, than a call to action.

If I think about blogs that I enjoy reading, I don't think they follow all of these rules or sometimes any of them.  They may be about teaching, but often they are not.  Sometimes I interpret them through my educator's lens, but sometimes they are just fun.  I love Doug Peterson's weekly post "Whatever happened to" - it often brings back memories of my childhood or forgotten technology.   Some blogs I enjoy are long, some are just a paragraph.  Debbie Donksy's  blog is always one that challenges me to think deeper or in a new direction about something, but they are generally much longer than one paragraph.  David Carruthers  has a great blog that generally is short and to the point - but so powerful.  Heidi Solway has a personal blog that always makes me laugh.  And Sean Gaillard's posts almost always bring up a Beatles reference that make me start to sing along.



I guess I follow the "there are no rules in blogging" maxim, whether it's one I'm reading, or one I'm writing.

So, what prompts me to hit post?  Hard to say.  Sometimes I am driving home from work and reflecting on something that's gone well, something that's gone horribly wrong or just something I'm thinking about.  Let me tell you...I've written some pretty amazing posts in my head on that drive home.  Then I sit down at the computer and it all just spills out of me like a tap has been turned on.  Or, I sit down at the computer and... nothing.  The idea that formed on the drive home just doesn't work when I try to put it to paper.  Maybe it's because I've had too much time to think about it, and talked myself out of it.  Maybe the fire I felt on the drive home has been extinguished by the time I get home, or I get sidetracked by some other chore or some other idea.  Perhaps that is a post that just wasn't meant to be.  I still save the false starts.  Maybe they are an idea that needs more time to become fully formed.  Eventually, I come back to them with a clearer idea of what I'm trying to share and finish the post.  Maybe I don't go back to that original idea at all and go on to something new.

A while back, I saw a tweet that said "podcasting is the new blogging."  For me this is not the case.  At least with my I Wish I Knew EDU podcast it isn't.  The podcast is a chance for me to talk to other Educators, get them to share the great things they are doing and share some of the wisdom that they've gained in the classroom with new and experienced Teachers.  It's not about me.  I may be directing the questions and reflecting on what they share, but the podcast is about them.  Certainly, talking to these folks has lead me to blog (like right now), but it really isn't the same as blogging.



Blogging comes from inside my head and heart.  It is less in the moment and more reflective.  I don't spend a lot of time writing it, but I may spend a bit of time thinking about it before I actively start typing it out.  I've spent a few weeks thinking about this post.  But, I'm writing it down in one sitting and will likely hit post once I've read it over once and checked it for spelling mistakes (undoubtedly missing a few).  Once I've got the idea out of me and digitized, I need to set it free by hitting publish.

I guess if I'm going to sum up my definition of a good blog post, it would not be about the rules.  A good blog post, whoever writes it, comes from inside the writer.  It's real.  It's passionate.  It gets me thinking, gives me something new to try in the classroom, makes me laugh or it chokes me up a bit.

My blog posts aren't going to always connect with every reader. That's cool.  Maybe this one hasn't connected with you - although if you've read this far... 😉




Your thoughts on what makes you hit publish, or what makes a good blog post?  Drop them in the comment box below.


Saturday, 29 December 2018

Fill Your Own Cup With Gratitude

November is tough.  The excitement of September's fresh start has passed.   You've worked hard to build those relationships in your classroom, but the honeymoon period is over.   You've been doing great things in the classroom, and you are planning even more.  There's meetings, Professional Development, extra curriculars, Parent nights....You've got a hundred balls in the air and you are trying to keep them there.  There are no holidays in the month to give you time to catch your thoughts.  The holiday break is approaching, but it still seems a long way off....and there is so much to do before then at school and at home.  You start to feel like Sisyphus trying to push that bolder up the hill.

That's me pretty much every November.  Yep, 24 years in, and November still drags my spirit down.  This year was no exception, except for the fact that I seemed to hit a low that last week of the month that I had never before quite felt, or at least not in a very long time.  There were a lot of factors that contributed to my perfect storm of self doubt and unhappiness that I don't need to go into here.  What's important is that for the first time in a long time, my cup was empty and I was really struggling to just get a drop of anything in it.

I drove home one grey November day thinking, "I don't think I heard one positive thing today."  On reflection, I probably did, I just wasn't in the state of mind to really hear it.  The negative was drowning out every other thing in my head.  Some of those voices were undoubtably my own internal Negative Nancy, whom I generally keep locked up and refuse to listen to.  But, November had unlocked her cage and she was out and she was incredibly loud.

This was not me.  This would not do.  It was time to do some self care and get that b#*%!@ back in her cage.  I took some "me time" to do a few things that bring me peace.  I reached out to a Marigold (If my Marigold reference is foreign to you - check out this post by Jennifer Gonzalez) and bless her, my marigold gave me a positive message I could hold on to through this storm.  There was a trickle getting back into my cup.

Then Joy Kirr shared a video about gratitude on Twitter.  (Source: YouTube https://youtu.be/oHv6vTKD6lg)

And VoicEd Radio started their #voicEdGratitude challenge for December.

I wondered if, maybe, a daily intentional gratitude moment would start to quiet the negative voices.

Each day, Derek Rhodenizer would post a gratitude challenge for anyone following the hashtag to complete.  Some of them were Twitter based like thanking a member of your PLN by sharing their Twitter handle.  Many of them were not Social Media based, like thanking a non teaching member of your staff.  There was even a more intense gratitude "Secret Santa" activity for participating members of the VoicEd podcasting community.

At first I was hesitant.  Did I really need one more thing on my "to do list" each day?  I gave myself a pep talk.  These were not huge asks.  They might help and they certainly could not hurt.

With each task, I felt my spirit start to lift.  I dove into each new gratitude activity with greater gusto.  My own gratitude experiment was working.  My cup was starting to refill, not with positivity from others, but from doing something intentionally positive for someone else each day. 

That is not to say, that by the last day before break, I was energetic and eager and back to my September level of enthusiasm.  I came home that Friday pretty much ready for a long winter's nap.  But, I wasn't on empty anymore.  My cup was becoming self sustaining, at least at a workable level.  After a week of holidays, family time, "me time" and reflection time, my cup is almost full again.  Come January 7th, I'll be ready.  And I'm really going to try to keep my cup from getting that empty again by filling it with the gratitude I give to others.




As always, I welcome your comments below.  Do you get the November blahs?  How do you refill your cup when it is low?  How do you show gratitude year round?

Saturday, 3 November 2018

Crazy 'bout Conferences!


The whirlwind of September is over and now the fall educational conference season is in full swing.  So much I'd love to learn and only so many conferences I can get to.  How to choose?

Two great conferences that run every October for Thames Valley District School Board Educators are LitCon and iCon.  These are (alas!) only for Teachers in our Board, but they are awesome!  They both run on Saturdays in October and they are both free!  Yes, FREE!  I don't have to get permission to go from my Principal, I don't have to book a Supply Teacher, I don't have to prep the work for the days I will be away, it's nearby - so no travel costs or hotel room bookings, and it costs me nothing but my time on a Saturday?  I must give this some serious consideration.  This is time I would normally spend on laundry, housework and fall yard work...hmmmmmm?  Do I want to pass on these household chores for a day of amazing presentations and connecting with colleagues I rarely get a chance to see? 

START THE CAR!  START THE CAR!

LitCon is the annual TVDSB Literacy Conference organised by the Literacy Co-ordinators and their Conference Team.  This year it was held at Montcalm S.S. in London and ran from 8:00-4.  There were all kinds of book and vendor displays in the cafeteria, which for me is almost as exciting as the sessions.  This might be the only cost to me for the Conference.  I simply cannot leave without a book or 2...or 7 (don't tell my husband!) and I got some great books for my classroom and two to add to my professional reading.



The keynote speaker this year was Dr. David Booth, Literacy Expert and Professor Emeritus at OISE, University of Toronto.  His talk was about how literacy instruction has changed since he was a boy from a very Euro Centric Reader to looking at Literacy as an all day learning experience.  He also discussed the importance of igniting the enjoyment of reading in students by helping them find texts that have relevance to them.  There were lots of laughs in his presentation, but lots of points that hit home to me as an educator as well.  He talked about relationships and the importance of building community in our classrooms and schools.  He shared his Universal Truth in education, by reminding us that we all (students, parents and teachers) look up and see the same moon each night, so we need to not only be respectful of the differences we all bring to school, but to celebrate them as well.   Dr. Booth stayed at the Conference all day to talk to teachers and be a part of the learning.  I had the opportunity to chat with him and he agreed to come on the I Wish I Knew EDU Podcast.  We recorded last week, so if you want to hear more, watch for that episode to air on www.voiced.ca in November. 
A quick chat with Literacy Co-ordinators Heidi Solway and Adria Killian


The sessions were an hour long and were on all areas of literacy, from elementary to secondary, including special education, technology integration, library learning commons and more.  I attended a great session put together by our Special Education team on teaching literacy to students with Developmental Disabilities.  There were great examples and "how to" ideas for making books more tactile and using different iPad apps like epic.com, RazKids, or Book Creator to help our students have greater access to literacy.  Dawn Telfer had two great sessions on great picture books to use for different themes in the classroom and how to access our online Library catalogue to borrow books from other schools in our board.

Making Literacy accessible session with Special Education TOSAs

Dawn Telfer sharing how to access TVDSB library collections


A pizza lunch was included (free lunch too?!)  and we had time to browse the vendor displays and connect with others.  The day was capped off with the distribution of a huge cache of door prizes (lots of books, and other cool stuff).  I didn't win one, but was excited for those who did!  I'm glad the day was over...my brain was full.

iCon is our Board technology conference.   I believe they mentioned that this was year 13 for this great event.  This year the conference was at Clarke Road Secondary School in London.  We started with a Techie Breakie - some vendors, but mostly TVDSB educators sharing different robots, coding applications and tech ideas in an informal setting.  We were all at tables in the foyer of the building and attendees could check out what we brought, chat and share ideas before the main conference got underway. I brought my Blue Bot and tactile reader to demonstrate, but there was plenty to see and play with while enjoying our morning java and treats.

Always great to see Tech Co-ordinator David Carruthers. Here we are at the Techie Breakie!
iCon tries to keep to a half day schedule to honour the time that Teachers are giving up on a Saturday, so there is no Keynote speaker.  After remarks by the Superintendent and Thanks from the Organisers (our fabulous Technology Co-ordinators) we were off to the sessions.  Sessions ranged from
G-Suite for beginners, to coding, various tech applications, using Twitter with your classroom and pretty much all things EDU-techie.  I attended a great session by Derek Tangredi on the Microbit.  Coding these little devices is relatively easy and they can be used to create all kinds of things, like pedometers, etc. 
Checking in with Derek Tangredi!


I was presenting on the different ways you can use technology to help organise and for students to create with in Genius Hour Projects, titled: "Geek N Out with Genius Hour".  If you are interested in this, check out my presentation slide deck at: http://bit.ly/GeekNOut. I did two sessions and was excited to have both sessions full.  Hope I didn't sound like a deranged squirrel, or bore any of them when I talked about using Google applications, padlet, trello, and so many others with Passion Projects.  iCon finished up with great tech prizes and the opportunity to share our learning using a FlipGrid or through the Twitter Hashtag for the day.


Both Conferences were amazing and my most profound thanks to their organisers who do a fabulous job and an enormous amount of work putting these together and keeping them free for us to attend.  I can't be the only one who is excited about these opportunities.  Both Saturday Conferences were full - with over 400 attendees at each.

I can only come up with two downsides to attending these two conferences.

1.  I enjoyed presenting, but then I don't get to attend the other sessions.  iCon makes this a little easier, by creating a shared folder of all the presenters slide shows with all the presenters and attendees.  This way I can have a look at some of the things I'm interested in and contact the presenters directly if I have any questions.

2.  The fall season is full of great Conferences to attend.  By choosing these two, I missed a few others that I would have loved to attend.  LitCon was the same day as an EdTechCamp that the York Regional Board was holding and iCon was the same day as the Digital Citizenship Summit in Toronto.  Thanks to Twitter, and the great sharing that folks at these events do, I was able to catch a few things that I missed.  I know a lot of great things at the DigCitSummit were also recorded and shared by www.voiced.ca - so over the next few weeks, I'll be checking in on these recordings. 

I'm interested to hear if other boards have events like these, and what are some of the Conferences that my PLN love to attend?  Please share in the comments: I'm always interested in new opportunities to learn!

This week I'm excited to be attending the Bring It Together (aka BIT18) Conference in Niagara Falls.  This event is put together by ECOO - The Educational Computing Organisation of Ontario and is one of my favourites.  I'm presenting on Thursday on Connecting Your Classroom to the World, but I'm more excited to see the other presentations I've signed up for, the Orca documentary that will be premiered on Wednesday night, and of course, to catch up with some of my EDU pals, and meet some of my PLN IRL!  I hope to see you there! After that, I'm taking a bit of a "conference break" - the busy holiday season is coming and if I'm away from home much more, my hubby is going to start asking who I am as I come in the front door.


Monday, 3 September 2018

Happy Labour Day





Late afternoon, Labour Day.  The Eve of a new school year.  The Eve of the start of my 24th school year as a teacher.  I am always excited on this day.  Excited for the adventure about to begin.  Excited to meet this year's class, some new to our room, some back from last year.  Tonight I will have trouble falling asleep, my mind filled with the things that I have done to get ready, and those things I have left undone. And full of anticipation for the journey we are about to begin.

There is also a little sadness.  The summer is over.  I've attended my last summer barbecue, played my last round of weekday golf, had my last quiet evening on the deck, listening to the crickets, watching the stars and enjoying a last cold brew into the late hours, knowing I could sleep in this morning.  Outside, a thunderstorm is raging and the rain is drowning my gardens.  Are the cosmos weeping for the end of summer freedom as well?

Sure, the weather has not turned cold yet.  Meteorologically speaking, it's still summer.  It's a hot and humid day.  If we're lucky, good weather will be with us at least until Thanksgiving in mid October or beyond.  The grass is still green and the trees have not put on their fall colours, yet.  But, you can feel the fall coming.  It's in the days that are getting just a bit shorter and the lillies that have bloomed and withered, to be replaced by the earthier colours of fall mums and a garden full of almost ripe pumpkins and squash.  Even restaurants have changed their featured flavours from spring berries to pumpkin spice and apple cinnamon.  So, while the official start of autumn won't come until the Vernal Equinox in a few weeks, for me, fall starts tomorrow. 




With the grief I experience over the changing season comes reflection.  Will all my planning come to fruition?  Will I be able to make those all important relationships with this year's students and create a safe and inclusive learning environment?  Will I be able to be the kind of teacher I want to be, each day for every Student, all year long?  Will I meet my own expectations?  More importantly, will I meet the expectations my Students have for me?

Only time will tell, I suppose. 

In the meantime, I will put my melancholy thoughts away and enjoy my last few hours of summer.  I will let my feelings of excitement take over and dream of a wonderful first day and a year filled with learning for my students and I.  And I wish the same for all of you.  Happy Labour Day.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Connecting Your Classroom to the World - OTF Summer Institute Aug 8-10, 2018



Last week I had the honour of co-facilitating a three day Summer Workshop with TVDSB K-8 Literacy Co-ordinator Heidi Solway.  Check out Heidi's reflections on here blog here  It was part of the Ontario Teachers Federation Summer Institute Program.  We called it: Connecting Your Classroom to the World.  This will be a longer post than usual for me - hey, it was 3 days!

If you have never done any Professional Development with the Ontario Teacher's Federation, you should look into it.  They run webinars and conferences during the school year, and then in the Summer they run 3 day workshops in locations across Ontario.  When you register, the cost to you is $50.  That's right, $50 for three whole days.  And that's not all folks.  If you attend all three days, you get your $50 back!  If you like, you can stay in the University or College Residence where the workshop is taking place for the three nights....FREE!  They feed you all three days (really well - I don't cook like this - not even for guests or in-laws) and they will pay your mileage one way.  All at no cost.  Twitter gives me lots of really great PD, but not even Twitter feeds me for free.  Check out their offerings at https://www.otffeo.on.ca/en/learning/ . Click on the subscribe graphic to get regular emails about OTF PD offerings, or check out the calendar on the site.

Anyways, I digress...

Heidi and I worked both together and separately to put our workshop together.  I'm not going to lie...it was a lot of work.  But, we are both passionate about using technology to make connections for both Teachers and Classrooms, so it really was a labour of love.  Here's a look at our syllabus:

Day 1:  Our Whys for Connecting to the world, The Global Competencies, Twitter as a PLN and for Student Connections, FlipGrid, and 2 Digital Guests: Jennifer Casa-Todd and Jennifer Nielsen.

Day 2: Portfolios, the Digital Human Library (Presented by guest Presenter Dawn Telfer - Technology Learning Co-ordinator, TVDSB), BookSnaps, Google Sites, Bogging, online Collaboration Tools (Padlet, Popplet, linoit & ThingLink), as well as 2 Digital Guests: Tara Martin & Emil Sherr

Day 3: Google Hangouts and Mystery Hangouts, The Global Read Aloud, Geo Tools (My Maps, Expeditions, GeoGuesser and many others),  Examples of Units with Online connections (ie, how to put it all together) and 2 Digital Guests: Leanne Hansen and John David Anderson.

So, now that it is over, some reflections on our Highs and Lows:

graphic origin unknown

Twitter:
We shared a graphic about the different stages of Twitter User (see above) and it was interesting to see the wide variety of responses fit almost every one of these stages.  We convinced those who did not have a Twitter account to start one, and for everyone to share their learning using our #OTFConnect.  There was a large distance in technology skills in our participants - but by the end of the three days, they were all Tweeting and at the very least, considering using Twitter to grow their PLN.  An incident that hammered home the power of connecting through Twitter happened on Day 2.  One of our participants was at the Jays Game in the evening and happened to Tweet out a picture of herself at the game with the BlueJays hashtag.  All of a sudden...her Tweet and picture was on the Jumbotron at the Rogers Center.  When she shared this with us the next day...talk about a teachable moment!  It was great to help those participants who had never used Twitter before.  The joy on their faces when they 1. Sent out their first tweet.  2.  Got a response from Heidi, myself or other participants & 3. Got a response from some of our Digital Guests - well it was priceless.

Image result for flipgrid
Uses for FlipGrid infographic from https://braveintheattempt.com/2017/08/18/20-ways-to-catch-flipgridfever/

FlipGrid:
This was a big hit with most of our participants.  They had a lot of fun playing with the tools, but were also very quick to come up with ways they could utilize this great little activity in their classroom (be it for vlogging, Student Responses, #GridPals, PLN, etc).  I had several participants tell me they would be putting this to use right away.

#BookSnap Example by R. Meharg

BookSnaps:
We introduced them to using #BookSnaps (created by Tara Martin if you want to now more, check out her website: http://www.tarammartin.com/booksnaps-snapping-for-learning/) with students to help them first show their learning by creating the graphic and then to share it by Tweeting or handing it in through Google Classroom.  We also talked about how it is a way to share your professional learning the same way.  We showed them the variety of ways they can be created on different platforms and devices.  Suddenly there were all kinds of BookSnaps being Tweeted out - and not only used our hashtag...they tagged Tara Martin...who responded to them!

Image result for the digital human library

The Digital Human Library
Dawn Telfer is a member of the DHL Board - and gave us a great presentation on the great resource that the DHL is.  We had been doing Google Hangouts and discussing the power of having Digital Guest Speakers in our classrooms, but our participants were not sure how to access the guests they might want to have join them.  Boom!  Dawn showed them how to make those connections through DHL.

Google Expeditions AR - the Colliseum in Rome.  photo via Jason Lay on Twitter

Google Expeditions (AR & VR)
There were a lot of squeals of delight when investigating the many different AR & VR options in Google Expeditions.  Being able to manipulate the images infront of them on their devices was a game changer for many of our participants.

John David Anderson


Jennifer Casa-Todd


Our Digital Guests:
Our Digital Guests, who joined us via Google Hangout, Skype and Facetime were absolutely fabulous.  Did we have technology issues?  Absolutely!  We were in an environment that was not our own and unfamiliar to us.  So, of course, our first Hangout had no sound.  Jennifer Casa-Todd was very patient and helpful.  We eventually switched to my phone and used FaceTime to connect.  We attached the phone to the projector directly so everyone could see her - and everyone was really quiet - luckily the sound was loud enough from the phone for all to hear.  Her message about the importance modeling Digital Citizenship and appropriate Social Media use was exactly the message we were trying to get across.  She shared resources with our participants through our hashtag on Twitter and responded to questions both live and afterwards on Twitter.

About midway through day 2 we got our tech issues resolved (only took lots of trouble shooting and two of Western's IT staff!) and all was working exactly as it should after that!

Emil Sherr
Our visiting authors: Jennifer Neilsen, Emil Sherr and John David Anderson were so generous with their time and shared how important it was for them to get to know their target audience and connect with their readers through Twitter.  They all shared that they like to visit classrooms either thru a video link or via Twitter.  It was also enlightening for our participants to hear that our guests were not friends of ours.  We had never met these folks.  We simply sent a message through Twitter.  We asked.  They said yes.  Had they said no, no biggie.  But you never know what will happen if you don't put yourself out there and ask.

Jennifer Neilson
Leanne Hanson
Leanne Hansen joined us for a Mystery Google Hangout.  Our participants did not know who she was or where she was from.  They could only ask questions with a yes or no answer.  It was neat to see how bad they were at this.  Students are very good at this - within a few questions they have the hang of the yes or no format and how to narrow down the location using Google Maps.  Eventually and with a little help, our participants finally figured out that Leanne was joining us from Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia.  Special thanks to Leanne for joining us from the other side of the world at 11:00 pm!

Tara Martin

Tara Martin was as real and authentic in person as she is in her book Be Real, and on Twitter.  She was very inspiring and her message of the importance of relationships and cannonballing in when there are things that we are afraid to try or that we consider to be a risk was shared through stories from her life and her classroom.  If you get a chance to hear her speak...take it.  She will get right into your head and heart.

Overall Reflections:
Heidi and I talked about things we would change if we got an opportunity to do this workshop again.  We wished we had more time to get folks blogging.  We talked about Teacher and Student blogs and vlogs, the tools and platforms, but we ran out of time to get them started on a blog and creating their first post.  If we do this again, we would like to ensure there is more time for our participants to blog.  We might rearrange the syllabus or spend a little less time with the Geo tools and more on creating a classroom website or participating the the Global Read Aloud.

I hope we do get the opportunity to run a workshop like this again.  I think the tools and information we shared is important to all and connecting outside of the the classroom walls is essential for our students.

Thanks to Doug Peterson for getting me to submit my proposal, to ECCO for submitting our proposal to OTF, to OTF for giving us this wonderful opportunity, to our Digital Guests for being so generous with their time and open to sharing with us, to Heidi for being such a great co-facilitator (she made good ideas even better ones with her expertise and input) and to all our participants for putting up with us for 3 days, but also for sharing and learning with us!

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Going All In on Flexible Seating

For a year or more now, I've been pondering and experimenting with Flexible Seating.   I've done some research by reading Kayla Delzer's (www.topdogteaching.com)  work and blogs, the wealth of information available at www.edutopia.org, Pinterest, as well as several books that devote chapters or sections to it (and there are many).  I've visited classrooms who have been using some form of flexible seating.  I've thought about: how I enjoy reading and working in a comfortable chair, the luxury of trying out a new book in Chapters and the whole Starbucks esthetic that is so popular, and inviting.

From my research, I've learned that there are many benefits to using flexible seating in your classroom.  (Check out this post to see some of them).  I was immediately drawn to the idea of flexible seating.  It promotes student choice, as they choose where to sit during different activities and learn about where they work best, or don't work well at all.  I love the community building aspects and how the different and more comfortable options result in more communication and the opportunity for more conversation as a class or in small groups.  Certainly the idea of comfy chairs and workspaces makes school more inviting and perhaps, fun?

But, I had my concerns as well.  I have a class of high needs learners, some in wheelchairs, some with visual, or hearing concerns, autism, and all with a Developmental Disability.  I want the room to be comfy and fun, but also inclusive, and accessible to all.  Would the change in seating become a distraction?  Would there be fights over the most popular seats?  Would students miss the "ownership" of their own desks and workspace?  Would the Administration team even support this radical change in classroom design.

Only one way to find out...try it out.  My neighbours had bought a new couch and asked if I knew anyone who could use their old one.  (It was the couch in the "good room", and while dated in a fashion sense, still looked brand new and was cozy and comfy to sit on).  I said I wanted it for my classroom, but I just had to clear it with my Principal and Vice Principal first.  As their new couch was on back order, they were willing to wait for my answer.  So, I pitched the idea to my Admin team and gave my reasons for wanting to try it.  They had some concerns, some of which were similar to my own, and they wanted to clear it with the custodial staff as well.  After some consideration, I was given the go ahead to bring that sofa in.  So, one clear October morning, my kind husband helped me load it up in the truck and carry it up to my classroom on the second floor.  He didn't question why I was doing it, maybe he just trusts that I have good research behind my decisions, or maybe he is just used to having a wife who does a lot of things he doesn't understand.  Happy wife, Happy life?

That's how the experiment began.  With just one couch.



I placed it off to the side of the classroom, by our bookshelves, hoping to inspire more independent reading with it's enticing luxury.  My students came in the room that morning and noticed it right away (It has brilliant pink flowers on it - it is hard to miss).  We started that day with a class meeting about the couch.  What was it for?  Did we need rules for the couch?  When could they use it?  We bantered and brainstormed about it.  They all took turns trying out the comfort level and pronounced it homey, if "rustic" (their word, not mine).  They decided we needed a few "couch guidelines".

1.  No laying on the couch.  It needs to be shared by up to 3 people.
2.  No feet on the couch.  We want to keep the couch clean and respect that everyone in the room uses it.
3.  No one has ownership of the couch individually.  You cannot claim a spot permanently.

These were their "guidelines"  I would help enforce them... if they needed me to, but I told them that the future of the couch in the room was up to them.  If things went well, we keep the couch.  If I needed to constantly intervene to help them with their own "guidelines", then the couch would have to go.

From that day forward, there was often one or more students on the couch.  I was rarely called on to remind someone about couch etiquette.  They did not fight over it.  They read on it, used clip boards to work on it and loved to sit and work on their iPads or Chromebooks on it.

Early in December, they asked if we could move the couch.  Student desks were usually arranged in a C formation around the room, so that we could all see each other during discussions.  If needed, they were re-aranged into small groupings for collaborative work.  The students wanted the couch to be inside that C formation, so that they could sit on it and be more a part of discussions, and in the center of the room.  It sounded reasonable to me.  So we moved it.  It was an even better spot.  It was never empty and it seemed to improve our feeling of community.

Just before March Break, our Principal told us he was replacing all the furniture in the staff room.  The old stuff would either be thrown out or donated.  I asked if I could have 3 of the sturdy, yet comfortable chairs and two end tables.  He gave me the ok, so a few students and I moved them to our classroom before he could change his mind.  The chairs are a hideous dusty rose colour, which match the pink flowers on our couch perfectly.  It was meant to be.

That's around the time that I noticed that my students were consistently choosing the flexible seating options over their desks.  They rarely sat at their desks anymore, and generally only because there were only 6 comfy seats available.  The quality of their work did not change.  I think the relationships in the room improved as they learned to share and rotate their seats so that everyone could use the "good seats."  In June, when I asked them to blog about the things they liked about the school year, the new seating came up in almost every post, right up there with our class trip to Medieval Times and Casa Loma in Toronto.  High praise, indeed!

Just as exams were ending, a friend of a friend offered me her leather couch and another chair.  She was moving and didn't have room for them.  On the PD day, we met her before school started and moved them into our classroom.  On the same day, my Educational Assistants and I moved all the desks out.  We kept a few different sized tables and I ordered some ball chairs.  A relative has offered up her rocking chair after they move in August.  I've included a few pictures to show you how the room looked as I left it on our last work day before summer.


Some tired Educational Assistants enjoy a few moments on the "new" furniture after moving it in and the desks out on the last work day in June.



I don't know if it will work as well as I hope it will.  I don't know if the set up of the room will change, or if I will need to bring back a few desks.  I have a new class of students and don't know if they will respond as well to Flexible Seating as last year's class did.

I do know I've gone all in on Flexible Seating.  I'll let you know how it goes.



As always, I welcome your comments, questions and advice in the comment section below.