Monthly Archives: May 2015

Make School Different 

So I’ve been tagged by a member of my PLN, the awesome Sharon Moskovitz @s_m077 for my Top 5 things for #MakeSchoolDifferent. This is a bit of a challenging topic for me because I have so many ideas, so it took me awhile to sit down and actually figure out what I wanted to say, but here goes…

1.  Let’s stop pretending tech is the answer to all our problems – don’t get me wrong, I love how tech gives me multiple opportunities to help my students share their learning, but tech for the sake of tech is not the answer. Before we look at using these tools, we need to look at why we are using them, what’s the point, the purpose? Are we using it for the right reasons, to actually help our students share and showcase their learning or is it just to say “look at how 21st century we are using this new technology?”  There is a time for tech, just like there is a time for pencil, paper – it depends on what we are trying to teach our students, what way do we want them to truly share their learning.

2. Let’s stop pretending reading levels are an effective way to help teaching reading – while it may be worthwhile in the younger grades as our students start their reading journey, once we get to the grade 3 and up, limiting students by saying “sorry you are an “L” level reader, that’s the bin you must choose from” is not helping our kids. If we want our students to develop a love of reading we must give them choices – give them opportunities to work on their reading. Give them books on CD or iPads to listen to, work with them to find books that speak to them, do class readalouds, give them varieties of genres to choose from. It’s important they realize that everyone is on a different part of their reading journey – while some may be further along than others, that’s okay.

3. Let’s stop pretending our learning needs to be limited to the 4 walls of our classroom – with the advances being made we have so many opportunities to make learning real to our students. What we once learned from a textbook can now be learned in so many other ways.  When my students ask the question “what do need to learn this for?” I want to be able to show them where their learning fits in the world.

4. And while we’re at it, let’s stop pretending our own professional learning needs to be limited – with Twitter, edcamps, Ignite sessions and so much more, there are endless opportunities to pick PD that speaks to us. I can’t count how much PD I’ve done at home in my pj’s, how much I’ve learned from my PLN and Twitter.  I have the choice to take an active role in my professional development and so do all of us, why aren’t we doing this more?

5. Let’s stop pretending kids need to sit quietly in their desks in rows – kids  these days are wired differently. Heck most of us can’t sit in one place for too long, so why are we expecting this of our kids. My students have learned the difference between “work talk” and “talk talk” and most days it’s a steady hum of noise and music which works for us all.  There are long tables, low tables, pillows, comfy chairs, standing desks – all different options that my students know they can choose on a given moment if that’s what will help them.

So now I tag the following in my PLN to share their thoughts on this challenging question

@Glynn_ed        Dena Glynn

@rondorland     Ron Dorland

@DanaAriss        Dana Ariss

@KelliHolden       Kelli Holden

@_Teach2Learn  Sarah Platero


The Impact of a Teacher

After reflecting on the challenge put forth by George Couras on Twitter (if you don’t follow him, you are crazy because he will challenge the way you look at things, trust me) Anyway, each week he puts out a question for you to answer via twitter #EDUin30 and trust me, it is definitely something you want to check out, just to see what other educators out there are sharing. So this week’s question asked to share a teacher that had an impact on my life, and I won’t lie I had to stop and think because there had been so many that have played a part in making me the teacher that I am today. I couldn’t sum it up in a 30 sec video, so a blog post it had to be.

When I was younger, I grew in a very small town of less than 100 people.  I literally went to a school where there were only 2 classes – one was grades 1-3 and the other was grades 4-6.  Each class probably had less than fifteen students, but somehow the school still stayed open.  My teacher in the primary grades was also our school principal, Audrey Fagervold (hopefully I spelled this correctly). She was strict and tough, but you knew she cared.  She demanded the best of her students, and we worked hard to live up to her expectations. But she was the first to stop you in the hall and ask if your mom was feeling better, to stop to show you a book she found that she knew I would love (I was a voracious reader back then). When I was college many years later and had my son, who I would end up raising on my own, she showed up to visit me at my parent’s house.  She gave my son a stuffed tiger that he still has to this day. She told me not to give up on my dream of being a teacher, she said it wasn’t going to be easy, but she knew I could do it. It honestly amazed me that she kept tabs on me, even though I left her school in grade 6 and never looked back. It showed me the power of a teacher who cared.

When I was in high school, I struggled with math.  I was a horrible math student, I hated math and it hated me, but I needed it to graduate and go to college.  My Math 10 teacher, Mrs. Dekker, would work with me on her lunch hours, tutoring me and helping me figure out algebra and somehow helped me pass Math 10, 20 and 30 literally by the skin of my teeth. She had her work cut out for her, but she never let me give up on myself.  From her, I learned how sometimes a teacher can help those students who give up on themselves to show them they can do it, they just need to try, need to find a different way to face the challenges in front of them.

When I was in college, I won’t lie the first two years were a bit of a waste of time.  I was a small town girl getting a taste of the “big city” and fell into the party scene that can occur in those first few years. I didn’t go to classes very often, handed my assignments in late if at all.  I was put on academic probation after the first year and by the end of the first semester of my 2nd year, I was totally bottoming out.  The dean of ed there at the time hauled me into his office and asked what I was doing, why was I wasting everyone’s time?  I told him I didn’t know, so he sent me home, told me he wanted to hear from me when I figured it out.  So I spent the next 6 months doing every job on the planet, but nothing made me happy, nothing challenged me.  It wasn’t until I took a summer job working with kids that I figured it out.  So I went back to college, met the dean and explained to him that a teacher was who I was supposed to be. He asked me what would be different if he let me back in, I explained before I was unsure this was the path I was supposed to take, but now I knew. He didn’t have to give me that second chance, but he did.  I haven’t looked back since and have been teaching for almost 20 years. I wish I could tell him how much I appreciate the fact he gave me that chance to prove myself. From him, I learned the importance of never giving up on a student, however challenging they may be.

The last group that have helped me grow is my #plngelato, a group of amazing teachers I am lucky to call friends. Kelli Holden, Zoe Bettess, Dana Ariss and Paige Couras – you have helped me grow so much as a teacher with the conversations we have had, the things we have done together. You have challenged my thinking, opened my eyes to the possibilities. You have made me laugh and helped me when things got tough and I needed a shoulder to cry on. You are my people, my tribe… I know I can count on you.

So, as I look ahead, to these teachers who have helped shape me into the teacher I am today, I say thank you to all of you, from the bottom of my heart. I could only hope to someday be that teacher to one of my students like you were to me.


So What is this Minecraft All About? 

If you have been living under a rock or cut off from civilization for the last year or so, you will have heard people talking about Minecraft, especially kids. I know I first heard about it from my nephews, but really did not pay much attention to it honestly. But then I heard my students constantly talking about it, and then it started creeping into conversations on Twitter. Intrigued I decided to check it out, and what I saw really amazed me as I started looking more into it. 

At first glance, it might not seem like much – an online computer program made up of building blocks, many have said its kind of like Lego building. But honestly, it is much more than that and it’s opened a door to a realm of possibilities in my classroom. 

With MinecraftEDU (different than the Minecraft students will play at home) I am able to set up “worlds” (the basis of the challenge or assigned task I have for my students) I can set the parameters, whether I want them in creative mode -where they are just building and creating or survival mode – which is just as it sounds, they must find the tools and things they need to survive.  For my grade 3 littles, most of my worlds have been in the creative realm because it suits what I am wanting them to do. 

The wonderful thing about MinecraftEDU is that it gives my students the opportunities to go wherever their imagination can take them. In math I used it to reinforce concepts in patterns – they could see the pattern come to life as they were building it; measurement – they were challenged to build structures with a variety of perimeters & areas; and lately in multiplication – their array city assignment had them showing & explaining the arrays they came up with. 


Array city assignment – work in progress

In science for their structures assignment they were challenged to research and find a famous structure in the world. Then try to recreate it in Minecraft. Interestingly enough one of my students really wanted to do the Sphinx of Giza. I explained how this might be hard being that in Minecraft the blocks are not rounded at all, but he explained he wanted to try so I let him. The result below was one he and I were both proud of.  

Sphinx of Giza

In Language Arts, I have had many opportunities for my students to use MinecraftEDU. We have recreated important settings from the novels we are reading and created new homes for characters from our stories, based on what we thought would suit them.  

Building wizard academies for Wendell the World’s Worst Wizard

The great thing is that now my students have become so adept at using the program, they are now sharing their knowledge. When the grade one teachers wanted their students to build dream houses for their structures unit, my students were called on to now be the teachers. I explained their job was to find a way to show using words vs just grabbing the mouse and building for them. Trust me the irony was not lost on me when one of my students came up moaning “It’s hard being a teacher. Those grade ones don’t listen very well sometimes.” 

My students are now the “teachers”

They have also talked to teachers via Skype showing how they build and create in Minecraft, answering questions about how they have figured out how to do different things in the program. I am so proud when I see my students confidently answering questions, clearly explaining what they are doing to adults – again being the mentors and teachers. 

For those that wonder what about those students not interested in using this, I’m sorry to say I have yet to meet one. I have used this with both my gr. 4/5 students and gr. 3 students – the ones that did not know much about the program, I partnered up at first with the more experienced students and now months later they are confident and building on their own. This program builds so many skills in students. When older kids who walk by  my students and say, “Look, they get to play Minecraft” my students tell them because we have talked about this many times, “We are not playing – we are building, we are creating, we are problem solving.” And you know what, that’s just fine with me. 

Sometimes It Comes Down to Trusting Yourself 

When I first started my new position this year I had my share of worries and concerns- was I ready to take on a younger grade where they weren’t as independent, was I ready to relearn a curriculum I hadn’t taught in many years, was I ready to deal with these new SLA’s. However I was willing to figure out how to deal with all these because this new position would give me the one thing my last job had been missing, more time with my daughter, my peanut as I like to call her. 

As the  year went on, I questioned my ability to deal with these challenges more than once. I would go home frustrated at times with myself, with how I had dealt with a situation, questioning whether I had made the right decision. Was I really the right fit? Was I helping my students, preparing them for the next grade, giving them what they needed to be successful? 

Don’t get me wrong – there were also moments of laughter, convincing myself that dressing up as Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy was a good idea was definitely one of those moments. There were also moments of great pride – when I saw my students skyping, blogging – talking to other students around the province and Canada sharing their ideas about books we were reading, talking to authors and asking them about characters they loved. They showed how they were able to share their thoughts, their voice and I was so proud of them.

These last few days I realized something as we went about our day in our busy room of craziness – my kids are learning and we’ve actually gotten to a great place. We are in the midst of an animal research project right now and I looked up and what I saw made me smile. I had students working on laptops finding pictures for their research posters they were making, I had students working on their animal books on their iPads. I was working with my small group of specials who just needed that little extra from me. I saw students helping each other out, asking how to insert this picture, how to print that, all of us were just happily doing our thing and doing what needed to be done. I honestly sat back at the end of the day and thought to myself how far we had all come. Yes, they had learned from me, but I had learned just as much from them. It’s going to be really hard to see them all go this June. 

My bunch of littles taught me something important this past year – that change is good, that I need to trust myself more, and most importantly I needed to remember the thing I had told them more than once- that I will make mistakes and I need to be okay with that, I just need to learn from them and go forward. It made a decision I had to make – was I the right fit or was a change going to be on the horizon,  a much easier one to make. 

Besides I needed to remember too that I still had my peanut to tend to. So if you all don’t mind, her and I are working on our dance routine for “Girls (Run the World).” While I am only the backup dancer, she tells me it’s an important job too 😊

My gang of “littles”