Why I Readaloud

A few days ago someone shared the quote below by someone I greatly admire –  the great Donalyn Miller (and if you don’t know who she is, you NEED to follow her on twitter).

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For me, this really summed up the reasoning behind why I do read alouds in my classroom.  I have a passion for reading myself and instilling a love of reading in my students is a goal I have each year.  I won’t lie, it can be a  challenge usually at the beginning of the year because many of them come from a more structured reading background – they are used to book bins full of books with letters on them, they are used to reading logs and reading response sheets.  What they soon realize is reading looks a bit different in our classroom.  I talk about finding “just right” books and how we are all on a reading journey where some of us will be in one spot and some of us might be further ahead or a little behind.  However, the one thing that will bring us together is a love of books, reading books, going on adventures, learning about new worlds when we open the pages of a book.

In the years I have done read alouds, my students and I have traveled through many stories together and met such amazing characters. There are some that have a special place in my heart though.  One such story I read was Stick and Stone, a wonderful picture book by Beth Ferry. This simple little story was so beautifully warm and funny.  It was amazing to see the connections my students made to the characters and how many felt they were like stone – a little quiet, a little shy but when the going got tough, they were there. Some felt more like stick – ready to stick up for a friend when someone picked on them.

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Right now, I just finished reading The 13 Story Treehouse by Andy Griffiths and it’s funny. I was unsure whether I would read this story mostly because it was a silly book, far fetched and full of craziness.  But I felt it fit in with our building and creating theme, so I decided to give it a whirl.  Well, the laughs and giggles we all had together as we read this wonderfully nonsensical story were nonstop.  There was honestly times I had to stop reading because we were all laughing so hard we needed to take a moment just to stop and catch a breath. We were all honestly sad when the story came to an end.  It was quite entertaining to see what happened when I came in this morning and laid The 26 Story Treehouse on my desk because I went out and got it from the bookstore last night.  My students were so excited, yet perturbed with me because I explained we would not have time to start the book this day. I have promised we will start for sure on Monday!!

When you read a book together with your students, you are sharing your joy of reading with your class and it is something that will catch on.  Last year I read both The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane and The One and Only Ivan to my class, both beautiful books that are a staple of my class library.  For each, there are parts that are heart-wrenching to read and when we got to those parts of the story, you could have heard a pin drop all my students  were so invested in what was happening at that point in the story.  I won’t lie, I am a crier, so when I read these parts and the tears fell, my students were all like “Mrs. D. is crying!! ” One student actually got up and got me a Kleenex.  I explained to them that sometimes this happened to me when I get so close to a character, that it almost feels real and so I cry and that it’s okay to feel that way if the story brings that out. The rich discussions that came out – how many agreed that they were sad about what happened or mad that this or that happened was so great to share and hear.  (and for those that feel younger students do not have the maturity to connect or understand these tougher themes I offer this)

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The great thing that came from doing these stories with my students is how they then went home and talked about these books with their families.  I had quite a few parents come to me to say they were going to go to the library to get these books themselves because they wanted to see the book their children were talking about so much when they came home. (and how awesome is that!!).

I guess at the end of it all, I do read alouds because it is a way I can connect with my students and hopefully install in them a love of reading in them too. And shouldn’t this be a goal we all have?

Another Step in our Minecraft Journey

For those of you that have read my blog posts before, you know I am a big fan of using Minecraft in the classroom, but I also try to use it in a way to bring my students’ learning to life.  It was because of these two things that the newest project my students did came to fruition.

Around six weeks ago I came to my students with their newest challenge.  In our school district, we are in the process of building new schools because our numbers are expanding.  I explained to the students that one of the new schools would actually be built not that far from us.  I explained to them that if they could be the ones that designed the school, what things would they have, what would their school designs look like. This fit in very well with the beginning of our structures unit in science plus a multitude of other things like problem solving, collaborative and creative thinking skills and more.

I honestly started that simple, but as the weeks went on we had points where we stopped and discussed things to redirect them or ensure they were staying within the guidelines of the project.  I asked things like what did their school have that made it special  so that their design would be different than others, but more importantly why did they have some of the things they had.  I wanted them to make sure that there was reasoning behind having things like swimming pools, soccer fields and I know this will shock many (not really) but roller coasters.  This was challenging for some, having to look deeper at their designs to justify design choices. I explained it had to be something more than “it would be cool to have it in their school.”

The project did start out for many where they thought this would just be fun and play, but as they got into it further, many realized there were challenges.  Sometimes group members did not agree on design ideas, so I would often explain to them that I would only step in if I felt it was necessary. It would be up to them to find the common ground, so compromising was a new skill that came up in some of the teams.  As well, some found out the hard way that design ideas that sounded great in theory were much harder to put together in Minecraft or that it took a LOT of work to make the idea come together and work. What I loved was that groups would help each other out because most times one student would figure out the solution and then point out to those still struggling the steps to making it work which was awesome.

It wasn’t until halfway through the project that I came up with the Dragon’s Den idea and I honestly didn’t think it would come together.  I thought how amazing would it be, how real world would it be for them to present their design ideas to judges a la Dragon’s Den.  I would bring in “outside experts” to judge their designs as if they were presenting them in real life. Now at this point many of you would ask how did I make this happen.  It wasn’t anything all that hard, I just put out some emails and asked.  I felt it couldn’t hurt to ask and if the people I picked said no, then I couldn’t say I didn’t try.  But lucky for me, these people had time in their busy schedules plus they were willing to come and see what my students had put together. They were all interested and intrigued with the project and the final designs. My three judges included the actual principal of the school being built, one of our district school design planners and a Minecraft expert.

Interestingly enough when my students found they were going to have to present to people other than myself many got worried and scared.  They weren’t sure their designs would be good enough, some felt what they had to say would sound silly.  So again there was a lot of discussion about why they needed to be the “voice” of their designs, why they should be proud of what they had put together and accomplished.  It is funny that by grade 3 some of them already have this idea that they aren’t “good enough” to do things.  I knew this would be a very big challenge for some to overcome, especially one of the students in my class. She was on a personalized learning plan because she was coded being selectively mute. She was not one to speak in front of anyone, let alone strangers so I was honestly unsure how this would all pan out.  She had come a long way from the beginning of the year but in a way I was really asking much of her but I made sure she was in a good group that would step up if she didn’t feel she could and not make her feel bad about it.

However I am proud to say the day of the Dragon’s Den presentation my students did an amazing job.  In their teams, they stood up and spoke about their schools sharing the things that made their schools stand out.  They were confident, articulate and great listeners of the judges’  critiques.

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Judges sharing their thoughts on school designs

 

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Judges’ critiques

As for my one student who I wasn’t sure would speak, well she surprised us all.  I had talked to her group about whether they thought she would speak and asked if perhaps I gave her my FM mike that might help.  And sure enough when the time came, she was “heard”.  She was not able to actually look at the judges while speaking but she did share her ideas aloud and for many of the kids in the class this was the first time we actually heard her speak. It was honestly hard for me not to go out in the hallway and do a Snoopy dance during this moment.

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Indoor garden for the Nature School Design

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Science potions lab from the Fancy School design

At the end of the project I did ask my students to reflect on the following things including what had they learned, what they were proud of, what would they change.  The responses below validated the kind of learning that can happen in this type of project.

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Student reflection I

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Student reflection II

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Student reflection III

To end things off, I would say this project accomplished many curricular outcomes for me in science, language arts and more.  But more importantly it reinforced something I have always tried to teach my students in that they have a voice, they have important things to share and they deserve to be heard.

Hour of Code (One Year Later)

It was only a year ago that I participated in my first Hour of Code. I was lucky that my grade three partners were open and willing to try something new. I wrote about my experiences here. It had been such a great experience last year  so now when Hour of Code came around again this year, I was ready to take things to the next level.

I introduced Hour of Code this year to my staff by taking them to the Hour of Code website.  I showed them all how it was set up and how easy it would be to walk their students through the different activities for the different grade levels.  All grades right from k- 6 were willing to give it a try, so Hour of Code became something my entire school participated in. I was also lucky that I had a supportive admin because I was given time out of class (being that I am a tech coach I already get some time but I was given more for this activity).  I went to many of the different classes and introduced coding to the students and did activities with them.

To start off in Kindergarten and Grade one I started low tech.  I talked about how they need coding to play the games they liked on their ipads and moms’ phones. I explained how coding is what makes flappy bird fly or makes Lego Batman jump and walk.  We worked together on a coding activity I made where the students had to write the “code” to get Angry Bird to the Pig.

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Kindergarten working through the code we wrote to move Angry Bird.

 

When we moved onto the Code website to work through some of the activities, the K and Gr. 1 teachers were surprised and happy to see some of the directional language they had been working on with their students – up, down, left, right came into play. With grades 2-3 again the directional language of North, South, East and West was reinforced through the different activities the students had to work through. The students needed to know these words to work through the activities which reinforced curricular objectives.

When I worked with the grade 4 – 5 students we talked about how coding is what made Steve in Minecraft break blocks down, dig for obsidian and build towers. As well, certain math concepts like angles came into play when they worked through some of the different coding activities so again students could see where what they were learning in class would be needed in other places.

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Student coding with Minecraft

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I went in and worked with the grade 6’s I explained to them that coding is a language and that those with logical, sequential mindsets, coding might be a language that they could speak very well.  At this level, coding would be much more complicated and multi-step.  It was amazing to talk to some of the students and find out how many were working on their own on different coding websites and activities.  I talked to them, as well, about how there were students not much older than them coding apps that could be used on ipads or iphones. (many were definitely intrigued with this idea )

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Grade 6 working with the many steps needed in Star Wars Coding.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For me, the biggest positive about this experience was seeing the students engaged and excited.  They had to be out of the box thinkers to make some of the coding activities work, they had to be problem solvers to figure out where things were going wrong in the code they had written but for many, resilience was something that came into play – they had to not give up when things went wrong, but go back to the drawing board and try again.  For some this came easily, but for others it was interesting how hard it was (especially for those students who things came easily to them in other ways).  I was excited to see students talking and working together, helping each other out when one got stuck. I loved seeing girls high – fiving each other about the number of lines of code they wrote.  A big highlight for me was at the end of the week, one of the grade one teachers came to me with a parent note asking where this coding website the grade one’s had been working on was because her son came home so excited about how he had been coding and wanted to do more at home.

So for those of you wondering if Hour of Code is for you and your school, I cannot say enough about the positives of this experience.  It is definitely something I would recommend trying, even if just on small scale to start.  For me, Hour of Code was a great success and I look forward to where it goes from here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Making It Real in Minecraft

For those that know me Minecraft is a big part of my classroom.  It is an engaging tool I use with my students to not only to reinforce concepts, but also showcase their learning in classes like math, language arts, science and more.

Funny enough, I was recently in a webinar where I listened someone talking about using Minecraft in the classroom.  Going into this webinar, I was quite proud of what my students were doing with this program in class.  As the speaker went on though, I started feeling kind of bad about the kinds of things I had my students doing.  According to what the speaker shared, the kinds of projects I was doing only tap-danced on the surface of what this program was able to do.  These kinds of projects were only superficial and I wasn’t using the program to its fullest potential.  I honestly walked out of the webinar going okay, I need to reflect and looking at using it better.

I guess for me the thing is that I work with primary – I work with the littles.  I honestly think what my kids are doing with Minecraft rocks.  Last year’s class created a new zoo for Ivan and Ruby from the “The One and Only Ivan”, they recreated the White House, the Golden Gate bridge, they made Array cities to showcase their understanding of multiplication.  Then this year’s class has only been working with the program for a little over a month and they have made fraction towers in math and houses to suit characters from their independent reading novels.  They are learning – how to mine and use this program, how to build and create so that the vision they have in their head comes to life.  They are learning to collaborate and compromise so that everyones’ ideas play a part.  They are learning to problem solve – when they want to build a piece and it just won’t work, how are they going to figure that out.  The funny thing is Minecraft is helping hone these important skills.  Perseverance is a word we use quite often in my classroom and funny enough, this is not an issue when it comes to building in Minecraft. And every thing my students create they are so excited and proud of themselves for the work they have done.  So you know, I am not going to negate that because one person said this is not enough.

The amazing thing as well is that they are using this program, in my opinion, to a great potential. Recently I gave them the following real world problem. There is a new school being built soon in our school district.  I asked them to be part of a design team and design how they think this new school should look. They needed to decide what would the focus be on this new school and create it.  The next step was a Dragon’s Den style presentation where the teams would present their design ideas to judges.  The thing is the judges are going to be the actual principal of this new school, a school  design planner from our district, and a Minecraft expert from our IT department.  The teams will get a chance to “sell” their designs to these judges.  Now how more real can that get?

So to those people who are just starting out on their own Minecraft journey, I am going to give the following advice – its okay to start where you are comfortable. We are all at different spots in our journey in Minecraft and trust me, there are some amazing people doing some amazing things.  It’s easy to get intimidated and convince yourself you aren’t ready to use this because you aren’t as good as this person or that person and what they are doing.  I was there myself not too long ago.  But what you need to remember is that we all started somewhere and if your start is one small, simple project then trust me, your kids will be excited and overjoyed. Minecraft has so much potential in the classroom, its up to you to take that chance and let your students prove to you what they can do once you give them that opportunity.

As for me, like I shared, I can’t wait to see what happens with my littles and their school design project.  I am also excited to see what comes in the new year in my own Minecraft journey.

Dear Global Readaloud

Dear Global Readaloud, 

You may not know it but for the past 3 years we have had this quiet relationship that has been very enduring and important to me. I remember the day I first hear about you, it was about 2 1/2 years ago.  I had just tripped into this world of Twitter and while lurking in a Nerdy Book Club chat someone mentioned the amazing book choices for GRA that year. I was quite fascinated by this idea of using a book to connect my students to the world. So I immediately went and checked you out and signed up that year to read “Out of my Mind.” That year really taught me the power of a book – my students and I were so taken with Melody’s story – we cheered for her, were mad on her behalf and cried with her.  Not only did my class connect outside their classroom walls, inside we did too. The conversations we had really bonded us all. Even my parents commented on the power of that book that year. The connections my class made that year continued until long past the book ended. The teacher I connected with and I still talk two years later and it was because of you. 

A year later in a new school and a new grade my journey with you continued. This time it would be a tiny China rabbit named Edward that would be the character that would start my journey. The funny thing was I really questioned you that year. How would my students, a class of rough and tumble soccer loving boys, connect to a rabbit who wore a velvet suit jacket. Again you proved me wrong, they loved Edward and the characters he met on his journey. Funny enough they made their own version of the Ziggy Azelea song about Edward “He’s so fancy….and he doesn’t know, all the place he will go…” You proved to me that even my littles as I liked to call them, could see the power of a book. The blog posts my kids wrote that year showed me that. By the end of it all, I loved Edward as much as they did. As well during our connections my students found out so much from those they talked to. It was another year of moments to look back, smile and remember. 

This year, my third year in, was probably my most challenging. I was out of the classroom quite a bit during GRA. We had government exams and holidays that got in the way. Plus I made the mistake many make of making it not about the book, but about trying to do all these connections. I said yes to too many people, tried to juggle too many time zones and tried to take on too much.  Please know it wasn’t your fault – I got caught up in things that I shouldn’t of. And yes, I could blame you because my skype didn’t work, because my students didn’t get connect to padlets because of tech issues but really was that your fault? No…not at all. 

At the end of the day, Global  Readaloud is what I make of it. You do not decide how my experience wil go, only I can do that. And more importantly I think I should remember that it is about the connection I make with my students to that book and that character  that is really important.  I think maybe I lost that along the way because hey I was connecting to classes around the globe and wasn’t that amazing of me. Not one of my best moments I know, but that was on me, not you. 

So I hope you know that I understand that next year our relationship might change and I am okay with that. Change, while sometimes painful, is not a bad thing. While some may complain, I will only say that I look back on the memories I have from our time together and I smile. I look back at the things I’ve learned about my students, myself and I can only say thank you. Thank you for giving me all that you did and not asking anything in return other than to love the books as much as you do. I look forward to our future, whatever it may bring. 

Its All About the Space….

When I first started teaching ages ago, like most of us, I set up my classroom the standard way. I had my nice neat rows all lined up perfectly so my students could view me and the front of the room where the whiteboard was. It was what I had learned, what I saw many others doing so I thought this was the way rooms were supposed to be set up.  And I am sorry to say, this was how my room was set up for many years.  I did make some small changes as time went on and I grew more confident – I set up desk groups, let students pick their own desks but for the most part it was still rows of desks.

Fast forward to now and my room is definitely much different.  It took people who challenged my way of thinking – Erin Klein with her different posts on setting up a classroom environment that students felt comfortable in, Dana Ariss with her couches and beanbag chairs and many others who made me realize that it was okay to start rethinking my classroom environment.  But at the end of the day, it was my kids, my students who made me realize it was time for a change.

I want you all to think about when you go to PD sessions where you have to sit for long periods of time and how uncomfortable you all get. Most of us would not make it if we had to sit for a whole day in a chair or desk without being able to get up and move, yet we forget we sometimes ask the same of our students. We all wiggle in our chairs, shift around and even take a ‘bathroom break’ just to get up.  Guess what – our kids are actually the same. It was this thinking that made me bring in some changes into my room when I moved to my new school.

One popular space in our classroom

One popular space in our classroom

When I started in my new school last year, I decided it was time to rethink classroom space.  So I started adding in things that I thought were important to have some different spaces in my classroom where students felt comfortable to do their work. One of the first spaces I set up was my reading corner. Here is where I have my classroom library, pillows for the kids to set and lay on while they are reading or if they are doing work, they can also use this space.  I also have 2 Ikea chairs that the kids love sitting in while they read or do work.

Another popular spot are the tables I have – one large communal whiteboard table I use to work with the kids, but is also a great collaborative space where kids like to work together. Around it are hokki stools -the greatest invention. My kids call them “wobbly stools” but its great for those kids who need something to get those wiggles out. I like them way better than yoga balls because they are smaller and easier to contain, they don’t take up as much room but still have the same affect.

As well, there are two standing desks for those kids who just need to stand sometimes.  Again this is a popular space because sometimes kids need to stand up and move around. And this gives them that opportunity. The newest addition is a low table for those that like to be low to the ground for those that like to be low to the ground when they work.  It’s also become a popular collaborative space or space for my math groups.

Different working spaces

Different working spaces

My students have learned these last few weeks that these spaces are for them – they are to pick the space they need that speaks to than at that period in time.  For some of them, it is their desk. They like having their own personal space to call their own and sometimes some will work there because they just need to have a space for them to work on their own. We have also learned we need to share the space so if two of us want it at the same time, they need to deal with that. For most of them, “rock, paper, scissors” has become their go-to for solving any problems that arise and I am good with that.

So for those people who are wondering if setting up your classroom differently is something to consider, I would definitely say yes. It’s been working in my room, my students are happy, comfortable but most importantly, they are learning to use the different spaces to work and use it well.

If You Build It….They Will Come

I am lucky enough to be in a school where I have quite a few resources when it comes to makerspaces and technology.  We were lucky enough to be picked for one of the schools for Curriculum Redesign and were given quite a number of cool resources.  One of the amazing things I found when I came to the school last year was a “bus” that had Raspberry Pi’s, Ardiunos, Little Bits kits, Lego Mindstorms, Makey Makey’s and more.  As well, I was able to bring in Minecraftedu and Scratch as programs for students to use.

Unfortunately with it being my first year last year, I wasn’t fully able to use all the things listed above and it really was something I wanted to tackle and get into.  I felt my littles this year weren’t quite ready to take all this on so I decided why not start an afterschool making/coding club.  Little did I know what I was getting myself into.

I talked to my admin who supported me (as usual), did a little research and wrote a parent letter telling about this new afterschool club, along with what I called my “Code” of Conduct – my expectations for how things would go in this little club of mine.  Last Friday I called a meeting at first recess calling for all those who liked to tinker, create and build to come to the first ever BG Making/Coding Club. Well….first recess came and I walked down to the atrium to meet those who were interested and came upon a mob of kids.  I couldn’t believe it honestly – I asked them to sit while I explained what my goals and hopes were for the club as well as shared my code of conduct.  Those that were interested were to bring the form home, read it over with their parents and then bring it back to school on the following Monday. I ended up handing out over 70 forms.

I then went home and tried to come to grips with what had just happened.  Now I knew I would not get every student that had come to the meeting – some would have parents that would say this just did not fit into their schedule, some would not be interested in the expectations I was putting on them and for some after school pickup would be a challenge. However, I had to figure out how I was going to handle the numbers if I did get a lot of kids.  For me, the challenge was I did not want to leave kids out, I did not want to draw names out of a hat, I did not want to split into groups where one group would get a few months, then the other would come the latter half of the year.  I had a lot of things I wanted to do with the club this year.  So I decided that I would just take whoever showed up that Monday with their forms.  Those students who did what I asked, read over and got their forms in on the assigned date would be showing me they were seriously interested and could follow what was asked of them.  Again I was under this crazy assumption this might bring my numbers down.

By Monday lunch, after I put out an announcement saying all forms must be in by that lunch no later, I had 57 students in my first ever coding club…. yes, that is correct 57 students.  So now I had to figure out what how I was going to organize this sheer number of kids and how things would work.  I ended up having a meeting on the Tuesday morning with the 57 and explained that by the end of the day that had to be in a team of 3 and would be part of one of the following team challenges:  the Minecraft Challenge, the Lego Mindstorm Challenge or the Scratch Challenge.

At the end of the day, myself, my new partner in crime (the learning coach who was willing to jump in and join me on this journey) and 57 kids started our first coding club meeting.  For the Minecraft team their challenge was to plan and build something that would knock my socks off.  I explained that I was pretty Minecraft savvy and had seen some pretty amazing things so I now needed to see what skills they all brought to the table Minecraft wise – what were they capable of creating with the knowledge and skills they had.  And trust me, they were ready to go.  Many of them kept coming up to me going “I can’t wait for you to see this Mrs. D.  – it is going to blow your mind.”

Some of the Minecraft teams hard at work.

Some of the Minecraft teams hard at work.

For the Lego Mindstorm groups, I was very blunt.  I explained I did not know much about them but was willing to learn with them but their challenge was to work as a team and build something, whatever creation they wanted to as a team.  I was lucky enough to have 3-4 kids that had a pretty good idea of how Mindstorms worked so they got into their teams and away they went.

One of the Lego Mindstorm teams hard at work.

One of the Lego Mindstorm teams hard at work.

For the Scratch team, I was not able to get things going that day for them.  They were a smaller team – only 6 were interested.  I asked them if they would be willing to join the Minecraft challenge until next week when I could have things better organized with putting groups in different areas as well as backpacks.  (who knew 57 backpacks would take up a HUGE space in my classroom – I lost a big building space to backpacks alone.  I now know next week there needs to be a different space for this)  However, my challenge for them will be for them to make a video in Scratch talking about our amazing school and what is so great about it.

The plan will now be for the teams to work for the next 2-3 weeks on their challenge.  We will then collectively as a group come together and do a share where we will see what others have created and share our thoughts – what we think has worked well, what we liked and then have the group reflect on what they have built, what they like, what would they do differently if they could.  Then they will have the opportunity to rotate to another challenge.  This should keep me going for the next few months so that I can figure out how to slowly introduce all the other makerspace tools I want them to have a chance to experiment with.

So now that the whirlwind that has consumed me for this last few days has finally slowed down, I can reflect and say how amazing it is that I have the number of kids that I have.  During that day, I had students engaged and creating, helping each other out when they couldn’t figure out how to work something, not one student was left out, all were on a team of some sorts.  I heard over and over “this is so awesome….” “this is so cool….”  and “I can’t wait for next week…”

I actually have a waiting list of more that want to join, but I did have to be realistic and cap it.  I was close to getting in over my head with the numbers I already had. But I look forward to this adventure ahead. I have many ideas and goals this year and now that I know I have a group of kids excited to join me on it who knows what we are going to come up with over the course of the year…. but I’ll keep you all posted.