Monday, 29 September 2014

Holding On Only to Let Go

This past Friday, our class had a pretty big deadline. We had to finish our personal narratives, to turn them into audio books, then create and lead assembly followed by a parent share time in our classroom.

No pressure at all.

By the Monday, we had all finished our final copies of our personal narratives but most students were still on the creating of the audio recordings. It became a bit more complicated than expected when we decided to record in iMovie first. This would allow us to reduce the background noise. Then we had to save it as a file, open it in QuickTime and save audio only before importing into Garageband. From there, students were able to edit and add effects to their recordings. Some students chose to record directly into Garageband, however, it created its only problems when students forgot to unselect the metronome and had clicking sounds going throughout the entire recording.

On Tuesday, it was time to look at the assembly, even though some were not done yet. Our class brainstormed a hefty list of ideas they wanted to do, as they always do which included:
- news report about how to make a personal narrative
- commercial advertising their stories
- original music for their news report
- flyer

One thing to remember is that the news report and commercial had every person in it (as per their request). The students broke into teams and started on their plan. The editors started setting up in iMovie and the videographers got into position with their ipods to record. Due to the time crunch, I wanted to have all the recording for the commercial done by the end of the day. Maybe not the most realistic but still. I found myself slowly creeping into the driver's seat as I tried to move from having one group record in front of the green screen after the next. With limited time, it's easy sometimes to slip back into old habits of guiding the situation more than you should or really need to. Sometimes it's easier to lead because you can get to the same teaching point faster and have the same outcome as your students.

At some point I realised this and put a student in charge of getting the rest of the recording done. Therefore it wasn't coming from me any more with directions. Of course, it continued in the same manner. I really hadn't made the process any more efficient. It is more powerful for them to have more ownership of their work.

I hadn't seen the commercial in 2 days and so I wandered over to the child who was working on it. I was completely blown away. I had no idea he had the tech skills to do what he did - without my help at that.

Then we started brainstorming for our parent visit. They were so thoughtful of their parents and really wanted to make coming to the classroom an 'experience' for them. They carefully planned games, chose songs to dance to and decided how to set up the room. They created a welcome banner and also organised a presentation to explain the events of the afternoon.

I again would have liked more time to see where the students could have pushed themselves farther but sometimes you don't have those extra few minutes. While they executed their plan well, I would've liked to give them more time to practice before their parents came.

Sometimes holding on to what you think you (and your students) need is what you don't need. Be willing to take a risk with your students and see where they lead you. Because chances are, what they'll do on  their own, will be far more than you expected of them.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Taking a Turn as a Student, While My Students Teach

A couple of weeks ago a group of 5 girls in my class were outside drawing at lunch. I wandered over to them to see what they were up to. "Ms. Mac, we are drawing unipigs and we want to have a unipig day!" Puzzled on what a unipig was, I inquired further - a pig and a unicorn all in one. I asked the girls if this 'day' was going to happen at home or at school.

"Can it happen at school?" was what I heard in response with the 5 innocent faces looking back at me. For a moment I paused and pondered before replying with, "Sure...But there has to be an educational component to it." From there it just took off!

That night the girls went home and by 5pm, they were on a Google presentation collaborating, commenting and coming up with how they were going to make this day happen. Within 30 minutes, they had already planned 2 lessons and created a Google presentation to use for their lesson. The document was shared with me by the time I got home from work and I sat there amazed at what had just happened.

The next day the first question I got from them was when was this going to happen. Putting the breaks on for just a second, I suggested that we meet to go over what they had planned and then we could discuss a date. At the break, we gathered in the conference room the 5 of them on one side me the other and they began talking me through their plans.

First up was a math lesson. They were going to create a menu of all the different cupcakes, cakes and beverages offered at the Decimal Dessert. Students would solve problems based on the open and closed word problem questions the girls had come up with. For the second lesson, the girls were going to have everyone design a cupcake in their writing books. Then, everyone would have to write a story incorporating the cupcake with the focus on developing their senses with taste, touch, smell, sight and sound. It sounded reasonable to me and we planned for the following Wednesday to be the day.

The excitement continued to build as the girls created more drawing for the day and modified their menu up until the last moment.

On the day, it was a very different experience for me as I stepped into the student role and actually did their lessons. I was incredibly proud of the girls and the way they conducted the lesson from start to finish. When students' hands went up, they were right there for support and even marked as they went. I loved that one when one student raised his hand and said excuse me and our PYP coordinator went to see if he could help, the student said he was actually wanting to ask the 'teachers' a question which gave me a good chuckle.

The biggest challenge for the girls was their excitement. They were all so excited by the event that they sometimes would talk over each other when giving the lesson. But how can you fault enthusiasm really?

It was a very reflective experience for me as well. As I did the lessons as a student, it reminded me of the little things that are helpful for the student to understand the instructions and tasks better. It was also interesting to see the girls modelling what I would normally do as well - the way they got the classes' attention, how they addressed students, approaches to questions. I saw the classroom truly through the eyes of my students.

Beyond this afternoon, I have had more students wanting to take risks and share. Two days after, I had a boy come in with a presentation about some action outside of the classroom that he created and wanted to share and I received an email from another student asking if she could present something she designed on the weekend. Perhaps sometimes it just takes one small step sideways to begin leaping forward.

I am glad I let go of the class for the afternoon and handed it over to the girls. It meant so much to them and they were so proud of what they accomplished individually and together. They developed their presentation skills, reflected on their work, communicated their ideas to others and challenged their peers academically. And the fact the girls also organised to each bring a few cupcakes in for the celebration to end the lesson was just the icing on the cake.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Failure is a Challenge Still Left to Overcome

We tell our students it's okay to fail. We tell them it's okay to make mistakes as long as you grow from them. We tell them not to worry and that it'll all work out. We tell them you learn more from doing something wrong than doing something right. We smile at our students and tell them to persevere, bounce back and  to work through it. We tell them  We tell them this when they get a bad grade, don't make the school team, or don't get into the college they want. But what about us as teachers? What about when you go after something just like our students do and you do quite reach what you want?

I make mistakes on a daily basis. There is no surprise there and it's something I really do embrace, usually with a good laugh at that. But sometimes you give something your all and you have those 'oh I really want this' moments and still it is just out of your reach.

This is exactly what happened to me this week. I had applied to Google Teacher Academy in Southeast Asia and, of course, was waiting patiently for a response on the status of my application. I had made a video, answered the questions,  shared my resume and was pretty happy with my application overall. Was it perfect? No, there were things I wished I had fixed or changed or added in the end but that's always the case when it comes to the learning process. Then I got the email that informed me this time wasn't my time to be accepted into the programme.

Of course, I was a bit bummed at first. I had that sinking feeling that takes me back to my Grade 7 year when I didn't make the co-ed baseball team at school. It was an opportunity I really wanted to be a part of and felt I could learn a lot from. But  I believe everything happens for a reason and it just wasn't meant to be right now.

Sometimes when you want something, you seem to forget about what you already have. If I stop for a second, I see how much I have accomplished already. When I look back over my teaching career, it's amazing to see where I am already and I am so thankful for each opportunity that I've been given. As I begin only my third year of teaching, I've had the pleasure of living in 2 countries, developed my technology skills tremendously and been guided and inspired by fantastic international educators. I've had the opportunity to take PYP workshops, present at a conference,  lead training within my school and recently moved into a Year Group Coordinator position. I get to work with students who inspire me each and every day and who bring so much laughter and joy into my life. Never did I think I would have a career that lets me create digital products, foster leadership in others, share my own love of learning and also get to play dodgeball and dance all in the few hours of a workday.

I've really only been using GAFE in my 1 to 1 classroom for a year now and I can't believe the transformation I've had as an educator because of it. Just like I tell my students to do, I'll try again next round. Each time I'll have more experience under my belt, more knowledge of GAFE, and in general, will hopefully be better a teacher than I was before. I am presented with the challenge of using GAFE  in my classroom and trying to become more knowledgeable with the tools I use on a daily basis. I will continue to develop innovative ways to learn with my students.  I do hope in my professional future that I do have the opportunity to be a part of the Google Teacher Academy and other professional opportunities that lie ahead. An obstacle only lights the determination within more as I continue to focus on making my classroom a positive and engaging learning environment for my students.

No one is ever going to be told yes every time. No one is going to get 100% every single time. No one is truly perfect. Mistakes matter. Mistakes make people develop character, resiliency and a different outlook on life. So failure isn't really anything but finding a new approach to the same problem, a new way of looking at things and just one of many ways that don't work. Failure is just a way of saying a you've still got a challenge to overcome.

Monday, 8 September 2014

You want me to speak? In front of people?!

It's hard to believe only a year ago I truly took my first steps in the world of EdTech. I'm blessed that my learning curve has been steep and fast and I've had the opportunity to interact with some amazing educators here in Singapore and throughout Asia. I have a lot of things I want to achieve in my educational journey. I'm only in the beginning steps of that path but I just managed to check another wish off my list but it came at the cost of the case of some serious nerves.

This past weekend I attended the EdTechTeam Singapore Summit featuring Google Apps. I had attended the conference last year as a complete rookie to the EdTech world where I soaked up every once I could and quite frankly my brain was fried by Sunday at 5pm.

But this year was different, this year I was co-presenting one of the workshops with a colleague of mine. As a new educator, I have so much to learn from those who came into this profession beforehand. So taking the stage to share my own experiences completely terrified me. I am no better than anyone else and in my mind not doing anything remarkably noteworthy compared to the other educators who simply care about their students and want to make a difference for their kiddos. From that standpoint, I never thought I would be at the point where I had something anyone would ever want to hear.

Yet, when one day as I was in the tech office trying to solve a completely unrelated problem, I struck up a conversation with our Primary EdTech Coach about the conference. He told me he was presenting and for whatever reason, I asked if they were still looking for presenters. Somehow we got to the point where he suggested I present with him our e-portfolios. Bam - hooked in and too late to back out. (In hindsight, awesome choice!)

Preparing the presentation itself came pretty easy to me when I knew what I was talking about was just everyday practice to me and my students. Perhaps my time management on the actual prep work could be adjusted in the future to eliminate some nerves but the fact is it was ready for action when it needed to be. We had many successes and challenges with the portfolios last year and all I really had to do when it came down to it was to be honest and speak from the heart.

On the day of my presentation, my colleagues asked if I was going to be okay. I clearly looked like I was going to be doing the scariest thing in my life as I entered the school cafeteria for morning coffee. But somehow I managed to get it together. I am so appreciative of all of my colleagues who were the most supportive group of individuals I could have asked for during this event for me. Many asked if I wanted them in the audience cheering me on. While thoughtful, sweet and super caring, no I did not want them there. Having anyone from our school sitting there smiling back at me was not what I wanted or needed.  I would only get more nervous in front of the people I work with every day, presenting the work we all do in our classrooms. In my mind, presenting in front of complete strangers was the best method - even though my colleagues promised loud cheers, banners and signs if I let them come. They did make sure to congratulate me and make me feel so special afterwards too. It's a wonderful feeling to know that if you stumble in your school you've got people to help you back up. I even had one friend make sure I got something special to have in my class to remember the occasion by. This also excited my students this morning and they told me I was a real risk-taker and asked if they could give teachers merits too.

I stood up at the front of the room about 15 minutes before it started with my co-presenter and looked out. 3 people there so far - well, at least I wouldn't mess up and embarrass myself in front of too many people. Unfortunately, we had a bigger crowd than that with each passing minute until it was time to start and there was a good size audience in the room. My co-presenter started off the presentation with the philosophy of the e-portfolios and I just stood there waiting my turn, jittery, and trying to remember to smile.

"And now I'll turn it over to my colleague, Emily." Darn! That's my cue. Okay, breathe, smile, breathe again, say something. And so it began. Honestly, for not really practising what I wanted to say, the words for the most part just rolled off the tongue. It's easy for me to talk about my students and what we do together in our classroom. I ooze pride when I talk about my kiddos - they change the way I think and make me a better teacher and person every day.

One of my favourite parts was just being able to have questions and answers with individuals in the audience. Like I said, I'm no expert, so sharing ideas and experiences allows us to grow together

An interesting thing I took away from the weekend that was unintended learning was my attention to detail about how others constructed their workshops and keynotes. I found myself analysing the presenters thinking why did this work and why do I feel that part could be done differently (nothing against any presenters). I found myself viewing the presentations less about content and more about structure, flow and connection. Perhaps I did not take away as much EdTech learning as I did last year (though still many new ideas) because of this unintended focus, I still feel like the knowledge I gained will help me propel myself forward.

Secretly (or not so secretly), this was a huge day for me. My first real conference and one featuring Google Apps for Education in a country where EdTech is top notch? I mean, come on, excitement over this accomplishment doesn't even begin to describe how I felt. I kind of felt like I kid again when I Skyped my dad the next day sharing the experience and hearing how proud he was of me.

Would I do it again? Yes. Will it always bring out my nerves? Absolutely. I've already had a friend at another school make a pact to both do a presentation in October (thankfully this one can be much much shorter!)  But I guess I realised was that I actually do have a voice in the education world. We all do. Teachers want to hear what other teachers are doing. It's okay that your voice is quiet and maybe not being heard by many but just like with my students, if I can make a difference to one, then that's a great thing I've done.

"Worst Monday Start Ever...Again"

So today I was greeted by one of my dear students at about 8:45am as I was wandering out to the playground. I simply smiled and said good morning and asked how he was doing today. 

"Ms. Mac, this is the worst start to Monday morning ever...again! Last week it was a bad start to the morning before I got to school and today is too." 

My response to the student, "Well I certainly hope we can change that before our Monday time together is over. We did last week once we got into class. Don't you remember we did our inquiry investigations and place value rap? What will make it better today?"

As he rubbed his head and thought very intensely about his answer he responded, "Ya... you're right. We had fun that day. But today is going to be different I can feel it. I don't know what will make it better. Well... you're going to say no. I know you're going to say no if I say this. It's not going to happen." 

Curious of what I was 'so sure to say no to' was as I have basically jumped on board every idea a student has suggested this year (something I'm trying to do more of - letting the students guide the learning), I said, " Give it a try - what would make your day better?"

"Free time?"

I took a second and thought to myself for a second and said, "Yes!" 

I'm pretty sure my student just looked at me in disbelief. He had asked for free time and I had agreed to it. It was clear it was not a common thing for him. "We will make sure you have a designated time for free time if that's what will make your day better." 

To be honest, I had the best Monday morning of the year with my students. Maybe it was coming off the EdTech Team Singapore Summit conference this weekend or maybe it was me just savouring every moment with my kids but to me, it was a great morning too. 

First thing, I ditched my chair and we just sat in a circle talking. It was a different vibe being on the same level as them as we discussed our weekends in connection to our learning from the past week. Last year I would always ask my kids about their weekends and hear all kinds of wild tales but this year by just changing the question slightly, I feel my students are enhancing the connections they make from in class learning to everyday experience. 

Then I literally gathered every book from our classroom and put them in the middle of our circle (with some help from the students of course). I received a few looks of being a bit crazy as I completely disassembled our class library. 

"We need to figure out a better way to sort the books. I was going off what we used last year but I think you all could find a better system that works for you." 

I have never seen kids so excited to sort books! I turned my back for a second to grab my camera and by the time I turned back, each child had a pile of books trying to figure out which one went together. I saw students creating lists of categories on the board, scratching out ones that could be combined and renaming others. Students began questioning which category a book would fall into - it was non-fiction but could go into science and habitats - which was better? Or why a book would fall under poetry if it was written as a picture book with a storyline. The discussions were amazing, the teamwork and collaboration was so evident and me... I was standing on the sidelines. I kind of just stood there watching for a few minutes before I jumped back into action and started to join in the fun asking questions to challenge their thinking. Don't get me wrong, there were a few kiddos that would wander into another mind space and need to be redirected back with specific jobs they could achieve but for the most part they were running themselves.  A successful class library was created. Is it the way I would sort them? Not completely but that doesn't matter. The fact they were able to do that together was most important. And of course when I asked what they thought of their new library, "It's much better our way Ms. Mac" was all I needed to hear for a chuckle. 

Our next challenge - how to get the books out of the classroom and into homes. We decided as a class by brainstorming and combining our ideas on how we would make our book sign out procedures most effective. Each student created a page in a book for their individual sign in/out log but then we also had a wish list page so students could wish to receive books others already had out. Seemed simple enough but let's see how this works in practice. 

Then the good stuff, presents! Over the summer a friend and I had created some book bags for the back of chairs. Students are going to use these to store up to 5 books they want to read at any one time. This will give them no excuse when it's time to read. My kids were so excited by their presents. 
" Did you really make them just for us?" they questioned as their little eyes looked up at me. 

My favourite email of my day (one from a student doing their writing homework for the week) said, 
"Today was really fun. I really like to read. I have one question did you make the present you gave us? I really like the idea because I'm a bit lazy so  I don't need to walk to get a book now." Laughter again - my kids crack me up constantly. 

Now that little boy who had 'the worst Monday morning start...again" was doing some independent reading and I said to him he was free to do whatever he wanted until break (about 10 minutes) as I had promised that time. To my shock, he just shook his head. 

"Actually Ms Mac, I think I'd just like to keep reading."

"You sure? This can be your free time and you really can do anything."

"Ms. Mac, I was hoping when I woke up we would get to read today, so I just want to do this."

Speechless. It's incredible how often my students do that to me these days. By the end of the day, I had done nothing different in my classroom for this one student as he chose to do what we had already decided to do. But yet, he thanked me as he ran off at night. Sometimes it's not the academics that make the difference it's your attitudes towards the students. Showing the slightest bit of compassion towards them can make a bad day turn upsidedown. 

I can't wait until next Monday morning at 8:45am...wondering what my next worst start to a Monday morning challenge will look like next.