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Understanding Inquiry

I think that today I really learned what “inquiry” means. I know that this seems strange to say, as I’m a believer in giving students control over their learning, but usually I still have quite a few parameters in place.

Today I tried something new. For a special literacy/science activity, my Grade 1 and 2 students each went to three different centres. At one of the centres, they wrote and created words based on pictures of seasons (for Grade 1) and liquids and solids (for Grade 2). At the second centre, students read and listened to information about seasons (for Grade 1) and liquids and solids (for Grade 2), and then they shared what they learned using the iPod Touch, iPad, Nintendo DS, or Livescribe Pen in any way that they wanted. At the third centre, the students tweeted out and replied to tweets about seasons (for Grade 1) and liquids and solids (for Grade 2).
While the Grade 1’s have already learned some information about the seasons, this was my introductory lesson on liquids and solids for Grade 2. I gave the students nothing today. I provided them with resources, I encouraged them to talk and learn from each other, and I got them to try and use the information that they already knew along with the new information from today to try and better their understanding of these science topics.

I was so pleased with the results. Students naturally asked questions. They helped each other out. They talked … a lot. They used this talking to inform their writing. Best of all, students chose to write. They could have used any tool to share what they learned, but almost all of them chose a writing tool. Students were on task, engaged, and excited to learn throughout the hour that we spent on these centres.
The interesting part is that when I asked them what centre they enjoyed the most and why, almost all of them said the, “tweeting centre.” Students talked about how exciting it was to write to others online and have others reply to their tweets as well. They see the value in this “audience,” and this “audience” encouraged them to keep on writing. Thank you so much for that!

Today I started teaching a new unit, but today, I didn’t “teach” anything at all. I supported the students as they learned by themselves, and now I can use what the students know to inform my future lessons. I think that this is what “inquiry” is all about. I will definitely be doing more of this.
How would you define inquiry? How do you use inquiry in your classroom? I would love to hear about your experiences too!

What Happens When It Doesn’t Work

On Tuesday and Wednesday, my students completed some different literacy and math centres on measurement. I had what I thought was this great plan for one of the centres. The students made objects out of playdough, and they used measurement terms to describe these objects. They wrote their descriptions on sticky notes, and they took photographs of them along with the objects. The plan was to take all of their photographs and turn them into a digital book about measurement. The students were excited, and they spent a long time creating their objects, writing about them, and taking photographs too. There was just one problem: the photographs weren’t clear enough. Often it was difficult to read the writing on the yellow sticky notes. I should have had the students write on a larger piece of paper and with marker too. The pen markings weren’t dark enough. The activity didn’t work.

So now what? This is when the “process” is more important than the “product.” No, I don’t have a published book to share, but I do have lots of documentation of student work. I have written notes, photographs, and videos of conversation. I know what the students know, and I know what I still need to teach them too. This activity was a success, despite the lack of a published digital storybook.

The other activities worked too. You can see many examples of student work on our class blog: from our video toy catalogue to our Puppet Pal measurement and temperature videos to toy riddles that students would love for you to solve. There’s also a video here of our Twitter game: #ispy2011. Students wrote clues of objects in the classroom, and other students from Canada and the United States, replied with guesses. These other students contributed some of their own clues too. This was a lot of fun, and a great way to get students reading and writing with a purpose.

There’s also some videos here of the students at the different activities and discussing them too. It’s great to hear what they have to say!

I’m now excited to see what adventures this week brings! Even when things didn’t work according to plan, it was still a successful week of learning. What did your child enjoy the most about these centres? What did he/she learn this week? I would love to hear your thoughts!


Redefining Problem-Solving

It’s taken me a while, but I think that I finally understand one of my issues with math problem-solving. I really didn’t understand what “problem-solving” meant anymore. When I think about math problems, I think about the ones that I grew up with: There are 10 candies. You give five candies to your friend. How many candies are left? These are the math problems with just one solution. They’re the ones that don’t require a lot of thinking or a big explanation. They may help students apply some of the skills taught in class, but they are definitely not higher level thinking math problems.

As I read more and discuss more about math, my understanding of problem-solving has changed. Now I also see how some math exploration can also be problem-solving. On Thursday, I was introducing my Grade 1’s and my Grade 2’s to measurement. We started with non-standard measurement, and I was focusing on length. After we worked together to define the terms “non-standard” and “length,” I had the students work in small groups to measure different objects are the classroom. I had seven different non-standard units that the students could use for measuring the length of various objects (from playing cards to toy bears). The non-standard units varied in size. Before the students started to measure the different objects, they predicted if they would require more “smaller non-standard units” or more “bigger non-standard units” to measure the same objects. Then they went off into groups, and I got my camera ready to take photographs (seen in the Animoto slideshow below).

I saw students helping each other. I saw students solving problems. I saw them counting, estimating, and making predictions too. Then when the measurement activity was over, we met back at the carpet to discuss the results. Students shared what they found out. When they found out that two students were the same “length,” they even figured out how to compare the heights of the two students to see if this was true. They reflected on their own results. They also looked at our chart of results, and they started to make comments on the size of the non-standard units. They realized which units were larger ones and which ones were smaller ones just by the results, and they shared their thinking with the rest of the class too. This “math exploration” was “problem-solving” as well. It just took me until now to realize this.

What are some problem-solving activities that you do in your classroom? How has your definition of problem-solving changed over time? I would love to hear your thoughts too!


Loving Our Flat Classroom

I’ll admit that years ago when Zoe Branigan-Pipe (@zbpipe) introduced me to social media, I was skeptical. I felt that I ran a good, solid classroom program, where students were making gains and meeting expectations. Why did I need to add social media to this? Years later, and I now get it!

Learning becomes far more meaningful when we can learn with others outside of the classroom. Students get excited about learning when they can learn alongside other students in our country and from other countries around the world. Students come to understand why we do what we do at school, and that has value!
Over these past few weeks, I’ve really come to see what a “flat classroom” means. At the end of November, I saw a tweet from Karen Lirenman (@lirenmanlearns) that she did an art lesson with her Grade 1 class that I blogged about weeks before. A former student taught this lesson to my class, and I recorded his instructions using both video and the Livescribe Pen. Karen was able to use these recordings to instruct her group of Grade 1’s in British Columbia. Wow! Amazing! It occurred to me that with the use of social media, teachers no longer need to be the experts in all subjects. We can use the lessons shared by others to help teach our own students. We can learn alongside other educators that can help make us better teachers. I know that this is what I’m experiencing right now!
As we learn from other teachers, our students can learn from each other too. Right now, my students are working on descriptive writing, including learning how to spell the colour words correctly in their writing. On Tuesday and Thursday, my students helped practice their skills through a Twitter chat called #namethattoy. Students tweeted descriptive clues about toys to other students from Canada and the United States, and they responded with their guesses. Then the other classes tweeted their clues too, and we responded as well. Students were reading and writing with a purpose, and from our room, they were connecting to others from miles away. Look at this video shared by Karen Mensing’s class (@msmensing) in Phoenix Arizona:
The real impact of this Twitter chat came to me on Friday afternoon when one of my Grade 2 boys said to me after nutrition break, “Miss Dunsiger, on the weekends I think to myself, I wish that we came to school all week long. Wouldn’t that be fun?” Then he started talking about the colour writing activities from this week (featured in the Animoto slideshow below), and he asked me, “What do you have planned for next week? Who can we connect with then?”

And this is why I now see value in the “flat classroom.” Before I started using social media in the classroom, students never got as excited about learning as they do now. This excitement helps motivate all of my students to learn. I see success. As the quote at the bottom of my email says, “If they don’t learn the way you teach, teach the way they learn.” I think that I’m finally doing that!


Learning Can Be Fun!

I think that learning can, and should, be fun! I love when students get excited about learning, and I love seeing them so engaged in activities too. I love hearing great conversations between students, and I love when students can learn together. Today was a wonderful day of learning and a ton of fun too!

In class, the students have been learning how to spell the colour words correctly in their writing. They’ve continued to learn about adjectives, and they’re applying what they’re learning by working on descriptive writing too. I set-up six special literacy centres that all focused on the colour words. The students only got to visit three of these six centres today. They’ll visit the remainder on Thursday, so after Thursday, I’ll blog again with more details about the activities.
Tonight though, I was going through the mini-movies made by the students using ScreenChomp and ShowMe, and I loved them so much that I just had to post them. In class, we read, My Many Colored Days by Dr. Seuss, and the students reflected on what they learned by creating some short videos. Some students spoke about their different coloured days. Other students read the story and responded to it through pictures. Some students even read the story, and thought aloud as they discussed what Dr. Seuss really meant in his book. I hope that you enjoy these movies as much as I do:
Another one of our centres today was descriptive writing using Twitter. I brought in two large bags of various toys, and students wrote clues through our class Twitter accounts (and my account too) to describe these toys. We used the hashtag #namethattoy, and other classes from “around the world,” joined in with their own clues and their guesses too. Here’s a short screencast showing my students’ tweets and the replies too:
Students just loved this writing activity! They spent time proofreading their tweets, and working with the other students in their groups to help each other with spelling and punctuation as well. I was thrilled with the results! Thank you to all of the wonderful teachers and students that joined in on this Twitter chat today, and I look forward to doing it again on Thursday!
Looking back on just what’s shared here, it’s clear to me that learning can be fun! What do you think? How do you have “fun” in your classroom?


They Really Get It

My class has been fortunate enough to be involved in a Twitteracy project established by Brittney McCarter. While my Grade 1 and 2 students are continuing to tweet out summaries of the books that they’re reading using the #twitread hashtag, Brittney is nearing the end of her project. She asked my students to reflect on their involvement in this project. Since she didn’t need the whole class to reflect, I had a discussion with my Grade 2’s today when my Grade 1’s were attending a dental presentation.

I’ll admit that I was procrastinating on this part of the project because I thought that the students were going to struggle with this reflection piece. Could they really understand the benefits and drawbacks of Twitter? Could they really reflect on how this Twitteracy Project made them better writers? I thought that it was going to take a lot of prompting from me. I decided to use the Livescribe Pen to record my discussion with the students based on the four reflection questions that Brittney emailed me:
1) How does using the confined space of Twitter help your writing?

2) What kinds of things do you think about when you use Twitter?

3) Are there any other things that you would like to use Twitter for?

4) Has using Twitter made you a better writer in other areas when using a pencil and paper? Computer?

My initial thought was that if I used the Livescribe Pen, I could focus on trying to get some good information from the students, and then I could later summarize what they had to say. As I said before, I was doubtful about how this would go.

I shouldn’t have worried! As I was having this discussion with my students, I could almost feel myself getting excited by their answers. Here are seven-year-olds that really understand what Twitter is all about. This reminded me of Dean Shareski’s post about his wife’s Grade 2 classroom. Even in Grade 2, students know that they’re sharing their thoughts with “the world,” and they understand the implications of this too. They also believe that writing using this platform helps them become a better writer overall. They make some terrific points, and I hope that you enjoy what they have to say as much as I do (scroll over the page number to view the second page in this Notebook).

Hearing what the students shared here makes me see the tremendous benefit of using social media in the classroom. What do you think?


Making Nouns, Verbs, and Adjectives Meaningful!

Over the last three weeks, the students have been learning about nouns, verbs, and adjectives in class. They’ve been using various spelling patterns to write different nouns, verbs, and adjectives. They’ve been editing their sentences to add in more descriptive words. They’ve been learning about the importance of complete sentences and what a complete sentence includes.

This week, I thought it would be fun to review nouns, verbs, and adjectives by using different tools and different forms. I created six literacy centres, all of which are outlined in the Animoto slideshow below.

The students worked together to create media works, blog posts, and lists. They even tweeted their own sentences using the hashtag #nva2011 (inspired by George Couros’ post on hashtags), and encouraged a conversation on grammar. Today, the students even replied to tweets from others about nouns, verbs, and adjectives: allowing them to read and write in a meaningful context.

I know now that all of the students understand nouns, verbs, and adjectives, and how to use them in their writing. I can’t wait to see how their writing continues to improve as a result. For the parents out there, what did your children think of these activities? Which one did they enjoy the most and why? For the educators out there, have you ever done similar activities before? What were the results? I’d love to hear about your experiences too!


What Student Led Conferences Taught Me!

On Monday, I started a week of Student Led Conferences as a follow-up to our progress reports. This is my second year doing Student Led Conferences instead of the traditional interview, and looking back on the process, I’ve learned a lot.

Here’s my Top 10 List (in no particular order) of what Student Led Conferences have taught me:
1) Regardless of age, students can share what they’re learning in class. They can show and tell their parents about what they do at school every day, and they can highlight some of their favourite activities too.
2) Students can set their own goals. In preparation for the conference, I had all of my students pick two of their favourite blog posts. They needed to write about what they liked most about these two posts, and what they would add or change the next time. I was so impressed! The students were very reflective, and they even set their own writing goals based on these posts. Some students feel like they need to concentrate on conventions, while other students want to concentrate on generating more ideas. All students now have a focus for their writing.
3) Students and parents both need talking time. Students wanted to talk about what they’re doing and learning in class, but parents also wanted to talk and ask some questions about their children too. I completely understand the need for both. I think that a small interview component of these conferences is important, and I’m glad that we were able to balance student talking time and parent talking time.
4) Fifteen minutes is not long enough for this conference format. I set each time slot for 15 minutes, and I was pretty good at sticking to this time limit too, but it was a challenge. There isn’t enough time for students to show everything, talk about what they want, and answer questions all in 15 minutes. Next year, I definitely need to give more time.
5) Student led conferences could be done in larger groups. After I got home from my “marathon conference night” on Thursday (15 conferences back-to-back), I tweeted about my timing concerns. Both Angie Harrison (@techieang) and Heather Jelley (@team_jellybean) shared that they do multiple conferences at the same time. Angie mentioned that she sets her conferences for 30 minutes, but staggers how many students attend based on student needs. I like this differentiated approach. Heather teaches Kindergarten, and she said that she does two conferences at a time. This seems very doable too. I would need a slightly different set-up than this year, but I think this is definitely worth exploring for next year.
6) Sometimes there also needs to be an interview. I speak to the parents in my class regularly — once a week or once every couple of weeks — so there were no surprises on the progress reports. I think that this is important. If a student is struggling, I also think that I need more time to sit down and talk to the parents about what we can do. Student led conferences are fantastic, but sometimes interviews are needed as well, and that’s okay. There’s no reason that we can’t do both. Angie Harrison (@techieang) has tweeted about this before too, and I love how she schedules interviews in advance of the student led conferences if they are necessary.
7) Put out centres. Have different activities or tools on different tables, and even have signs with them that have some guiding questions for both the student and the parent. Try to balance literacy and math activities, so that the parents get a good understanding of everything that’s happening in the classroom. On the signs, be explicit about the expectations met at these different centres and when using these different tools. My students know this information, but when they shared different activities with their parents, they weren’t always explicit about the purpose of the activity. Before the Thursday conferences, the class made a list of 23 different things they could show their parents in the classroom. They were able to identify the tool (e.g., an iPad) versus the activity (e.g., using Word Wizard for making words), but we didn’t identify the subject area on this list. This is definitely something to do differently for next year.
8) Incorporate student choice. Given time restrictions, students probably aren’t going to be able to show their parents everything, so let them choose what they’d like to show. That being said, maybe have students show at least one literacy activity and one math activity. Most of my students did this, but not all of them. Having this requirement in place will ensure that parents get some variety in what they see.
9) Have something for parents to bring home at the end of the conference. I put together a collection of work that parents could bring home with them. They can then look at this work with their child and discuss some more goals for the rest of the year. Including a list of some guiding questions with this package of work would have probably been a good idea, as then the parents and the students can get the most out of it.
10) Incorporate an opportunity for feedback. I think that it’s always good to hear positive feedback about the experience, as well as any suggested changes too. Much of what I have on this list here comes out of the feedback that parents and students contributed on this Lino Wall:
Thank you to everyone that helped me reflect on this process and think of ways that I can make the student led conferences even better for next year.
For those of you that do student led conferences, what have you learned from these experiences? What do you like about the format, and what would you change about it? For parents and students that have been part of the process, is there anything else that you would include on this list of mine? I would love to hear your ideas!

Why I Love The Flipcam

I teach a 1/2 split. Sometimes this means that my Grade 1’s are involved in activities that my Grade 2’s aren’t and vice versa. Today was one of those days. My Grade 2’s joined one of the other Grade 2 classes for a special Reptile Party while my Grade 1’s stayed back with me for a special seasons activity. These were both science activities, but the students weren’t doing them together.

As a last minute decision, I had my Grade 2’s bring the flipcam to the Reptile Party. I’m so glad that I did! When my Grade 2’s returned, they were so excited to share with the Grade 1’s what they did. While they described a lot, it’s not the same as seeing the events themselves. The Grade 2’s took over 15 videos of this special activity though, and all afternoon, we downloaded them onto my computer.
Thanks to the flipcam and an awesome group of Grade 2 students that know how to use this technology independently, the Grade 1’s can now participate in this activity virtually by viewing the videos here. Parents can also see what the students did this afternoon, and the students can talk about what they learned. With the blog, other students from around the world can learn what these Grade 2’s learned, all by watching short video clips as well. The power of the flipcam is really quite remarkable!
A special thank you to Mrs. Ryan for hosting this Reptile Party today. My students loved joining yours for an hour of learning and fun! For those that went to the Reptile Party and those that watched the videos, what did you enjoy the most? Why? What did you learn? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Click here for the rest of the video links, including videos of Flat Stanley interacting with the reptiles.

Time To Reflect and Connect

As a teacher, I know the importance of reflecting, but I also know that sometimes I run out of time with my students to do so. I’m determined to have more of this “reflection” time though.
In class today, we started a new math topic: money. This is usually a difficult math concept for students. Many of them know the names of the coins, or can at least match the names of the coins with the values, but making different amounts of money is challenging. Students sometimes confuse dollars and cents. They have difficulty counting by fives and tens while also adding on by ones. They also have more real-world experience dealing with dollar amounts than coin amounts, so each year, it’s like starting the money concept all over again.

With this being a more difficult math topic, I know that the reflection piece is so important. Students need to see how other students are solving money problems. They need to compare solutions, and they need to start thinking in new ways too.
Today, my Grade 1 students worked with a partner to try and come up with different ways of making 10 cents and 20 cents. My Grade 2 students worked with a partner to try and come up with different ways of making 50 cents and 100 cents. They counted together. They helped each other “count on,” and they reminded each other how to count by 5’s, 10’s, and 25’s. They applied what they just learned in our unit on counting.

I made sure to end the activity early enough though that students could see what other students did. On one group of desks I laid out the Grade 1 work, and on the other group of desks, I laid out the Grade 2 work. Students walked around and looked at the work. They counted with each other to see if the answers were correct. They compared what they did to what other students did. Then they came back to the carpet, and they discussed with the class what they observed.

Here is a Livescribe Pencast of our discussion with a screenshot of the notes that I took (I couldn’t post the page and the audio from Livescribe because I had other notes written on the page too):
It’s great to hear the students talking about the solutions that they saw and thinking of new ways to solve the problem for next time. I’m interested in seeing how this impacts on our math activities next week.
How do students reflect in your class? What impact does reflecting have on performance? I would love to hear about your experiences!