Expert in the classroom, virtually

By definition, a generalist teacher is not an expert in any particular discipline. Fortunately, most of us are, and enrich our classrooms with our interests and passions. Unfortunately, the scope of a school year of inquiry stretches far beyond any one teacher’s expertise.

Excursions and guest speakers can make up the difference, and video communications technology makes it possible to bring experts into the classroom from anywhere.

Near the conclusion of a recent unit which focused significantly on advertising, it occurred to me that one of my friends, Adam Lisagor, is the founder and owner of Sandwich Video, one of today’s premier creative advertising organizations. It only took a few text messages and time zone conversions to have him on the big screen in the classroom.

 

To prepare students for the interview, we first viewed several of Adam’s videos, then set a home learning task to explore more. Then, I asked them to submit questions via an online form so that I could sort and select in a way that promoted a conversational mood. As questions were chosen, students approached the camera one at a time to speak with Adam. Not surprisingly, their questions were insightful and elicited excellent comments on persuasion, honesty, and creativity.

In addition to an excursion, I would attempt to schedule a guest speaker, either in person or more likely via video, for every unit of inquiry.

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Service in action: ESRC

Action

Action is the one component of the IB Primary Years Program that is expressly difficult to implement and document. When I started at KIST, there was an opening as the Elementary Student Representative Council facilitator. Although I was reluctant to take on extra roles in my first year at a new school, my background in service learning motivated me to volunteer.

Since then, I have slowly transformed the culture of the ESRC into an authentic service learning experience.

Service design

One of the initial changes was to change members every quarter. This was done in order to provide opportunities for four times as many students per year to participate. I view each quarter as an iteration of the design thinking process, or more specifically, service design.

Service design process

1 Communicate with peers
2 Seek & identify service goal
3 Make action plan
4 Assign duties
5 Implement plan
6 Reflect on outcomes

The process begins by raising questions and surveying the elementary student population about their views on how the school might be improved. ESRC members speak with their own classes, and older representatives visit younger classes. Their suggestions and concerns are discussed in a subsequent meeting to identify a service goal.

In addition to speaking with their classes, each iteration of the ESRC conducts at least one meeting with the Elementary School Principal. The format and purpose of these meetings will continue to evolve, but their efficacy in promoting confidence and sense of purpose is invaluable.

Details of all meeting notes are kept in an Excel workbook with a new sheet added every quarter.

Responsible Communicators

In the article Community Service Ideas for Youth: Why Giving Back Matters by Marilyn Price-Mitchell, PhD, the focus for elementary students is on learning to be responsible. However, the ESRC at KIST is voluntary and the expectation of responsibility is made clear to prospective members before they join. Our focus is on growing as Communicators.

Members use a private email group to communicate with each other and a public (within the school) group to stay in touch online. I found that the emphasis on communication whether through meetings, speaking to large groups, and creating posters and other visual media, shifts the students’ attention from ‘learning to be responsible’ to needing to be responsible to take and illicit Action.

Our successes have included helping a Grade 2 student to persuade the school administration to install a Friendship Bench and sponsoring a Pink Shirt Day.

Future plans

Perhaps as our routines become established, I would consider developing a portfolio and badging system like the one described in Adam Hill’s post, Action and Service Volunteers.

Division models

One of the best ways I’ve found for infusing inquiry into my approach to teaching mathematics is to introduce new topics and concepts with a challenge. Recently, we explored Division by asking volunteers to share on the whiteboard techniques for visually modelling the division expression 21÷3.

Taking the time to do this has many benefits, including:

  • providing an opportunity to build confidence through peer to peer teaching
  • introducing, highlighting, and discussing a variety of accessible strategies
  • developing mental models which can be referred to as learning continues
  • initially assess general understanding of the concept in a zero pressure setting
  • review learning that may need to be refreshed before engaging more deeply.

Kidblog v Moodle blog

Years of experience teaching blogging in elementary school has demonstrated to me that the benefits of an online platform with an authentic audience and rich peer review opportunities is an indispensable element in contemporary writing education.


I have always been partial to Kidblog, but upon beginning teaching at KIST last fall, I was invited to utilize the blogging features included in Moodle, the school’s platform of choice.

As my students and I used the Moodle Blog, I kept a Kidblog v Moodle blog comparison table embedded below to note features of each platform to compare and contrast them.



Design

Although it is not necessarily essential for learning writing and blogging, the design of a digital tool greatly affects the levels of engagement and enthusiasm with which students use it.

Kidblog has a far more aesthetically pleasing layout, allows students to customize the design of their blogs, and includes features that resemble social media like highlighting unread posts and notifications for comments.

Class connections

Teachers can connect classes in Kidblog to expand the available audience for students’ posts. I have witnessed students develop personal networks of peers internationally with similar interests and writing styles.

Kidblog makes peers’ blogs easy to locate and interact with.

The only available audience in Moodle is the school community and posts are difficult, if not impossible to find.

Privacy

The most critical difference, and the one that establishes Kidblog as a superior learning tool, is the brilliantly designed privacy and moderation features.

Students can choose the audience of each post as only their teacher, students in their class, community members (students in connected classes and parents), or public. This is a tremendous value as it empowers students to publish and grow their audience at their own comfortable pace.




Moodle blog privacy is not adjustable.

In Kidblog, teachers can control privacy globally, restricting audience levels available to students and which comments are published. This ensures that the citizenship lessons inherent in blogging occur at the discretion of the teacher.

Another awesome privacy feature is for teachers to post private comments which only the post author can read and reply to.

Conclusion

If simply having a digital publishing experience is enough, then the Moodle blog function would suffice.

If blogging is to be a writing and publishing tool to learn to engage with an authentic audience and global blogging community, Kidblog is the only choice and is well worth the reasonable additional investment.

Further reading

‘Level up’ transdisciplinary skills

In the IB Primary years program, ‘Transdisciplinary skills’ play a critical role in planning, teaching, and assessing student learning. However, they are not often explicitly taught and when they are, it is usually in an isolated manner. For example, one might teach a mini lesson about ‘gather data’ as part of a unit of inquiry.
To reinforce the transdisciplinary nature of the skills and provide more opportunities for students to reflect and discuss them together, I designed a slightly gamified system.
Each skill is posted on the wall with an eight by one square grid underneath.

 

Each square represents a level. Every Friday, students are invited to nominate a skill to ‘level up’ and support their choice with examples from the week. For instance, a student could suggest that we have increased our ‘organizing data’ skill by learning how to use a new type of graph.
Each colored box represents a brief class reflection and discussion of a particular way to practice a skill.
The learning around this simple chart in barely ten minutes per week has been incredible, and occasionally students comment during class that we are practicing a certain skill.
Another benefit is that as our skill levels grow, it becomes more difficult to achieve higher levels. In the photo above, ‘Listening’ is at level seven with only one space to go. Many nominations have been made, but I have had to politely decline and explain that to achieve the final level of Listening, a new innovation will need to be discovered. I’m holding out for some expression of active listening, questioning or paraphrasing to improve clarity and understanding in communication.
Our skills reflection routine, for its minimal investment of time and materials, has provided opportunities to explore the nuances of each skill and highlight the importance of applying them in diverse contexts.
Perhaps before the end of the school year, we will finally level up the elusive Metacognition.

 

OneNote Class Notebook

Since the beginning of the school year at KIST, I have used OneNote Class Notebook, an ‘add-in’ for MS Office, to document and organize evidence of learning in the classroom.

The experience started with creating the layout of the shared and student sections. Having never used the tool before, I did my best to predict what design would serve our needs.

Months later, in reflection, I can see that my choices were acceptable but nowhere near ideal. Anyone else planning to use Class Notebook should be advised to consider the sections they will use carefully, especially according to class routines and assessment practices.

Although I was dismayed to receive an error message initially, the class creation tool worked perfectly and it is easy to add new students later. It creates a class notebook which includes a ‘Content library’, which the teacher can edit and students can view, Collaboration space’, which everyone can edit, and individual sections for each students. All of the sections have customizable features, so a thoughtful and well designed structure goes a long way toward capability and usability.

Have smartphone, will document

A smart device is essential to making best use of OneNote. Being able to shoot photographs of students and their work directly into their notebooks is an invaluable time saver. On the SAMR scale, I would rank it a strong ‘A’ for augmentation.

However, if every student had a smart device, if only for the purpose of maintaining a digital portfolio, OneNote would enable significant modification of the processes of documentation and student ownership of learning. Taken further, the empowerment of having equitable access to teacher and student created learning materials could be truly transformational.

As we use it now, I am able to upload in real time via my smartphone and students access their notebooks in PC Lab or when possible in class.

I am very excited to take the lessons I’ve learned in the past months to design a rich digital learning environment next year using OneNote Class Notebook.

Integrating public speaking, peer assessment, and data handling

As a formative assessment task within a unit focused on advertising, my class recently completed a learning engagement which integrated persuasive writing, public speaking, peer assessment, and data gathering, organization, and analysis.

Public speaking

The first step was for students to apply what they had learned around the central idea, ‘People create and manipulate messages to target and persuade specific audiences.’, by presenting their own persuasive speeches.

One of the most powerful tools we explored were TED talks about children.

We followed a typical writing process which featured prominently rehearsal and peer feedback.

Peer assessment

By emphasizing peer evaluation, there were many opportunities for me to model sensitive and effective critique as well as coach individual students and groups to develop as assessors.

When the day of the presentations drew near, students contributed their ideas about features of a persuasive speech which I synthesized into our Persuasive speech peer assessment rubric

Every student in the class used the rubric to evaluate every other student’s speech.

Data handling

This provided an authentic data handling exercise as students used a Persuasive speech peer assessment data organizer to gain deeper insights into their peer feedback.


I believe that the authenticity and social elements designed into the activity led to every student being extremely motivated to learn the concept and application of average.

Reflection

A further step that I considered including but decided against would be to teach the students how to use Excel or other spreadsheet software to organize and analyze their data. However, it didn’t seem appropriate at the time and I would prefer that the students experience this process in the old fashioned analog manner before introducing digital tools.