Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Crowd-sourcing at a Conference

Friends/PLN, I need your help!

I am currently at the OTF Pedagogy B4 Technology conference in Markham.  Today I presented a session about my experiences with global projects.  A participant in my session met me afterwards and we had a short chat about the session.  He is very interested in global communities and getting started with global projects. This awesome teacher from TVDSB is not (yet) connected on Twitter (I am hoping to change that tomorrow).  He was inspired by the mention of the Kids Guide to Canada project that my friend Cathy Beach is organizing.  He has this idea to extend his "one thing" website where you share ONE THING you take away, remember, adore, etc. and apply it to this #AKGTCanada project theme.  His idea was for everyone to share ONE THING about Canada.  I told him we could easily crowd-source this on Twitter during my Minds on Media session tomorrow (also about global projects). He is not convinced it would be that fast and easy.  I want to show him the power of a PLN on Twitter and hopefully convince him that this tool is helpful in establishing global connections. We will also be taking paper copies that I will photograph and tweet out. You do not have to be a Canadian to participate, but it helps!

Soooooo, here are my requests.

1.  Please share this post and RT this plea to recruit help.

2.  At some point in the next 24 hours please compose a tweet with the following things included:

-  #OneThingAboutCanada hashtag at the beginning
-  your ending to that prompt
-  #pb4t & #akgtcanada hashtags at the end
-  feel free to include a photo or a link if you choose that proves your point! (not necessary though)


Sunday, July 17, 2016

End of an Era - Life Skills Reflections (Part 3 - Out of the Building Learning)

As I continue to pack up my former Life Skills classroom, I am amazed at the artifacts that were collecting in the six years since the new Ryerson reopened and moving into Room 20.  With every pile I sort and photograph I find, I am reminded of the very unique learning opportunities that occurred in this program over the past 8 years.  With every class photo I look at, I am brought back to a really cool project we worked on or interesting trip we took.  You see, having a class of 6-9 students each year allowed for some pretty cool and unusual experiences that you just can't do with a regular class of 18-30 students. With educational assistants willing to use personal vehicles, we avoided huge transportation costs and used those funds to seek out experiences that were new or exciting to the students currently in the program.

One of the trips that I always struggled with each year was Horseback Riding.  This practice occurred prior to me coming into this role and it was a highlight that was requested to continue.  My first year, I was shocked at the expense and had difficulty justifying using over half of the year's budget on an hour lesson repeated over eight weeks.  To me it didn't seem practical.  The adults basically watched and cheered on the students, and I wondered if this was a good use of 3 educators' time. What this time actually became was an opportunity for us as a team to do some informal planning and debriefing of recent activities. As a team, we never had planning time together.  All of our communication occurred while students are present.  These weekly trips that I scheduled in the Fall, gave us an opportunity to have some professional discussions to support students during the upcoming days.  Each and every year, with each group of students, I learned something new about the students and each one showed some progression of skill achievement during our time at the stables.  Let me tell you, you learn so much about students when you're driving in the car.  They don't feel like they're in school and the conversations often take a humorous turn.  It also allowed for some informal coaching and debriefing on the drive to and from the stables.  Most of the students that I worked with over the eight years, with a few exceptions of course, did not have many experiences outside of their home.  An opportunity to do something like horseback riding is something that many of my students would never experience otherwise.  Every year, even though it's the farthest trip from memory the students always say that horseback riding was the best trip of the year.  That REALLY matters with special education students because they typically recall the last trip/activity as the best.  Was horseback riding the best use of those funds? I'm still not sure, but I justified it each year due to the excitement and development I observed in the kids. Some were terrified to get on the horse the first day but were thrilled to return on day 2 and loved each and every lesson thereafter.  Some students that struggled with anxiety and anger management showed calm and controlled bodies around the horses 100% of the time.  Really.  Just think about that for a moment.  Students with balance or  physical issues worked on fitness goals, and for one student, it was the only time he was able to focus on this posture and keep his back straight.  Maybe this learning experience is more valuable than the price tag the program costs.  I was sad to inform the stables that we would not be returning next Fall.

Made with Prisma
Being a Life Skills program, it was always a fun challenge to find meaningful local trips that relate to daily living.  Our regular grocery shopping trips provided great talk time and in the moment math when students evaluate the value of items based on sale prices, quantities, and brand comparisons.  At least once each year we would visit a restaurant to discuss dining etiquette, ordering procedures, and calculating tips.  We were also fortunate enough to partner with some local food establishments for occasional cooking classes in the industrial kitchen.  These trips were always a hit and a great way to prepare students for future vocational work in this industry. Students wore gloves, hair nets, and had to follow the safety rules of the kitchen.  A trip to the local mall would provide opportunities to read maps and follow directions.  A trip to a mall in neighboring cities would introduce students to the public bus system; using tickets, following the route, and attending for the desired stopping point.  These all seem like pretty common outings for families, but you would be surprised at how many students were experiencing these things for the first time.

Occasionally we would find a reason to drive around Cambridge and make many stops to check out local attractions. Sometimes it was the quest to find the perfect place to take a photograph worthy of submitting to the Imagine A Show photo contest.  Sometimes it was to find a scenic place to do some art, studying perspective, landscapes, and practice sketching.  My favourite tour of Cambridge took place the year we were working on creating a "tourism Cambridge" app.  Students recorded GPS locations and took pictures of local attractions and businesses to include with each write up.  These tours were so beneficial for so many reasons.  It was a great opportunity for orienteering, directional language, estimation of time and distance, and exposure to areas of the city outside of the student's home community.  Again, it often amazed me at how little the students knew about their home town.  For this reason alone, I felt these trips were extremely valuable for this population of learners.

Made with Layout and Prisma
One year there was a student that was obsessed with ships so a trip to the Museum for the Titanic exhibit was perfect for this group.  Another year Medieval times was a huge interest for my class so we not only went to Medieval week activities at the Museum, we also went to Toronto for the Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament.  For most students in my class that year it was also their first trip to Toronto.  Another year my class pulled in a huge profit on our hot dog lunch fundraiser.  This enabled us to take a bus to Stratford, take a tour of the costume warehouse as well as try on some cool costumes, picnic in the park, and then take in a show at the Theatre.  Again, live theatre (of this quality) a first for every student in my class. So many "firsts" over the last eight years.  I feel like our team provided many memorable experiences for these students and showed them a little slice of what life has to offer.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

End of an Era - Life Skills Reflections (Part 2 - A Terrific Team)

When I first heard the news a couple months ago that our Junior Life Skills class was to close, my immediate thoughts went to my team.  By closing our class, our team was being broken apart.  This devastated me.  For weeks, I was teary every time I thought about my EAs and what this meant for them.  This was my work family.  We've been together for eight years and it worked.  It worked really well.  I was very fortunate to have three very efficient, empathetic, and eager women who backed me up EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

As a Life Skills teacher, I often planned and worked in isolation, never having a collaborative teaching partner.  Having this team of educational assistants made up for that.  They were there to share those glances when you're glad another adult heard what just came out of the mouths of babes.  They were there to debrief after behaviour outbursts.  They were there with suggestions and ideas to improve the learning for our kids.  They were there to share to joys and successes when illiterate students learned to read and write independently.  No matter what, they were there. 

Not only did these women show up and dig in every day, these women supported me with every after hours event that I ever ran or hosted, including Family Math Night, EdCamp Waterloo Region,  Family Technology Night, Cheryl Kewley's "ReTurtlement" Party,  and all staff social events. Today, while packing up the Life Skills room, one of my wonderful ladies arrived to help me move some furniture over to the new classroom. Another has texted me every day to see how I've been recovering. Even after school is out and the program closed, I still feel connected to and cared for by these women. They also supported me personally when ever there was a family emergency, health crisis, or personal loss.  Like I said, they were my work family.  I will miss them immensely.

Yesterday I grieved for the loss of the classroom kitchen.  Today, I am reminded of the loss of my work-family-unit. These relationships matter! This has been the toughest part of saying goodbye to Life Skills.  Initially this particular loss was gut-wrenching.  With time, I've come to accept that change is inevitable and I know that each of our team members will excel at our new positions next year.  I am richer for having had this work family. With sincerest gratitude, thanks for the memories!

Thursday, July 7, 2016

End of an Era - Life Skills Reflections (Part 1 - The Kitchen Community)

Eight years ago I applied to Ryerson's Junior Life Skills program.  It was a means to an end.  Ryerson was getting a rebuild and I so desperately wanted to be involved in opening a new school.  I had no idea what the program involved, it was my ticket in the door.  What I very quickly discovered is that I loved this job.  This job was meant for me. Flexible curriculum, increased budget, assistance from amazing Educational Assistants, and the autonomy to go where the learning led us.  I became very passionate about using technology to support our neediest learners and, over the course of eight years, was able to do some really amazing things with kids.

The Special Education department recently decided to close my program (and three others) for a variety of reasons around enrollment, funding, and a change in philosophy that leans towards integration instead of congregated programs at the junior level.  While I 100% disagree with this direction, I must move forward on to something new.  For me, it looks like the next stop is grade three in September.  Normally, I would be spending my last week of school reflecting on the year, and in this case, the last eight years that I've been in this role.  But that was not to be as I missed the last week of school due to a terrible illness.  Now that I'm slowly returning back to the land of the living, I have to pack up my room and get ready for the big move.

My mind is racing with memories and emotions as I move around the room and box up the journey that was Life Skills.  I thought I'd start with an easy part...the classroom kitchen.  Seemed straightforward enough, right?  It was, until I started sorting the items I brought in for Lil Chefs Cooking Club, or the left over aprons from our amazing cooking shows we produced a few years back, or the specialty fish dishes that were gifts to "Gill-Ville".  I spent more than two hours going through four cupboards!  I was so deeply affected by the realization that I'm losing my classroom kitchen and, more importantly, the kitchen community that it created.  I left school that day, unable to focus to accomplish anything else.  Instead, I went home to create this sketchnote in attempts to share my feelings about my classroom kitchen.

This kitchen provided curriculum connections to healthy living and math expectations, in addition to providing nourishment for hungry, disadvantaged bellies. I'm sure you think back to a time when you were little and helped a parent or grandparent make a meal, or cookies, or a special recipe.  If you thought about it, you would recall the smells, the tastes, and the conversations that took place (often not related to academia).  These kitchen activities made us a little more connected, more human.  We shared stories, recipes, memories, and in those moments, completely forgot we were special education learners.  The classroom kitchen really was the envy of all the other classrooms.  The smell of our baking would fill the halls and attract visitors in hopes of being in the right place at the right time.  Our kitchen made us special, but this time in a good way.  We liked to extend our kitchen community and invite others in.  Over the years we did lessons with buddies, hosted staff luncheons and school wide hot dog lunch days, and created personalized gifts for family members. The kitchen not only brought the members of our class together, it also brought us closer to the staff and students in the school.  

And while I thought starting with the classroom kitchen would be the easiest part of packing up Life Skills, I was dead wrong.  This is the part of Life Skills that I think I will miss the most....or until tomorrow when I pack up a different part of the classroom!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

GAFE Summit

This past weekend I spent my days learning with other educators at the GAFE Summit in Kitchener. This is my fourth summit and I would have to say the best so far.  IMO, there was a variety of sessions ranging from beginner to geeky and some great tools being showcased.  This Google-stamped event was full of Google-type things (as to be expected) but there were a few other gems tucked away in the program as well.  Most of the sessions were geared more to learning about tools,  techniques, and tricks as opposed to tackling big issues in education.  At each of the previous GAFE events, I have spent most of my time sitting on the floor as the rooms fill up quickly. For me, it's literally been a big pain in the butt each year.  This time around, the pre-summit survey of interests seemed to help organizers judge which sessions required larger rooms, which helped spread people out a little more.  I am happy to say that I did not sit on the floor once this year! Here's a summary of the sessions I attended (and the ones I was creeping the tweets/resources for).

Session 1 

I attended the first half of Erica Armstrong's session on Creating Innovative Learning Spaces. She shared her journey to creating a learning space pictured below.  Her classroom evolved over a period of a few years as many of the resources are very expensive and took time to acquire.  She thought critically about the use of space and design with the philosophy that everyone does not need the same (seating, workspace, resources).
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Erica Armstrong's classroom evolved in a way that allows for different needs and interests.

I left Erica's session in order to catch the last half of Donnie Piercey's session titled Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Forms    I learned about some updates to forms and a few new ideas of how to use forms such as the one shared in this tweet:




 Session 2

I attended a session about Google Expeditions with Sylvia Duckworth and Sandra Chow I had a quick peek at Google Cardboard at BIT15 and although experiencing virtual reality was pretty cool, I didn't quite see how it would be useful in primary and junior classrooms where access to smartphones is extremely limited.  I am much more intrigued now that I know iPod touch version 5 will run it and that there are great tools available to create your own virtual reality projects.  I'm tucking this one into my "explore more later" pocket.




Session 3

I wanted to be split three ways during this session, however, I decided to go to Jeffrey Humpfries session Awesomeness with Apps, Add Ons and Extensions I am excited to try extensions SnagIt and Google Tone. Also, learning of Forms add on, Choice Eliminator, was a bonus.  While sitting in on this session, I was creeping in on Sandra Chow's session on Pop Themes - Engaging Students through Dynamic Learning It sounded like a fun session based on the tweets I was reading. I have often utilized pop culture references in events and activities so Sandra's ideas certainly were intriguing to me.  Another session I wanted to attend was Jonathon So's about Using GAFE in a Primary and Junior Classroom I feel that we are just beginning to see what people are doing to integrate GAFE with primary students so this is one presentation I wanted to bookmark to peek at later.

Session 4

By this point of the day I was beginning to get tired and didn't want to think about forms, spreadsheets, and amazing extensions.  I needed a bit of a creative outlet so I decided to attend Sylvia Duckworth's session on Sketchnoting.  I attempted to do this at BIT15 but it took me the entire session to update my ipad in order to download the app so I didn't get to play along.  So this time, I went app loaded, ipad updated, ready to play and catch the tips I missed the first time around.  Gotta love technology because this super cool app Procreate kept crashing every 10 seconds.  I deleted the app and reloaded with the same issues. I seemed to be the only one experiencing this.  Maybe it's time to admit my iPad 2 isn't the device it once was? Once again, I didn't get to create along Sylvia, however it's always good to watch her in action.

Demo Slam:

I'm glad I stayed for the demo slam if only to see Sylvia rapping with the assistance of Incredibox. A few fun resources were shared, however, you'll have to search for the sites as many of the links are not accurate in this spreadsheet.

DAY 2 - Session 5

This was another moment I wanted to be in three places at once, which is not a bad problem to have at a conference. This was a moment I was grateful for session slides being posted ahead of time. I quickly previewed the slides for all three sessions and found that Heidi Mannhardt's session Script-ilicious was pretty easy to follow so I could refer to it later and learn independently.  Great! Process of elimination... Michelle Cordy's session on GAFE and iPads looked like it included some great tips but also lots of stuff I am already doing.  So I decided to go to Leslie McBeth's session on Design Thinking. This was one of my favourite sessions at the summit. Leslie shared experiences with design thinking and challenged the participants to work though a problem using the design thinking framework.  The problem was introduced as "How might we improve the attendance system in schools?" Here's a screencast that shows a very quick demo of our process:


Session 6

I attended Mapping Forms with Molly Schroeder Molly shared some neat ways to display form data geographically.  I had a chance to try it out with a quick test.  A tweet was sent out with my form link and with from the results, I was able to map the location of the participants as well as colour code their responses.


Session 7

I've connected with Rolland Chidiac on social media for a while now so it was great to finally meet him face to face for his session with Jessica Weber entitled GAFE-volution. I think this tweet shows my favourite share during this session and makes me really wanna get my hands on a 3D printer!


Session 8

I attempted all weekend to get into one of the BreakOutEDU sessions with no luck so I was excited to finally get into the very last one!  I have to admit, I was lost for more than half of the challenge, which made me rely on others for clues and support. There was lots of critical thinking occuring to discover and decode clues and collaboration with group members was essential for success.  Our group solved the problem, opening all of our locks with 4 minutes to spare!  I already have an idea of how I would like to use this idea to introduce my next novel study! Thanks Chris Webb & Jeffrey Humpfries!

Sunday, February 28, 2016

EdcampWR - An Organizer's (worries and) Opinions

I'm coming down off an Edcamp high.   I'm a horrible blogger (my posts are very few and far between) but after hosting the third #edcampWR yesterday, I'm compelled to write. Those that know me, know that I enjoy event planning.  I love bringing people together.  And I'm passionate about education and promoting the culture of sharing. So it seems like a natural fit to organize an event such as Edcamp Waterloo Region.

When I started planning #edcampWR in 2012, Edcamps were relatively new.  The movement was beginning to grow in the United States in 2010. Kent Manning (retired teacher who was a very active member of my PLN and a big influence on me) sent a tweet over the Christmas holidays wondering if there would be any interest in hosting one in Canada, more specifically, near Belleville.  Around the same time Vancouver was also starting get on board and planning an event for April 16th.  Edcamp Quinte had three events in 2011, the first on March 5, making it the first official edcamp in Canada!  There were only about a dozen of us in attendance that day but it was such a great experience.  There was so much sharing, learning, connecting occurring.  Being there in the moment, face to face with passionate educators, while still connecting with virtual attendees on Twitter and Adobe Connect was amazing and I was hooked instantly.  By the fall of 2011, Toronto hosted their first event bringing in a much larger crowd and establishing "Edcamp" as movement to watch in Ontario.  So, in my opinion, this was the time to showcase what was happening in Waterloo region.  I had just been part of opening a newly rebuilt technology focused school and though it would be a great venue for such an event.  And it was!  We had 130 attendees from 11 different school boards represented at our first event on March 31, 2012.  People came all the way from Windsor, Ottawa, Belleville, and every district in between.  I'd like to think that our event, combined with Toronto's, inspired others because shortly after Edcamps were being planned in Ottawa and Hamilton.  Our next event in February of 2014 had similar numbers of participants and most seemed to come from neighboring and local school boards. Edcamps were now being planned in other areas such as London, Sault St. Marie, Manitoulin Island, Barrie, Peterborough and Windsor!  Fast forward to our event in 2016, although we did have people travel from Orangeville, Toronto, and London, most of our participants we from local school boards.  It seems that educators are not having to travel great distances to participate in Edcamp events as more and more are happening across the province.

When edcamps started in 2010, there were 8 events across the U.S.  That grew to over 50 in 2011, 6 of those taking place in Canada. That rose to 125 events the year we hosted our first event - 7 of those took place in Canada.  I remember the stress of trying to find sponsors for our first event and second events.  It really was the biggest task in EdcampWR planning.  In the beginning, we approached so many tech and educational companies for financial support or donations of products and services.  Most did not even reply to our requests and the others declined.  It was such a challenge to find support for our event.   In the following 2 years, the Edcamp movement has exploded with over 300 events held world wide.  Businesses are starting to take notice and are reaching out to Edcamps to promote their products and services.  When it came time to begin planning our 2016 event, sponsorship woes significantly changed.  Tech companies were contacting us and offering support!  Almost all of our sponsors for EdcampWR 2016 approached us wanting to get involved. WOW! As an organizer, that was impressive. We had twice the number of business partnerships and the best prizes to date. It certainly took some of the pressure off of event preparations but, more importantly, it shows the the increasing support and value of events such as these where people are in charge of their learning. 

Although sponsorship was up, the number of participants for our event this year was significantly lower, about half of what we've seen in the past.  In the week leading up to EdcampWR I received more than 30 cancellations from registrants expressing regret due to illness, death in the family, and conflicting plans. With a free event, it's always guaranteed that there will be 10-20 no shows. I worried that we wouldn't have many participants. I worried that our event this year would not have the impact that it's had in the past.  I worried that eliminating our unique Student Technology Showcase part of our last two events would be missed.  I worried that Edcamps are losing momentum and that people were no longer interested in our event.  I even stayed up the night before worrying about the the mistakes I made on photo booth I created!  I worry a lot....
Most of the time, I worry for nothing... Despite the lower numbers, EdcampWR DID have an impact, there WAS interest, and the educators were the ones naturally showcasing technology.  I feel like the smaller group made this event a little more intimate.  Roughly 1/4 of participants were first time edcampers and I think that's amazing!  I had been worrying that EdcampWR would be mostly made up of the usual know, the ones you see at every tech conference, the ones that are already actively involved in your PLN.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing, it's always nice to see familiar faces, but I couldn't help but worry about the echo chamber.  I, personally, love the echo chamber on Twitter because it's where I go for sharing, support, and motivation.  However, I am also aware that different opinions, values, beliefs, and ideas are essential to push your thinking and grow.  I've always struggled with this balance of needing affirmation and challenge.

Being on the organization side of things, you tend to get around to see little snapshots of what's happening at the event.  I tried to capture and share as much as I could on Twitter (check out #edcampwr to see the stream from the day). As I went from room to room to check in, I could hear amazing stories being told, resources being shared, and supportive teachers providing encouragement and motivation to each other.  I heard little snippets that I thought "oooohh, wish I was here for the rest of this conversation" or "I'll have to get someone to fill me in on that discussion".  Although I enjoy being the host, I feel like I missed a lot of the learning that occurred and selfishly hope that others will share their resources and reflections as well.

My favourite tweet leading up to the event:

I am very lucky that my family supports me in these endeavors as well. My mom, a.k.a. the most incredible woman on the planet, always rises to the challenge when I ask "Hey Mom, can you make me a cake for _______?"  Not only does she drive an hour and a half to deliver the goods, she always goes beyond expectations.  This time around there were 6 cupcake packages for prizes and an awesome Instagram cake (pictured below in a tweet from Scott McKenzie) for a lucky winner.  And this I firmly believe!

Thanks to all who came out to make it a great day.  It's tweets like these that make all the planning and preparations worthwhile: