Friday, December 25, 2015

Show What You Know with iPad: Using an iPad to Create and Self Assess in the Early Years


I'm often approached by educators looking for the best iPad app.  While my students have their favourite go to apps, what works for my students may not work for theirs.  In fact even my own students can't decide which app is best because each has their own preference depending on what they are trying to do. It's far less about the specific app, then what that app can do to show learning.

For me, the beauty of the iPad and more specifically the apps available for it, is that it allows my students to create, and show their learning in ways that work best for them.  For this reason I have created an iTunes U course titled Show What You Know with iPad: Using an iPad to Create and Self Assess in the Early Years.  This is a free course but does require an iOS device to access it through iTunes U . It can be downloaded onto  an iPod, iPhone, or iPad.

This FREE iTunes U course explores five open-ended creative apps including Skitch, Popplet, Book Creator, Draw and Tell, and Explain Everything. The course walks the reader  through how to use these specific apps and provides examples of how the various apps can been used in a variety of content areas.   The course makes you think about how these apps can work best for your students' learning.

In addition the course also explores ways these same five apps can be used as a tool for student self assessment in a variety of content areas.  Curious to learn more? Download the course. It's free! You've got nothing to lose. :-)





Here is a direct link to the course https://itunes.apple.com/ca/course/show-what-you-know-with-ipad/id1070360187 . For those of you who are already familiar with iTunes U the enrol code is  DCL-MYW-YNB.









Monday, December 14, 2015

Learning Beyond the Classroom Walls

As part of being recognized as a "Top 12 Global Teacher Blogger" by Cathy Rubin for Huffington Post, I am asked each month to respond to a question.  This blog post is in response to " What are the best ways for a teacher to engage their classroom in a global conversation?"

Before I talk about how to engage students in a global conversation I very strongly believe that a teacher should be involved in one first before expecting their students to engage globally.  For me, personally and professionally, that means connecting with the world through twitter, blogs, and various other on-line platforms.  I ask my questions of other educators both near and far and I learn with and from them.  I strongly believe if I expect my students to have a global conversation, then I should be too. This is not to say that every educator needs to connect the way I connect, but I do feel in this day it is important that you get yourself connected and learn beyond your classroom, school, or district.  Imagine only reading books from one bookshelf, when you have an entire library of great books to read.   

As for my students, I equally believe that they need to be able to learn far beyond their classroom walls.  For this reason our teaching and learning goes beyond our class, school, and district.  My students use tools such as blogs, twitter, and video conferencing to connect and learn with others.  We've taken part in collaborative projects such as the Global Read Aloud with children in other parts of the world.  Video conferencing has allowed my students to learn with others.  Just this morning my students taught children 2,000 km away about Hanukkah. Tomorrow they will be teaching a class within our school.  

So how do you get started?

Start small and bring a friend along. Find a venue that takes you out of your local comfort level.  This may mean joining a collaborative project such as one from  Projects by Jen  , or looking through the learning opportunities available on  Skype in the Classroom.  This isn't meant to be "another thing" to add to your teaching. Learning globally adds to what you're already doing.  For example, to help my students with their number sense, they played "guess my number" with several classes around North America. When they were learning about community they video conferenced with children in different communities to learn what features were common in all communities, and which were specific to where they lived.

Asking experts through twitter, or inviting them to video conference with your class is another small way to learn with the world.  Connecting with an author through twitter has been a pretty straightforward way to learn with others.  There's nothing like havin a tweet replied by someone your students see as important.  There are a lot of great people out there that are willing to help your students learn from an authentic audience.

So whether your first step is a small one or a big one, just be sure to take that first step.  There is so much learning to happen beyond your classroom walls.



Sunday, December 13, 2015

More Than Just an Hour of Code

This past week I hosted the Hour of Code at my new school.  As I mentioned earlier, this school is new to me and as much as I am part of this new school community, I am also the primary teacher for the new SAIL program within our district.  This means in some ways I work for both SAIL, and I work for my new school.

A few of the students in the new school know me because my students and I integrate into their PE classes, or I know them as my "field trip friends" because my class will be sharing a school bus with them.  We've also connected with a class when we have our presentations from the aboriginal culture workers. I've had small chat with many students, but my reality is, I don't know many of the students outside of the SAIL program.

One way to try to fix that is that I decided to host the Hour of Code for the entire school. A week earlier I had daily announcements made inviting students down to my classroom (a part of the school most students don't even know exists) to sign up for one of five code.org tutorials.  Throughout the week I had heaps of children drop by and by Friday afternoon over 100 students had signed up.  How exciting I thought to myself.

Unfortunately (or fortunately) because of the large numbers of students, and the limited access to devices, and the size of my classroom, I broke the groups down into thirds with each group being invited either Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday at lunch.   These students did not disappoint and my room was packed Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.  Each child had their own log in card and I was able to get them all up and running.  The beauty of code.org is that students can start a coding tutorial at school, then continue it at home.

As the week progressed things started to change for me.  As I was walking in the hallways more students were coming up to me to say hello, and to ask if was their day to come for coding. They wondered what would happen on Thursday and Friday after every group and been through for their first attempt at the hour of code.  I was slowly becoming the teacher who does coding vs just a body that was seen in the hallways from time to time.  Student were starting to say hello to me by name.

I continued the week of coding over lunch, and on Thursday and Friday anyone was invited to spend the lunch hour with me.  Slowly I too got to know more of their names, and it made me smile to be able to feed their coding curiosity.  I was able to set them up in other code.org tutorials, and to send a few of them home with some bitsbox information.  I was no longer that person they saw in the hallways from time to time, I was an equally important teacher in the school.

I hope that with time the rest of the school community will take notice that as much as I teach in a district program of choice, I am still a teacher, and I want to have a positive influence on any students I come into contact with.  Sometimes being part of something different, people think you aren't really there for them, but that is so far from the truth.

Hosting the Hour of Code has helped bring me into the school's community, and it has made the rest of the school community know that I am there for them too. It's gone way beyond just "the hour of code".  The best part for me (and I hope the students too) is  how excited I am to continue this "coding" with a weekly coding club the rest of the year.  I can't wait to share some of the incredible things these wonderful students will get up to.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Using Scratch Jr to Code How to Make Bread


Each Wednesday morning my students start the day by measuring out and adding ingredients to our class breadmaker.  They then get on with their day until the bread is ready to enjoy and share with others.


This past Wednesday they did things a bit differently.  With all the ingredients in the machine, my students turned to the free iPad app Scratch Jr to create a program that tells others how to make bread.  While they have worked with Scratch Jr before, this was the first time that their "coding" had a real purpose.  They were coding to teach others how to make bread too.

My students could choose to work on their own or with a friend.  They then got down to work. And boy did they work.  For close to 90 minutes my students worked on problem solving their coding needs.  They wanted their final product to look as close to what they do themselves each Wednesday morning.  They added repeats to their coding so that a spoon would go back and forth to match how many scoops they added to the bread machine.  They played with the appear/disappear feature so that they could make it look like their ingredients were dropping into the bread machine.  They added "characters" you could touch so that you could hear what was happening in the picture.  They added other links that took you to the next step in the process.  Along the way they learned that you can only have four "scenes" in each Scratch Jr project so a few of them had to make more than one project.

Now this wasn't easy for them.  There was a ton of trial and error.  There were math computations to figure out to ensure the spoons and scoops stopped at the  right place.  There was timing of items becoming visible, and then becoming invisible.  There were repeat codes.  Here's a small sampling of some of their coding.  You'll notice that many of their pages had several items to code. Remember anything they've added to the page that moves or makes a sound, needed to be coded.

This code is making the ingredient drop into the bread machine at just the right time to match the ingredient moving toward the bread maker. They have also programmed the dropping ingredient to disappear into the bread machine.

This code is ensuring that the flour fall from the spoon at the right time, and then disappear after it drops.

This code is programming the scope to make it from the flour to the bread maker and then tip into the bread maker.

This code is making the spoon go up and over to the bread maker, tip into the bread maker, then return back to the beginning and repeat the process four times since they have to add 4 scoops of this ingredient to the bread maker.

This code has the spoon travel from the left to the right side of the page, up the page and then over the bread maker where it tips into the machine


Curious what they looked like? Here are a couple to check out. Now please note in the transfer process the sound was lost so these are silent movies. Remember though every action in each movie was created by a specific code telling the object to do exactly what it's doing.  Enjoy















Saturday, November 7, 2015

Learning By Design in a Primary Classroom

First off, I'm not an expert here, nor am I doing something new. I am not the first, nor will I be the last but I still want to share my story.

As many of you are away this year I'm in a brand new position with my school district as part of a brand new program. I am the only K-3 teacher for my district's choice program SAIL - Surrey Academy of Innovative Learning.  Being a new program means I am building a program as it runs.  I will admit there are some challenges because of this but there are a lot more positive adventures.

Creating their own problem, then finding their own solution through trial and error.
Student driven learning.

 I have incredible students who love to explore, create and design.  I've spent a lot of time watching them do this and have been trying to find ways to make our new curriculum fit with their passions, instead of in spite of their passions.  So this week we began to explore design challenges.

The challenges themselves are quite simple but the beauty of them is that they are using tools my students love to learn with, they were co-created with the students, and the criteria for success was determined by the students.  I provided the opportunity for them to learn this way, but they came up with the purpose.  Along the way they learned that they have to collaborate to be successful. That sometimes, even with the best laid out plans, that they aren't successful. That mistakes just lead to new learning. That perseverance is a skill, and some of us need to work hard to have some, and for some of us it comes naturally.  But above all they learned, once again, that learning is and can be student centered and fun!

So what exactly were our challenges this week?

The first was "The Contraption Lab"

Inspired by seeing Jake Lee use a product called Weird Wacky Contraption Lab with his grade one students in Hawaii, and how they were working through the design process with it, I knew we needed one too.

The goal of the first challenge was to "launch the pig". After some discussion, and actually counting how many pieces the toy had, the students decided that to be successful they needed to use between 5 - 10 pieces.

The first group thought they were successful until they counted their pieces and realized they didn't have between 5-10.  It was certainly a task in trial an error as the marble was flying of the track, or not landing where they thought it should. As I mentioned it naturally included communication through discussion, problem solving, and a lot of failure.  Not every group that has been through this challenge has been successful... yet.  Perseverance is key!


Working together to design a track that will allow a marble to travel from the top to the bottom and then launch a pig.


The second challenge was called Sphero.  In this challenge we talked about making a maze and using a pretty new (to them ) app called Tickle to program the Sphero through the maze.  We decided that as much as it would great to have a complicated maze, the reality was this is still quite a new app so just having  a one turn maze would be enough.  My students  learned a little bit about angles, and speed.

Trial and error to program a sphero through the maze.

The goal for this challenge was to program the Sphero using the Tickle app. In order to be successful at the challenge the program had to get the Sphero through the maze without hitting the walls.  This challenge also required my students to do a lot of trial and error - or as we called it test, modify, and re test.  For my younger students the angles and speed variables were a bit too much for them, so we modified the app they used and instead of programming, they guided the Sphero through their maze using the Sphero app. They still had to control the speed,  but they had more control when it came to the turn.

Design, test, redesign as necessary. Perseverance is key.

The third challenge we worked though was the "Dash" challenge.  My students have named Dash, Robo Don. The goal of the challenge was to program Robo Don to play Hot Cross Bun and an original tune on the attached xylophone. To be successful their program had to work and play the two songs as required. Hot Cross Bun was chosen because the students were learning how to play it on their tin whistles in music class.  This challenge was a bit easier than the others but it sill required the same skills - communcation, collaboration, problem solving, and test, modify, and retest.  One group's  version of Hot Cross Bun had a note or two out of place, for another group there were long pauses. The students had to figure out how to use the program and then program it to do what they needed it to do. They had to listen to the tunes they were composing, and correct any errors.

The sounds, just about right. Time to tweak the tune and try again.

Figuring out which notes we want "Robo Don" to play and then programming those notes.

Now learning by design challenges haven't been new to my class. Each Thursday morning, before we go to the school library, we have a lego challenge. We've written our name in lego, our numbers, made animals, built vehicles, and shelters. This past week our challenge was to make a plant, and some of my students made a full garden including a shed.  My students thrive in this challenge based environment.

Some of our Lego shelters

Odd numbers made with Lego.

Lego Ducks!

Lego Farm Animals

So I'm curious, do you offer design challenges for your students? Are they part of the design process? Please share! I'd love to learn from you.

*An update:  As my students are only in the building four days a week they have one day a week for home learning.  This weekend one of my students went home and designed their own challenge. They wanted to create a marble run that went from the top of their staircase, through tubes, and into a box at the bottom of the staircase.  They filmed an elaborate video (which I can not share here as it identifies a name with a face) and wrote this accompanying blog post.

"My goal was to make a marble run and get it in the bucket. I used tunnels to make it go through them. I messed up on some of them but I got it don. Some of the parts started to move out of place and then the marble didnt go through all the way. On each tunnel I put up I ran a marble to test it and see if it was good where it is. If it was good I taped it in place and did it over and over again. And I finished my goal and got the marble to go in the box. "


WOW! Our students are eager learners.  We need to continue to find ways to tap into their passions and help them learn in ways that work best for them.  I have a huge smile on my face right now as this child not only took what was of interest to her, but involved her family with her learning too. This is a form of teaching and learning I won't be too quick to walk away from anytime soon.



Monday, October 12, 2015

Social Media CAN Help Manage a Successful Classroom

As part of being recognized as a "Top 12 Global Teacher Blogger" by Cathy Rubin for Huffington Post, I am asked each month to respond to a question.  This blog post is in response to " Can social media have a role to play in managing a successful classroom?"

If you've spent anytime on this blog, or you've seen what I've shared on social media or what I present at conferences, you'll know that for me and my students, utilizing social media has been an important tool for learning. Let me explain some of the reasons why I believe this.

Social Media Teaches Children that Learning is Social

I've always valued the co-operative nature of a classroom. I work to turn my class into a family where we genuinely care about helping each other become the best we can be. For my students and I learning is social.  Utilizing social media allows us to be social far beyond the walls of our classroom.  My students have made connections with their weekly reading buddies two time zones over.  The have learned math with children in another country. They have connected with children all around the world. These children share a similar interest to them.  In one instance one of my students wrote about how much he loved soccer. A few students in Korea read what he wrote and responded back through a comment on his blog. They then took it a step further and created a soccer gift for him. Social media helps my students see the power of learning with others.



Social Media Teaches Children that Their Voice Matters

Social media also helps teach my students that their voice matters.  Whether it be through tweeting an opinion on a book, or sharing their way of solving a math problem, children and adults around the world hear what they have to say.  Social media allowed my students to interact with Elise Gravel, a Canadian children's book author.  My students had questions they wanted answered about her story the Rat, and they wanted to let her know what they liked about her book. Social media allowed them to speak to her directly, and to ask their questions. The best part in this interaction was that Elise Gravel heard my students loud and clear and created this image for them, which is the main character in her book.

To read more about this interaction please check out this blog post

Social Media Teaches Children About the World

Through tools like blogs, video conferencing, and twitter my students have been able to learn about other children around the world. A couple years ago we started our year with one simple tweet, "This is what it looks like out our classroom window. What does it look like outside of your window today?"


The result was that we received tweets from all over the world. Each tweet brought a set of curiousity questions to my students. "Ms. Lirenman, why are they wearing uniforms?" or "Ms. Lirenman why do they have a guard at their school?". Things are different around the world and it's important for my students to know and try to understand that.  Yet, things are equally as similar around the world.  My students were able to play "guess my number" with children as far away as New Zealand all because our learning is shared through social media. People see what we are learning, and want to learn with us OR we see what people are learning and we want to learn with or from them.  Social media helps us do that.

Those are just a few reasons why I feel social media can play a role in managing a successful classroom. How can or does  social media play a role in your classroom?


Saturday, September 19, 2015

Changes Ahead...

Back in June, I applied and successful acquired a new job.

Here was the job posting...


(Click on it to make it larger)

What appealed  to me most about the job was that is was a position that supports my vision of education and it was housed in a building being run by an administrator I highly respect. While I wasn't looking to move schools, it was a job opportunity I couldn't let pass me by.

This new job means that I ...
  • have a multi aged classroom ( a possible k-3 class although at the moment I have students in grade one and grade three)
  • will continue to support inquiry learning
  • have students who are not in the building every day as there is distributed learning piece where children are learning from home 
  • have the responsibility to plan appropriate/meaningful learning tasks for the home learning piece
  • am available to meet with parents to help support home learning
  • keep a focus on STEAM learning and integrate seamlessly
  • foster and support wonder and inquiry
  • embrace the maker movement as a way of learning
  • have my students look for and solve real world problems
  • continue to have my students learn with the world
  • teach the new BC curriculum and find meaningful ways to go deeper with it 
  • have on-going communication with families
  • OF COURSE honour my students as who they are and support them as passionate learners
Much of this is not new to me, or my way of teaching but it's in an environment that completely supports what I believe is best for kids.  To no surprise I have some pretty big dreams for my new adventure but first and foremost I am listening and learning from my students.  Within this first week I have learned that I am working with a capable curious bunch of learners.  I have a train expert and a dinosaur expert, and I have a group of students who need to move to learn.  The class magnifying glasses have been a hit for many, and our adventures in coding taught me a lot more about my students and their ability to persevere when things got tough.  I have also learned that I have some compassionate people, willing to use "I messages" to let their classmates know how they are feeling.  It's been a really great first week, and I can't wait to see where our year together takes us.

I am super excited to work with these children who are looking at a new approach to learning. And yes, my class is technically a k-3 class, but in my mind my class is a group of learners, who together will create, inspire, and support one another on each of their personal learning journals. Yes, there is curriculum that needs to be embedded into our learning, but student centered learning will be what we focus on most.

The program is available to most  students in the province, but the reality is you need to be face to face  in the classroom at least 3 days a week.  If you're curious to learn more about this new school be sure to check out the website at sailacademy.ca.  Exciting times are upon us.