Sunday, 26 June 2016

The Start of My TLLP Journey

About a year ago, my principal approached me and asked if I was interested in getting involved with a grant proposal. Thinking back on that day, I have a vague recollection of this having something to do with technology in the classroom (an interest of mine). I also remember that there was mention of a “guru” from another school that was going to do a lot of the initial paperwork. (That's a plus!)

“Would you be interested?” my principal asked. All she needed was a commitment from a few staff members (including me) and a signature on a document.

At the time, I was intrigued, but also distracted. I’ll admit, "distracted and curious" is modus operandi for me at the best of times. Staff at my school will attest that I am regularly staring at my phone as I walk down the hall. Typically, I am reading an article, perusing the news or scanning my PLN on Twitter.

Looking back on that day, I suppose I realized that I would have more time to evaluate this opportunity at a later date. So, I signed the document and moved on.

I should mention that this event coincided with some significant challenges in my teaching career. At the time, I was moving to a new classroom and changing my assignment from Grade 4 to Grade 5/6. Consequently, I had been pouring over unfamiliar curriculum documents while trying to incorporate more technology into my classroom. WiFi had recently been installed at our school and I knew I would have increased access to Chromebooks. I really wanted to step-up my efforts to be a Google Educator.

Additionally, I was a Workplace Steward and we were navigating the challenges of increased job actions due a year long contract battle with the government. There was also volleyball season (I was a coach and a regional convenor). Needless to say, in the chaos of first few months of the new school year, the “grant” had slipped my mind.

Early this spring, I was reminded of my commitment. This time, things had settled in my world and I was less distracted and far more intrigued. I found out that the grant was part of an ongoing project. It was geared toward experienced teachers who are passionate about their practice and want to share their ideas with others. By choosing to participate, I would be provided with release time to hone my professional practice and my skills. I would also have access to additional funding to spend on technology for use in my classroom and at our school. More information on this grant can be found here. Needless to say, I was glad I had signed up and was delighted to understand fully that this was the type of opportunity for which I had been looking.

A few weeks later, I learned that I had been selected by my administration to attend a three day conference in Toronto as the representative from our school. If I didn’t have enough incentive before - I certainly did now. There is something wonderfully energizing about being trusted through a generous opportunity. I began to investigate our grant with renewed vigour. I got a chance to meet with the aforementioned “guru”, Michelle, and I also got to meet my conference partner from our companion school, Kari. I looked at the initiative with fresh eyes.

The long version of our grant proposal reads as follows:

We hope to explore, implement and evaluate coding and computational thinking in the K-8 classroom. Computational Thinking (CT) includes computer programming (ie: coding) and means problem solving, understanding and designing systems and understanding human behaviour (Wing, 2006; 2008 p 3717). We will investigate how CT can be useful for learning the mathematical processes outlined in the Ontario Mathematics Curriculum as well as the 21st Century Skills championed in Ontario and around the world. Complementing our board’s recent initiative with Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Math (S.T.E.A.M.) this project will investigate four pedagogical phases CT: unplugged, making, tinkering and remixing. (Floyd, Kafai, Khan, Kotsopoulis, Morrison, Namukasa et al 2015) . We will also explore how CT manifests in the physical world through tangible materials such as robots, circuits and micro-controllers.

In my next entry, I hope to distil that to 25 words or fewer and update my experiences at the 10th Annual TLLP Conference in Toronto.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Reflections on a Positive Year

My Report Cards are in. With the exception of some editing (and maybe a few changes to the Science marks after next week’s activities) I am now thinking about next year. However, I should take some time to reflect on the year that is coming to an end in eight school days.

This year started wonderfully because I finally escaped my portable and got back into a regular classroom. Moving from a portable to a classroom is not a small upgrade. It is a monumental game changer.  Here are just a few of the perks...

  • There is much more space in a classroom - much more.  
  • That space is enhanced by the presence of a hallway, where jackets, boots and backpacks can be stored away from the learning space.
  • The hallway also acts as a buffer for the mud and snow that children track-in during recesses therefore, the classroom is always cleaner.
  • The heat and air unit is silent in a classroom. In a portable, this space crowding behemoth hums and drones a dull, white noise at about the same frequency as the human voice. Consequently, teachers and students have to speak much more loudly all day. Group activities naturally become shouting matches that wear the nerves of teachers and students alike.
  • The heat/air unit also recycles the dirty air. I would like to see a study that compares the number of sick days lost to students and teacher in a portable vs those in a classroom.
  • There is a sink and there are many cupboards in a classroom.
  • The ceiling projector does not shake and rattle out of focus when the door closes or when the students move around the room.
  • There are large windows in my classroom, allowing the room to be flooded with natural light even on overcast days.

Portable 2 - My classroom for 4 long years.
It remains my belief that classes in portables should be hard-capped at 24 students.  I have had over 30 students in a portable and, as the old expression goes, it was so cramped that we had to go outside to change our minds.

How about this? For each student above the cap, the teacher and each member of the class get a small, monthly monetary bonus. This is to make up for the dusty, cramped, loud, dark confines in which they are expected to operate. How about a $100 gift card for the teacher to buy those extra school supplies (or class prizes) not covered by the school’s budget and a $10 gift card for each student to Scholar’s Choice or a Book store? In all honesty, even if I received an extra $500 a month in cash - I would still opt for a classroom.  I guess I should also mention that I make this suggestion in jest. I sincerely believe that I am paid well for a job that I love to do. I would hate to misrepresent myself or my colleagues as cash-strapped complainers.

I also returned to Grades 5 & 6 this year. That was a good decision for many reasons, not just because it got me out of the portable village. I loved the Grade 4 curriculum and kids at that age are really sweet but, it was not a good a fit for me. I work better with students who are a little more independent.

My very first full year position was a Long Term Occasional gig at Lorne Avenue school in 1999 with a Grade 5 & 6 class. Those “kids” are now 25-27 years of age and my current group of students would not be born for another 5 years. I think back on the guy that I was in those first few years. I was not as competent as a teacher. However, I was more patient and more passionate. Sadly, I think I was a little kinder. I am trying to recapture some of that. My teaching partner, Kyle, has helped me immensely. I see in him, many of the qualities I used to have. He is far more patient than I and he has made wonderful progress with so many students. Sadly, he is leaving for a coaching position. It is a change he needs and he will be a great resource to other educators. He was a great partner to work with. We shared lessons and ideas and we were both available to each other as a sounding board for the inevitable complaints and grievances that come with a job that you care about. Next year I am going to be using many of the lessons (particularly the art activities) Kyle shared with me. I am also going to try to be a little more like him when it comes to working through situations with students who are challenging. I’ll let go of some of my cynicism and work to try to reclaim the passion I had when I got that first LTO gig 17 years ago.

Well, I planned on reflecting on the past year and I am already thinking ahead to next year. I suppose that a change doesn’t have to wait for a new class. I have eight days to make more positive changes with the students that I have right now. I am going to invite them to share their thoughts about the good and the bad from this year. I am going to ask them to write letters to my students next year to warn them about what to look for. I will encourage them to be blunt and honest - even if it means they point out a negative about me. My goal for the next eight days is to find time with every one of my students and have a one-on-one conversation that builds them up and gets them ready for a great summer and positive start to Grades 6 & 7. They, like me, will be in a classroom (not a portable next year). So, we have that going for us.