Playtime with a new tool!

My favourite time of the school day….playtime!

In my previous blog post, I talked about how as teachers, we cannot be afraid of new technologies or tools, and that the best way to learn is to take the time to play. Well, it’s also important to practice what we preach. My school division is in the middle of a pilot project to incorporate MindMeister into our classrooms. Upon receiving the email in my inbox looking for teachers to pilot the mind-mapping tool, I instantly jumped on the opportunity! While I have used other mind-mapping tools that were good, they now feel limited in their capabilities. Students could only create mind maps at school, they can’t work on them at home even if they save it on their jump sticks because they don’t have the software at home and they are not collaborative. This is where MindMeister comes in! It offers students an opportunity to access their mind maps from anywhere as long as they have an internet connection, as well, they can share their maps digitally with others in order to collaborate and create the maps together in real-time.

Today was my students’ first opportunity to try out MindMeister, and to say it was a success would be an understatement! All I wanted them to do way play; discover how to create nodes, move the nodes around, change themes, change font size/colour. They all had it figured out in about 15 minutes flat!

So, on the fly, I asked them to create a personal mind map about the concept of rights and responsibilities, which is part of our current Unit of Inquiry, How We Organize Ourselves. This involved them creating nodes to talk about what our rights are as Canadian citizens, and then adding sub-nodes to list the responsibilities that we have that go along with those rights. Even my most reluctant writers were flying! Since they are just being introduced to the concept of rights and responsibilities, this initial creation was moreso to see what their prior knowledge on the topic was. The beautiful thing about it (and that I discussed with the students) is that it is now a working document, and as we move through the Unit as they discover more about rights and responsibilities, they can add to or modify their mind-map. A neat feature on MindMeister is the “History View”. This offers an animated timeline view of the creation of the map and how it changes. It even logs the different dates that items are removed/added. It’s a great way for the students to see how their mind map will grow and change in unison with their knowledge and understanding.

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Playtime in action

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What an 8 year old is capable of with a little playtime

I cannot wait to see what these maps look like once we integrate the collaboration piece of MindMeister! And what a great opportunity for my students to reflect back on their work at the end of the unit to watch their knowledge grow right before their eyes!

Taking the time to keep up.

As I sit in my comfy chair on this Saturday morning, sipping my coffee, browsing my twitter feed, I came across a tweet, linking to a blog written by Kathy Cassidy titled Why my Six-Year-Old students have digital portfolios. Within that blog, I read a section that resonates so deep within me, that I had to re-write it out (and it was too long to tweet!) somewhere. So here it is:

“We teach kids that have no concept of a world without the Internet. Technology is a ubiquitous part of their world. They want and expect to use it at home. For me to deny that technology and what it allows them to do would be like asking someone from an earlier generation to learn without a pen or pencil. It just wouldn’t make sense.”

So…why the resistance in schools (or teachers) to provide these technologies to our kids? The obvious answer is that, we as teachers are not knowledgeable enough about the technologies (and their capabilities) ourselves to feel comfortable passing that knowledge on to our students. But like it or not, our students will – somewhere, at some point – have access to technology. They are very capable at a very young age to be able to navigate many variations of technology. We need to keep up! We need to be able to teach our students how to access and use these technologies responsibly at a young age.

Like our students, the only way for us to learn how to use different forms of technology, is to take the time to learn by PLAYING! It’s not a scary as it seems. Blogs, wikis, digital portfolios, cloud based applications, Twitter, Facebook…they are not designed in a way to make it difficult to learn how to use them, in fact, they are all pretty user-friendly. You just have to play around and see what you can do with them. The biggest component, I feel, is just devoting the TIME to that. As teachers, our time is spread pretty thin, however if we REALLY want to allow our students to reach their full potential…we have to be willing to take some time to learn about what that entails.

In my school, We are in the application phase of becoming an International Baccalaureate, Primary Years Programme school. A component of the programme is that every student must have a portfolio that will travel with them through their years in the school. Digital Portfolios are the way we are going. The only way for me to learn about how to implement these portfolios into my classroom is to start learning about, and playing within the platform which we will be using (ePearl). I can’t be afraid to start. As well, taking the time to research how other teachers have successfully implemented digital portfolios into their own classrooms. I don’t want to be just one step ahead of my students when it comes to teaching them about technology, I want to be ten steps ahead. So if that means giving up some of my own time to learn how to do that, I know that that is what I signed up for when I came into this profession. The world of technology is moving too fast for any teacher to think its alright to keep their head in the sand and not allow for opportunities for their students to have any exposure to it. It is a disservice to their generation.

I am CRAVING to learn how others have implemented digital portfolios into their classrooms. So, as I sit here, in my comfy chair on this Saturday morning, sipping my coffee, I will continue to read my twitter feed, and find blogs on the topic from other educators to read that will get me one more step ahead.

Digital Citizenship – teaching the concept of plagiarism early on

In my last entry, I talked about using the Form function in Google Docs. When I presented the Form to my grade three students, I posed the question to them, “Where can we go to find an image that we can use to best represent our understanding of our Central Idea?” Of course, the hands shot up and the answer on everyone’s tongue was, “GOOGLE!!!” Not surprising! I know I’ve been guilty in the past of needing to find an image to share, so off to Google I went. I typed in my search, find image, copy image, paste image, done! No citing of the source, no checking to make sure it wasn’t a copyrighted image. I wasn’t taught in school that I have to pay attention to those sorts of things. Heck, I don’t even think I was taught how to copy and paste an image into a document! Oh, how times have changed!

So…we needed to take a step back, and revisit the concept of plagiarism (we have talked about plagiarism already this year in the sense of copying words directly from a book). In order to be a digital citizen (again, we have already talked about what it means to be a citizen in a community), there are certain expectations of us. One of those expectations is that we give credit where credit is due, even when we are using images. Someone has taken (and owns) that picture, and if we don’t give them credit for it, it is the same as copying someone’s words and using them as our own.

Luckily, there are some copyright-friendly image websites that we can use, where photographers have kindly given their permission for people to use their images! It is also (in my opinion) safer than just allowing kids to hop on to Google, type in their search query and see all of the wonderful** (and non-relevant) images that can pop up with even the slightest spelling or grammar error (or sometimes, even without those errors).**I hope you sense my sarcasm in the use of the word “wonderful” 😉

One of the websites that I have used is Pics4Learning, where all of the images are categorized into different topics that students can navigate through. It is very easy to use, and the kids love browsing the pictures according to their interests. Another site that was introduced to me by Brenda Dyck (at the same workshop where I learned the beauty of the Form) is Flickr Storm. The trick with this site is that not all of the images are copyright-friendly. So when you type in your search query (say, architecture for example), you must click on the “advanced” tab, and then from the drop down menu, select the “Non-commercial & No Derivatives” option (this means that the images are not for commercial use and will not be used in any other manner). This will then show you only the images that are provided by photographers that are copyright-friendly.

I want to get the students out of the habit of relying on Google to find images, and get them into the habit of recognizing their responsibilities for proper use of the internet and their role in digital citizenship. By showing them different sites where they can access images (legally!), I hope to instill in them that principled behaviour as they move up in the grades and into their adult lives, as it will be something that they will no doubt, continue to use throughout their lives.

If you have any other websites for images that are copyright-friendly that you would like to share, please feel free!

Using Forms as an assessment tool

I recently attended a professional learning workshop with Brenda Dyck and she showed us a great use of the ‘Form’ feature in Google Docs. By creating a form for your students to fill out, you can then use the information that you collect as an assessment piece; as all of the information that you collect from your students gets spat out into a handy-dandy spreadsheet for you to view all in one place. So, I’ve created one of my own Forms as a piece to include in our Summative Assessment of our current Unit of Inquiry, Where We Are In Place And Time.

My students are learning about the the form and function of structures and how  are all built on similar foundations and principles of design. This is what my form looks like to the students:

And this is the Spreadsheet that will be populated once they start to fill it in:

Such a brilliant, simple to create, easy to read assessment piece to utilize in the classroom! There are so many applications for this feature. Play around with it and see what you can come up with!