Exhibition ~ Week 3

The ‘groove’ of Exhibition has finally been found at Prairie Waters. It is so exciting to hear about all of the enthusiasm being demonstrated and research being undertaken by our grade 5 students. I’m still blown away by all of the connections our students and their mentors have been making to primary sources of information.

We’ve had Skype interviews with Professors to ask questions about the impacts and effects of Cyberbullying. We have Skype interviews lined up with an avalanche rescue volunteer from Colorado and an organization in Hawaii dedicated to cleaning up the Pacific Garbage Patch. Skype

We’ve been emailing with countless contacts to ask questions about many different Exhibition topics


We’ve invited experts into our building to be a guest speaker or have a one-on-one interview with groups. We’ve had an organization dedicated to therapy dog training, a visually impaired community member with his service dog, the organizer of the World’s Longest Hockey Game, a Prairie Waters staff member who has adopted a rescued greyhound, an addictions counsellor, a local community member who is taking action to preserve the wetlands around the town and many more!

We have groups going off-site to visit different places and organizations to see first hand how they operate, and what they do. Some of our visits include the Calgary Herald, the Calgary Zoo, Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park, Calgary Humane Society and The Police Dog Training Centre in Bowden.


In our attempt to be environmentally responsible, we have tried (as much as possible) to keep everything related to our Exhibition in a digital, collaborative space. Google Drive and our Exhibition Blog have been our best friend (and sometimes, our worst enemy. The Apps for both of these tools can sometimes be limiting in their capabilities, and our network – oh my, our network! There are days that our network is so s…l…o…w because all of the students are using their iPads at the same time: working on Google Drive, streaming videos, posting blogs, uploading images. The kids, for the most part have become more patient when things are lagging, and oftentimes, going into these tools through their Internet browser works much better, but, not always! All things that we have learned in the last 3 weeks!).

Some of the digital tools we’re using with our Exhibition group this year include:

  • Our students’ Exhibition Guidebook was shared with them, their teacher and their mentor on Google Drive
  • Our Mentors fill out a meeting form each time they meet with their group, again, shared on Google Drive with students, teachers and the mentors so everyone is able to see and collaborate. It’s also a great anecdotal assessment piece.
  • Each week, our students are reflecting on how they are demonstrating the elements of the PYP, as well as talking about things that are going well, things that are tricky and things they will try to work on to improve for next week. They are completing these reflections by blogging on our Exhibition blog, and this week, some groups even made movie reflections of how they think their Exhibition is going.
  • Students will also be filling out self and peer assessment forms (Thanks to Kristen Blum for the idea on her blog of what to include in the reflection!) via Google Forms. They will assess themselves and a group member on the Attributes of the Learner Profile, the Transdisciplinary Skills, and the Attitudes.
  • The EasyBib add-on in Google Docs arrived at just the right time! Our students are using it to compile their bibliography of all the sources they are using for their research.

It’s exciting to see all of the skills and knowledge the students are developing by using digital tools for all of the aspects of Exhibition. Even though there have been speed bumps along with way, the resilience the students have demonstrated, the patience that they’ve gained, and the level of collaboration that they’ve shown has been worth the headaches and hiccups along the way.


Excited for the year ahead (and the progress of the perfect portfolio)!

My last post in (GASP!) May was all about our school’s journey to finding the perfect blog platform to host our student blog portfolios. After encountering some hiccups and roadblocks along they way, we’ve finally nailed down a student portfolio platform that I have really high hopes for.

I am fortunate to work for a school division that is so progressive in terms of encouraging the integration of tech tools in the classroom, as well as providing the support to back their encouragement of using the tools. The 21st Century Learning Specialists in our division are truly gifted at what they do and we are very lucky to have them. A hardworking team has created a fully customizable blog platform called School Blogs for all of the schools in our division to use. While it is still in its infancy, the potential for greatness has already begun to shine through.

Today at our PL Day, I was joined by one of the Learning Specialists from our division to introduce this blogging platform to our staff. The room was abuzz with excitement, interest to learn more, questions in order to solve glitches and problems, and a little bit of confusion mixed in for good measure – but the super huge important touchstone that I took away was that everybody TRIED! They all wanted to give it a go. Even if it was foreign to them, even if they didn’t consider themselves ‘tech-savvy’, they all tried. I was like a proud momma hen watching the eggs that have been incubating for the last few months finally begin to hatch open.

I’m a firm believer in the idea that in order to learn a tech tool (or most things in our life, actually), you just have to PLAY. You don’t need someone to teach you most things. Just by playing around and figuring things out on your own, the results become that much more rewarding. And the playtime that I witnessed today during our PL Day was so exciting! We’ve created a staff blog page where people can post questions and answers to problems that they encounter, test different features of the blog out and share Ah-Ha! moments. We’ve also created individual teacher blogs that each teacher can use as their sandbox to play in or use in their class with their students. Once teachers are comfortable and familiar with the platform, we will add on the next layer and get each student in our school up and running with their own portfolio.

I feel like we’ve hit the ground running, but we’re off to a good start!

The path to the perfect portfolio

All alliterations aside (see what I did there…), I’ve spent the better part of this school year researching, testing, playing with and picking other educators’ brains about different options for student portfolios (big shoutouts especially to @Kathycassidy, @HeatherMMcKay @happycampergirl and @millerg6 for their contributions to my inquiries- as well, the participants in @Neilstephenson’s digital portfolio session at #ConnectEdCa this weekend). From Edmodo to Evernote. From Edublog to Kidblog. From Google Sites to Google Docs. From WordPress to Weebly. It seems that the options are endless. How do you choose?! I’ve had several of my colleagues try a few of the different platforms, and I’ve played with several myself as well. The time has come for the staff at our school to make a decision on which portfolio platform we will pick.

Before the big decision is made, some of the key takeaways I’ve gleaned this year are:

1) It should be simple enough that even a Kindergarten student could learn to use it to it’s full potential (i.e. uploading or embedding images, video, audio, etc.). It doesn’t need to have all of the bells and whistles. Icon based, one-click, drag and drop features are your friend in the elementary grades.

2) It should be intuitive enough that even teachers who are new to blogging and its features can, in a few short PL sessions, quickly pick up on how to use it. Because we all know that time is of the essence in the teaching world

3) It should be available to be used across different platforms (computers, iPods, iPads) to allow for greater accessibility and posting capabilities.

4) It should be long standing – this one is twofold. Firstly, I mean that it should be tied to the student, not the teacher. It should easily be able to follow the student from year to year, with little to no hassle for the incoming teacher to create their class list each year. Secondly, the PLATFORM should be long standing. How frustrating is it to create something marvelous as a teacher, only to have it disappear or go by the wayside a year or 2 down the road? If we are going to do this school-wide, we need to try to pick the best option that is established, and is pretty certain to stick around for many years ahead. (Dear Google, I’m looking at you here with this comment. This is what makes me a little gun-shy about choosing Google Sites as our portfolio platform. Google had no qualms about abandoning the hugely popular Google Reader in the blink of an eye, with no option for replacement. I’m concerned that Google Sites will be met with the same fate.)

5) It should have the option of being either private or public. One thing I’ve learned this year, is that students are far more engaged if they have a large and authentic audience that they know will be viewing and commenting on their work. I’ve seen it with my own 2 eyes in my classroom. They become more reflective about what they are putting out there; My students have been sharing weekly twitter updates about the growth of one of the plants in our room. When they snap a picture and it’s blurry, I hear them say, “Oh, they won’t be able to see it very well, I better take another picture” They know that what they are putting out there has to be of a certain level of quality.

6) It should be simple to troubleshoot, and have a good support system in place for if/when something potentially goes REALLY wrong. It’s like the old adage, ‘Hope for the best, plan for the worst’. We need to have a platform where if something does go wrong, there are people in place that we can contact quickly for technical support.

So, with those in mind, we will hopefully select our perfect portfolio platform this week, and then begin to learn all of the in’s and out’s of using it with our students next year. I’m excited for the possibilities!

What Can Twitter Do?

The notion that in order to ‘do’ Professional Learning, you have to go away to a conference or to a workshop is quickly becoming a thing of the past. Sure, those methods of PL are still useful and beneficial, but there is a Professional Learning tool much more readily available to us at our fingertips, whenever we so desire to learn. That tool, is Twitter. While many have jumped on the Twitter PL bandwagon already, most educators don’t even have a Twitter account yet. Let me share with you the Professional Learning that I was able to accomplish on Twitter within the span of an hour:

  • Thanks to @mattBgomez‘s tweet – I found a great link to 37 free online National Geographic e-books that will even read to students!
  • I followed along with an #edteach chat, where I networked with @MrDKeenan and found a great idea for modelling how to have an edchat on Twitter by creating our own private hashtag to use, to get colleagues comfortable with how to follow along and participate in a chat.
  • Thanks to @TechieAng, I found a new idea for an inquiry experience in my kindergarten classroom.
  • I discovered a new blog to follow, written by an administrator in southern Alberta, and his journey to building 21st century competencies in our students.
  • I learned of an upcoming Professional Learning/Networking opportunity in Calgary, called EdCampYYC. This is an ‘unconference’ where educators get together, and share their desires for learning by posting questions, or ideas for possible sessions to run around. There is a discussion facilitator at each session – but no “workshop leader”, it is just a group of colleagues engaging in discussion about topics or ideas that they share in common. The best part, it’s FREE! Yes, you heard me! FREE!! Not many Professional Learning opportunities come at that price (with, of course, the exception of Twitter! 😉 )
  • Thanks to @jasongraham99, I found out about the next #pypchat, where the focus will be on Transdisciplinary Learning – although, this chat is on Melbourne time, so I’ll have to read the archive of the chat the following evening.
  • While perusing @rvsed I found a tweet that linked me to Barry Allen’s blog on RVS’ Power to Enrich blog site that gave some insight into different inquiry projects taking place across grades and across the division.
  • I messaged a fellow Kindergarten teacher in the United States about setting up our next Skype visit for our classes.

That’s the thing about Twitter – You have to potential to learn something new every day, from someone, somewhere – near or far – that shares the same passion for education that you do. It doesn’t take long, it doesn’t cost anything and you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your couch to ‘do’ Professional Learning.

My name is @JenFriske, and I am addicted to Twitter as a Professional Learning tool. 🙂

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.


Playtime in action


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!