Building Learning Around Questions

One of my Sunday morning routines is to scroll through Twitter… scanning the posts of the people that I follow –  many of whom work in education all over the world.  Yesterday, I kept coming back to this graphic – and found myself wondering, “What would the school day look like, if these questions drove the agenda?”  – I won’t pretend to know how to organize a day, with 31 different learners (I include myself in that number), all with different goals and interests, strengths and needs, levels of maturity and self-regulation –  all pursuing their own agendas, but I do wonder if it would work – would everyone learn? be engaged, on-task, & motivated?  What do students need to effectively direct their own learning? questions-1oh207m

Sound Booths for the Classroom

I had the chance to chat with Mr. Connolly of Stratford Central SS. He showed me this amazing project he put together last year with several other teachers (Dave Bond, Tony Theodoropoulos and Stuart Wilson). They received some funding from the Ontario Teachers’ Federation and came up with this very cool design for a mobile sound booth. It comes in very handy in our NGL classrooms, with all the multimedia work being created by students.


Why Technology in the Classroom Makes Sense

There are a wide variety of teaching strategies that support student success. Each of these strategies is designed to help students achieve and build essential learning skills. Some examples include: purposeful feedback, promoting self-regulation, making learning collaborative, offering inquiry-based tasks and explicitly teaching thinking strategies.

These approaches are proven to help students make real progress over the course of their education. So, with all these robust strategies, why bring iPads into the mix? The answer to this question, is that mobile technology amplifies each one of these teaching strategies, making them even more powerful.

For example, mobile technology makes providing feedback more dynamic. Text and audio feedback can be provided outside the regular school hours. Online tools allow feedback to be interactive and sharable. Technology helps to promote self-regulation by providing students with organizational tools like digital calendars, reminders, alarms and online notifications. Using these tools, students can learn to better manage themselves, and the rhythm of projects, assignments, testing and deadlines. Digital technology provides students with virtual collaborative spaces. Blogs, shared documents and online meetings offer forums to practice and build collaborative skills.

Technology can also support inquiry-based approaches to learning. With access to the internet, students have the collected knowledge of human history at their finger tips. When engaged by rich questions and guided by their teacher, this combination provides a powerful learning opportunity. With regard to thinking strategies, technology doesn’t teach students how to think. It does, however, provide tools through which students can make their own thinking more visible. Multimedia platforms allow teachers and students to differentiate their presentations and reach a wider audience.

iPads, by themselves, are simply devices. But when linked to good teaching strategies, this technology can amplify the reach and impact of teachers. In this way, iPads become a great way to support and magnify student achievement.

Student-Teacher Communication Enabled by Technology

Yesterday, I was privileged to be part of a very sweet exchange, via the “chat” window in Showbie,  with one of my Grade 4 students.  This wasn’t a ground-breaking conversation, no breakthroughs or major discoveries were made… it was just, as the speech bubbles on our respective screens suggested, a “chat” – but it brought home to me how technology facilitates student-teacher communication, and helps us build relationships with the kids in our classrooms.

Allow me to  set the stage for the conversation shared in the screenshot below:  As we prepare to dig deeper into problems that require multiplication and division of whole numbers, my Grade 4’s have been working on mastering times-table facts.  Many of them have met the challenge head on, drilling their multiplication tables whenever they have a spare moment,  playing card games that require them to master the facts, and they are enjoying seeing their efforts result in increased speed and accuracy.

On Tuesday evening, knowing I was going to be away at a meeting on Wednesday morning, I sent each student a brief note in his/her Showbie account, commenting on their progress and making some suggestions for next steps.   There’s a strong element of “cheerleading”  in my message – which is intentional – multiplication facts are not, by their nature, very exciting…. I’m doing my best to pump them up 🙂

The child whose “voice” is featured in the screenshot below started texting me, via her Showbie account, about the work she was doing at school, while she was in class in Stratford Wednesday morning, and I was in a meeting room at the Education Centre.

This is a conversation that likely would not have occurred face-to-face at school – the classroom is too busy, the day too full of activity, sometimes, to allow for exchanges like this one.  Also, this child would not likely  have said to me, in person, the things she said in the text messages.  In the past when I’ve commented positively on something she’s achieved, or praised her efforts, she shyly ducks her head, gives me a smile, and whispers “Thanks”.  But communicating via text on our iPads gave her a degree of confidence she sometimes lacks in face-to-face conversations – allowing her to say things like “I’m really proud of myself!”

Here’s part of the exchange.  Since Showbie chat windows order themselves from most recent to least recent, I cut & pasted them in the order that I actually received them, so that you could read from top to bottom, instead of bottom to top.IMG_1742

I am really enjoying the many ways in which technology allows me to communicate with my students, and finding it helps build relationships,  especially with the somewhat quieter, more reserved kids who are less likely to work to get my attention at school.  No matter how important I understand it to be, and how much I try to spend time with everyone, I know that I don’t converse with every child as much as I should… technology doesn’t replace face-to-face conversation, but it helps fill a gap.

New GAFE Extensions

For you Google lovers out there, here are a couple of very cool tools to make your Google experience even “Googlier”. (is that even a word).

Synergyse Training for Google Apps and iChrome

Synergyse training is a built-in help desk for every Google App you are visiting. A small icon shows up in the top right corner of every Google page you are on. (Calendar, Search, Mail etc.)

iChrome is your customizable Google Home Page. You can add your email, your calendar, a news feed, the weather……to create a one-stop-shop page.




This organization seems to be a great fit with many of the socially-responsible, forward-thinking activities taking place in classrooms across our Board. Enactus Canada…” is shaping generations of entrepreneurial leaders who are passionate about advancing the economic, social and environmental health of Canada.
As a national charity and a global network, we apply our passions, talents and ideas to impact individual lives. We work side-by-side with people to create opportunity through our community projects and student entrepreneurs so every person and community we touch is empowered to live up to their fullest potential.”

Check it out through the link above.

Communication, Engagement and Creating Space

There are three things that technology does well in the classroom. Just three.

The first is communication. Most people would admit that technology has been an important factor in modern communication. The telegraph, the telephone and other devices have provided the means to get connected to people around the globe. The quality of those communications are up to the participants, but the tools work.

In classrooms, this means that teachers and students can communicate with each other in powerful ways. Teachers can gather student work, their ideas, their understanding, both quickly and accurately. Students can collaborate in class and from separate homes. Other teachers can be accessed online and a world of information is at everyone’s fingertips.

It should be noted that, at this point in time, computers are not very good at complex communications. Understanding the nuances of human interactions is currently beyond machines. Emotion, passion, and the illogical behaviours of people are not understandable. They just don’t compute. Fortunately for employed teachers, students are always ready with emotions and illogical behaviours.

The second thing technology is good at is engaging students. The power of technology often lies in its ability to draw in the user. Users feel the power of the tool and revel at what they are able to do with the tool in their hands. This can be a well-balanced paintbrush or a new iPad. The hook is the places you can get to, once the tool is in your hand.

Our students are engaged as soon as they hear the iPads are on the way. They see iPads as fun. They think about games, and online searches. They think about being successful and exploring topics of interest. The teacher can be an important guide in this process.

Teachers can use this engagement in the tool to facilitate an engagement with the curriculum. Students need to see that the real engagement comes from the creations they make and the new learning they can accomplish. I often tell teachers that we never put the artist’s tools on the wall, just their art.

Technology can bring kids into the classroom in a new way. It gives them new tools to explore and create. With a little direction, the tool quietly disappears and the content comes alive.

The third thing technology can do is build creative spaces. This includes creative classrooms and digital spaces.

From ancient Greece to modern times, the place where people learn has always benefited from technology. From drawing with a shaped stick to the iPad, creative spaces are supported by technology. Mobile technology has asked we make changes to the physical setup of our classrooms. This has included changing libraries into learning commons. Further, the classroom has been rearranged to suit digital learning.

Desks are on wheels. Tables are replacing desks. Video booths and green-screens are popping up. Teachers are recycling their old desks and moving out into student spaces. Having one-to-one, mobile, connected, digital tools is reshaping our ideas about classrooms.

The modern classroom also benefits from virtual spaces. Students can write, video, draw and express their creativity in an online environment. These “digital workshops” allow students new tools and spaces to be creative. I find that digital spaces allow students to express themselves in novel ways. They fly through Minecraft worlds of their own creation. They publish words for a global audience. The digital spaces seem to be without-end.

In the end, people make a classroom. Their complex, nuanced relationships allow for learning. The emotions and illogical behaviour are just part of the learning that takes place.

Technology does three things in a classroom. Just three.

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