Saturday, 17 February 2018

What I've been reading lately

Reviews of Recent Professional Reading

I have been doing a lot of Professional Reading this fall and winter.  Especially over Christmas, when the cold weather was not motivating me to get outside and play!  I've got a few here on pedagogy and leadership and then a section on Young Adult Fiction.  Most of the fiction titles are contenders for the Global Read Along 2018 - a chance to see what books might be on the list this year.  These are just my own opinions...check them out yourself and let me know what you think!

Shift This, by Joy Kirr

I think my favourite quote from this book is, "Just keep tweaking.  Just keep tweaking." (p3).   For me that sums up the beauty of this book.  It's all about little ways you can change your classroom, practice, thinking and Professional Development at a pace you can handle, but with awesome results.  As I read, I found many tips for things I am already doing, and so may more ideas for things I am not and would like to try.  It's a great help for someone new to teaching or with a lot of years in the biz, like me, who want to up their game. She writes in a very readable and enjoyable style - I could almost hear her voice as I read, and it felt more like talking in the staffroom with a colleague, than Professional Reading.  Every chapter has real life examples, resources, further reading and reflection questions/call to action statements.  She's also active on Twitter (click on her name above for the link) and as I was Tweeting out #BookSnaps, she was really quick to respond to my questions and comments...something I did not expect!

 by Liz Kolb

This book is published by ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) and is about moving educators to think more deeply and plan more purposefully their use of technology in the classroom.  She provides a strategy called the "Triple E Framework" for assessing and implementing technology in the classroom, and gives many case studies, scenarios, different technologies and resources for you to do so.  There is some really great stuff in here.  That said, it's a very academically written, textbook style book, and not a quick and easy read.  I found myself having to take a break after each chapter and sometimes re-read sections to get the most out of it.  But, if you are looking for a great resource to help you decide how to move your technology use further up the SAMR model, this is a must have.

Making your Teaching Something Special: 50 Ways to Become a Better Teacher, by Rushton Hurley

This was a quick and enjoyable read, likely more suited to teachers earlier in their career, but a good reminder for us old timers as well.  There are sections on building relationships and rapport with students, designing assignments and assessments to be more student centered, classroom management, developing a Professional Learning Network in and out of your school, working as a team with everyone in your building, including parents, custodians and secretaries.  There were several chapters on how to fund things you want to do in your classroom and how to get the resources you need.  These were useful to anyone in the Education Biz.

Code Breaker, by Brian Aspinall

Great introduction to coding in the classroom by one of Ontario's own!  He gives lots of links and QR Codes to projects students have created and resources and videos that will help get you started.  It's easy to read and is a good way for those new to coding to learn enough to get going.  He also explains why coding is important to teach to students.  This is full of resources and also links you to his website - where there are a lot more!  Brian is very active on Twitter and is a great follow if you are looking for resources and conversations about computational thinking and coding in the classroom.

Empower, by John Spencer and A.J. Juliani

This book has a unique style of writing - lots of sketch notes and a no nonsense approach to why and how we should be increasing inquiry learning in our classrooms.  It goes beyond just engaging students and encourages Teachers to Empower students (hence the title) to choose their own paths and find their passions.  They state right off that this is not a 'how to manual' - everyone is different after all.  Once you finish reading it, you should have a good idea of how to start - where you and your students go from there is up to you.  Great read!

Culturize: Every Student. Every Day. Whatever It Takes, by Jimmy Casas

While written more for an audience of school administrators, there are lots of lessons and insights in this book that can be applied to classroom teachers.  He talks about being a champion for every student and creating a culture were all students can succeed.  He included insights from other educators and administrators and give lots of ways you can improve the culture of your school through small changes, big changes, resources, etc.  His chapter on expecting excellence really aligned with my own thinking.  He states that you have to be open to taking some risks and learning from failures, which will not happen if you accept the status quo or reject change.  One of the most powerful passages for me was: "No one person is responsible for determining your success or failure but you, and no one is responsible for your morale but you."  I found this book to be energizing - and Jimmy is a great follow on Twitter as well!

Cultivating Readers, by Anne Elliott and Mary Lynch

Written by two TVDSB'ers, this book is not about improving reading skills
in your classroom, but if you use their ideas, that will likely be a secondary outcome for you!  It's about how to get kids excited about reading and how to make your classroom an environment where kids will become avid readers.  Not just the ones who are good readers already, but those who may not be reading at grade level or who read because they have to, or those who actively avoid reading as a chore.  Anne and Mary share all kinds of activities, tips and advice on how to share and model a love of reading with every student in your room, all of them easy to implement and get started on right away.  The style of writing is really engaging and they use lots of real life examples to bring home their beliefs.  It does have a more Elementary School focus, but many of these ideas could be easily adapted in Secondary Schools.  It got me fired up about my own reading too.  This is a great book to add to your Professional Library!

The Four O'Clock Faculty: A Rogue Guide to Revolutionizing Professional Development,
by Rich Czyz

Sick of "Sit and Listen" style Professional Development?  So is Rich Czyz.  His book is all about ways school leaders and individual teachers can improve and take charge of their own learning to make it richer, more meaningful and tailored to each educator's own needs.  What I loved about his book was that it was about us making choices, and being active in pursing the opportunities that are out there and most relevant to our own practice.  He talks about ways to start, innovate and join PLN's on Social Media, especially Twitter, starting EdCamps, Book clubs, hosting Lunch N Learns, blogging, even a Teacher Genius Hour.  There are lots of ideas you may have heard before, but given a new spin or twist to make the PD better.  There is also a chapter on how to make the best of less than desirable methods of PD.  Some of his ideas will take some work or some school culture tweaking, but some of them are easy and could be started pretty much while you are still reading the book, and it is adaptable to whatever grade level or area of learning you are involved in.  Follow his hashtag ##4OCF or check out more at his website:

The Wild Card: 7 Steps to an Educator's Creative Breakthrough, by Hope & Wade King

Image result for the wild card bookThis book reminds me a lot of Dave Burgess' book: Teach Like a Pirate.   Hope and Wade King teach at the Ron Clark Academy and share their creative ideas for making your classroom more engaging.  While it is very Elementary and Middle School focused, the ideas in it could be adapted to Secondary Schools.  They take a cross curricular approach in their pedagogy and regularly transform their classrooms into extraordinary learning environments to teach a variety of subjects with a thematic and inquiry based approach.  The transformations are amazing enough and you really need to read the book and see the pictures to get the full scope of them like a beach classroom or School of Rock classroom, but the way they weave so many learning objectives into these environments without a great deal of cost (Dollar Store!) is pretty amazing.  I loved the chapter where they encourage you not to listen to the Joker - that less than enthusiastic staff member who pooh pooh's change, or the voice in your own head that discourages change.  The book is not just about room transformations either, there are plenty of great ways to use inquiry learning even without a lot of physical changes to the classroom.  They are also active on Twitter and bloggers - so the learning doesn't stop with the book.


Leave Us In Peace, by Marty Elkins

This is Marty's first work of fiction and follows many characters through WWII from start to finish.  He does a great job of including so many of the events of the War on it's many fronts, but told from the perspective of the people experiencing it, from around the world.  The characters show many different viewpoints as they experience the hardships of war.  We don't often get to read the Russian experience of war in History classes or books in the Western World, but Elkins does a great job of showing the human suffering and loss of these events (especially the Siege of Leningrad) through his characters.  This would be a great book to use in History classrooms and perhaps cross curricularly in English and Geography to learn more about the personal costs of war.

Paper Wishes, by Lois Sepahban

Written for a Young Adult/Middle School audience, this novel is the story of a young American girl of Japanese descent and her family from Washington State who were relocated to an Internment Camp during World War II.
It shows the racism, hardships and heartbreaks they experienced through her eyes as they try to find a way to survive their incarceration.  It is a sad a beautiful story about a part of history (Canada had Japanese Internment Camps as well) that we are not proud of, but should never forget. 

Global Read Aloud 2018 Contenders

In December 2017, the Contenders for the Global Read Aloud were posted on the GRA website - there is also the ability to nominate books you would like to have considered.  I took a look at the list and picked a few books to try out.

ReStart, by Gordon Korman

We've read a few of Gordon's books in our classroom and my students always love them.  He has a very accessible writing style and includes lots of humor and realistic, lovable characters.  ReStart does not disappoint.  It is about a teenager, Chase, who falls and sustains a head injury causing amnesia and complete personality change.  When he goes back to school, he, his family, his friends and his schoolmates have a hard time dealing with this new Chase, who is essentially getting a "do-over" of his life so far...a re-start.  I'm hoping this is chosen as one of the books for GRA18 because I would love to share this book with my class and with our GRA worldwide connections.  My students could really get into the themes and questions this book asks, like "Should people be given a second chance?"

Bronx Masquerade, by Nikki Grimes

A winner of many awards, including the Corretta Scott King Award, this contender looks at the voices and poetry of all the students in Mr. Ward's High School Literature class.  It takes them through a year of inquiry into themselves, their lives, and their ability to express themselves and learn about each other through poetry.  I love that the teacher in this book is barely a part of the story - other than to display some great pedagogy and to set up a classroom that allows for inquiry learning.  Unlike a lot of books and movies about classrooms, where the teacher is the main character and hero - this book is about the journey the students take, based on their own passions and lives.  This book may be a bit beyond my classroom to do for GRA18, but I hope it makes the final list, because it is inspirational.

Long Way Down, by Jason Reynolds

Written entirely in verse, this book amazes me for it's ability to tell so much through such precise language.  It's the story of Will, whose older brother has just been shot and killed.  Will is going to follow "the Rules" he's always lived with and retaliate.  On his way down the elevator he runs into various characters who share their experience with "the Rules" over several generations.  It's ending is brilliantly written.  But, I don't want to spoil it for you.  Even written in verse, it's easily accessible for students, but clearly has some mature themes.  There would be so much to talk about and share in this book with a classroom.  Honestly,  I think is a great read for adults too.

Orphan Island, by Laurel Snyder

Nine orphans on an Island.  Always nine.  When a new Changeling arrives, the oldest one returns - to where, we do not know.  But, what if the oldest one stayed?  This is what Jinny, the next orphan scheduled to leave wonders and struggles with throughout her final year on the Island.  She is curious about what is out there, but afraid of leaving her home.  The book is a well crafted look at what it means to grow up, and the desire not to give up our innocence and childhood.  It would be interesting to hear what my students would think of Jinny's choices.  Would they stay or go?  Why?

The Red Bandanna, by Tom Rinaldi

This is the true story of Welles Crowther, one of the many who worked on the 104th Floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center and died as a result of the attack on September 11, 2001. The book takes us through his childhood and shows us what kind of a person he was through the stories of his family, friends and co-workers.  On the day of the attacks, his actions saved the lives of others and serve as a model of courage in terrible circumstances.  This would be an interesting book to share with a class to talk about the choices we make and how they affect our lives and the lives of others.

That's it for this post.  I've already started a few more great reads (Teaser:   Pernille Ripp's two books and Katie Martin's newest book that will be featured in the latest George Curous #IMMOOC) that I will save for my next installment of Professional Reads.  Until then...just keep learning and reading!

Friday, 9 February 2018

I'm a Podcaster!

Image from Flickr

On Monday February 5th, 2018, I became a Podcaster.  Wowza!  Did that really just happen?  If you had told me a year ago I would be doing a podcast, I would have laughed at you.  I only started blogging just over a year ago...the thought of a Podcast would have been much too daunting to even contemplate.

I have to thank Stephen Hurley for giving me the push I needed to do this.  He planted the idea in November when he talked to me about how I might be a creator of content for VoiceEdRadio.  I had to do some reflecting and thinking about what I would want to talk to other teachers about.  I let it percolate for a bit.  I needed to get my head around:  (a.)  Actually confronting my fear about it and
(b.) What I would want my podcast to be about?  After some reflection, I had my concept, but still a lot of fear.  I messaged Stephen that I thought I might have a concept for a podcast and would he still be interested in putting it on VociEdRadio?  He was putting together a radiothon for VoiceEd's first anniversary on Saturday and suggested I come on the live broadcast and sort of workshop the idea with some of the VociEd community.

OK - so now I'm going to be on a live broadcast, talking about an idea for something I'm feeling both excited and terrified about - with folks who are seasoned Podcasters - folks whose podcasts I have listened to and admired, and let's be honest, been in awe of.  Bless the VoicEdRadio family - they could not have been more supportive of the idea - both the folks who were chatting with me live, and those who were responding on Twitter while we were broadcasting.  My thanks to all of you - especially Stephen, Chris Cuff, Brad Shreffler, Sarah Anne Lalonde, Shane of theedpodcastLeanne Hansen and Noa Daniels.  Your words of encouragement gave me the boost I needed to get this thing done.  I was DM'ing with Noa after the broadcast and she shared some words with me that Derek Rhodenizer had given her about the fear of taking a risk: "take the leap and build wings on the way."  Well said.

I had mentioned to a colleague that I was contemplating doing this.  I always enjoy "talking teaching" with Heather Jacobi and thought if I was going to do this, she would be the perfect first guest.  She didn't hesitate for a second, bless her!  With my live radio broadcast experience from the weekend still fresh, I decided to leap before I thought/talked myself out of doing it.  She was available after school Monday - so we sat down and got it done.  She was the perfect first guest too - it was just two gals talking teaching.

I've already learned a few things about podcasting:
1.  Use the paid version of Zencastr - you get more postproduction options.
2.  Don't worry about the technical aspects during recording - stay focused on the conversation and let the magic happen.
3.  The hardest part about podcasting is deciding to do it and clicking record.

Now that the deed is done and I have pushed send to VoicEdRadio, I really do feel like I have sprouted wings and could actually fly.  Is it the world's best podcast?  Nope.  But, I confronted my fear and became a content creator, not just a consumer.  I'm feeling an adrenaline rush - a bit of a high really.  And it feels good.

Blogger's/Podcaster's Note:
My podcast is called "I Wish I Knew - EDU" and the concept is talking to experienced educators about the things they wish they knew when they started teaching.   If you want to hear Episode 1 with Heather Jacobi - check it out on Soundcloud by clicking this link or clicking the play button below.  I welcome your comments on how I can improve and expand it.  I'm recording Episode 2 this weekend - so if you enjoy Episode 1, watch for my next podcast when I talk to T. Scott.

Friday, 2 February 2018

Hope and a Groundhog

image from:

I, like many others this morning, who do not consider themselves "winter enthusiasts," was anxiously awaiting word from Wiarton Willie about his prediction for the coming of Spring.  I was very much hoping he would not see his shadow and tell us that Spring would be on it's way, post haste.  Alas, it must have been a much nicer day north of here, and Willie did see his six more weeks of winter.

It does seem an odd thing to pin our hopes on the weather prediction of a sleepy, yet famous, rodent.  Certainly, Willie and his many weather predicting rodent cousins, are wrong as much as they are right when it comes to the arrival date of warmer days.  And scientifically, there can't be many studies that would vouch for this meteorological methodology as a verifable way to accurately predict our seasonal changes.  Yet still, we wait, and we hope.

That's kind of what hope is all about though.  We don't let things like scientific facts stop us from hoping.  Hope is not quantifiable or scientifically provable.  It's about a desire for something to happen.  It's about what our heart wants, not what our brain tells us.  When we are waiting for an event we ponder the outcomes, we consider the odds, we consult experts, but we still harbor our own hopes even when they are the most unlikely option.  We hope for the best and prepare for the worst.  We hope against hope.  We hope for miracles.  Hope springs eternal.

Hope gets us through the hard times, because without it, we would be lost.

I hope for so many things.  I hope my students will be safe when they are not at school.  I hope they will believe in themselves.  I hope they will overcome the obstacles life puts in their way.  I hope I will find that spark in them that makes them want to come to school.  I hope they will always choose to be kind.  I hope I will continue to be a model of life long learning throughout my career and life.  I hope I and those I care about will stay healthy.  I hope for happiness, well being and a well lived life.

I absolutely work and plan and act to make these hopes reality.  Goals without a plan and hard work are just dreams, after all.  But on the bad days, I hope tomorrow will be better.  It's that hope that gets me out of bed each day to start fresh.

Today, I'm hoping ole Wiarton Willie is wrong and that soon I will see some snowdrops and daffodils pushing their way through the last of the snow in my garden.  Maybe spring will come in six weeks or less, and maybe it won't. But, that won't stop me hoping.

Photo: R.Meharg

Friday, 26 January 2018

Reno your Pedagogy

Is it Time to Renovate Your Practice?

I may be risking being a bit derivative with this blog post.  There are lots of great educational innovators out there, folks who are driving change and doing it much better than I am - not to mention writing much better about it than I can.  But, this is where my head is at this week, so this is what I'm writing about.  

I was reading a new post from The Plugged In Portable, a great blog by David Carruthers who is a Technology Co-ordinator with the TVDSB, called "The Biggest Barrier Can be Your Own Thinking."  He was writing about how as teachers, we can be our own worst enemy when it comes to innovation in education.  He got my attention with this:  "Far too often though, educators are quick to turn their backs on innovation. They see barriers without any thoughtful reflection, or questioning, regarding how these barriers can be overcome, or if they truly exist in the first place."  He goes on to say, "However, to a much larger degree, I believe these barriers are erected because of attitude, rather than any limitations placed on us by forces beyond our control."  That got me thinking about a staffroom conversation I had with a colleague a few months ago.

I was in the staff room with a few other teachers doing some self directed PD.  We were working on how to use and implement Google Applications in our classrooms.  A colleague noticed what we were doing and in the conversation that followed stated something to the tune of, "I'm interested in technology but I don't want to learn all about this Google thing and convert everything I do to that, so that in a few years the next new thing will come along and I have to start all over."  

My response was, "But, that's how life works, isn't it?"  I went on to explain that I had spent a lot of time and money renovating my kitchen not that long ago. The old kitchen still worked, but it had it's issues and it was dated.  The new kitchen is easier to work in, has more modern and energy efficient appliances, and the new lighting makes it a safer and more productive space.  Did I have to renovate?  No, but I had the means, the know how and the desire to improve it, so I did.  And I'm loving the change.  Just like in our homes, regardless of what we've used for technology in our classrooms in the past, things change, improve or need to be replaced.

Photo from:

Since having this conversation, I've thought a lot about it.  David's post this week brought it and the the issue surrounding it back to the forefront for me.  We innovate, change and update things in our lives all the time.  I mentioned renovations, but we replace our vehicles, change our hairstyles, buy new clothes and pursue new hobbies on a pretty regular basis.  Why is it that when it comes to professional practice, technology in the classroom, or any change in the educational spectrum, that we can sometimes be so resistant?  I get it.  Change is hard.  Change can be scary. Change is work.  But not changing can be scary too.  You can get so comfortable with the way things are, that you fail to see how great they could be. 

I'm not saying everyone has to jump on every new innovation or idea immediately (unless you want to).  What I am saying is don't dismiss change or new ideas immediately, simply because they are a change or a new idea.  Think about them.  Reflect on how you might be able to improve what you are doing with them.  Pick something you think is doable, and do it.  You don't have to gut your house to improve it.  Start with something small like a coat of paint, a new appliance or some throw pillows.  In the teaching realm it might be doing some professional reading, taking a course, starting a professional Twitter account, joining a PLN or going to a workshop so that you can start a classroom website, get students blogging, or revamp how you are assessing student learning.  Challenge yourself to make one change in the way you do things this month, this semester or this school year.  

If you are reading this and find your back straightening up, your toes digging into the floor and you are thinking, "But, I don't want to change what I'm doing," I ask you to reflect on this... Do you really want your professional practice to be the allegorical equivalent of a kitchen with 1950's era appliances and bright orange countertops?

Photo from:

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Oh, those pesky bugs!

Oh, those pesky bugs!

It's mid January and we are now fully invested...or should I say infested in Cold and Flu season.  The past two weeks my classroom has been pretty much decimated by the most recent bug.  One day this week 60% of my class was absent due to illness, not to mention one of my E.A.'s as well.  As my teacher readers well know, our students share a great deal with us, including way too much information on bodily fluids and how they emanate from us when we are sick.  I enjoy bathroom humor as much as my students do, but I have heard way too much about poop and vomit this week.

They also generally share whatever virus they get with us.  I remember early in my career being told by colleagues that teachers build up immunity to most viruses after a few years, but this has not been the case for me.  About 95% of the time, I tend to get whatever virus enters my classroom, despite washing my hands obsessively until they are raw, disinfecting surfaces, regular flu shots and other home remedies.

However, this time, I was the Typhoid Mary of the classroom.  Everyone came back from Christmas break healthy, except me.  I came back with a bug, likely picked up at the hockey arena or at a holiday function the last weekend of the break.  It seems to have been an incredibly virulent virus, because no one has emerged unscathed.  I have simply infected them all.  After more than 20 plus years of teaching and getting all the cold and flu bugs my students have shared with me,  I'm feeling a bit, "Sorry, Not Sorry."

Driving home on Friday, after having to send two more students home midway through the day with flu symptoms, I got to thinking, it's too bad I couldn't viralize other things to infect them with.  I mean, wouldn't it be great if I could infect them with a love of reading or learning in general?  I'd love to give them a bug that would get them to believe in themselves and their abilities, instead of listening to the negative comments of others, or their own negative self talk.  What if I could infect them with resilience, so that they could take the lemons life hands them and make the most refreshing lemonade out of them every time?  How about a virus that reminds them to be kind to each other, at every opportunity, in every exchange?  Or a bug that gives them the courage to take risks, to try new things, to be open to new experiences?  I really should have paid more attention in Chemistry and Biology class - I might have gained the ability to create these "super-bugs."

Alas, I've got to work with what I've got.  Every day, Teachers are going into their classrooms and trying to give our students some sort of vaccine to inoculate them against whatever life throws at them.  Through our training, professional reading and ongoing learning we improve our practice and pedagogy and hope to eradicate the bugs that ail us.  Things like Tribes, Community building, Digital Citizenship, Reading programs, Growth Mindset, (this list could go on and on) are all things we are doing and trying and honing to make our classrooms healthy.

I fear I may have extended this metaphor much too far.  It could be the cold medication.  Maybe I've had one cough candy too many.  Perhaps this is all just a fever inspired rant.  However, I would love to hear what kinds of things you would like to infect your students with - and what you are currently using in place of my viralization theory.  In the meantime, pass the Kleenex and stock up on Vicks's only January, and Cold and Flu season won't end for months.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

I got a card in the mail this week...

I got a lovely birthday card in the mail this week.
The card I got this week.

You are saying to yourself, "Big Deal.  We all have a birthday every year.  We all get birthday cards.  What, is she fishing for birthday wishes?"  Perhaps I am getting ahead of myself, because this story goes back a long way.  Stick with me.  I have a point, I promise.

On my 15th Birthday, I was in Grade ten and sitting in my homeroom class.  I'm not sure if many schools still have homeroom classes.  Everyone had a homeroom where you would start your day.  It was about 15 minutes long and your attendance would be taken, opening routines like O Canada and announcements would occur. On this day, my homeroom teacher handed me an envelope that had been placed in his mailbox.  I opened it and found a birthday card, addressed to me and simply signed: "A fellow Capricorn."

Who had sent it?  After years of reading the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Sherlock Holmes and Trixie Beldon books, I sensed a mystery.  The game was afoot!  It was not from my family.  They had given me their cards that morning at breakfast.  My friends had already decorated my locker and given me their cards that morning.  And the way it was signed?  That had to be a clue.  How many other Capricorns did I know who would have access to the school mailboxes?  All morning, while going through the motions of my classes, I was employing my powers of deduction, trying to figure out this enigma.   I mentioned it to my friends.  They looked as surprised as I was and had no answers for me.  Lunch came and went and I was still stumped.

That afternoon, as I was walking into my Grade Ten Science class, my teacher, Mr. Tony Stacpoole, wished me a Happy Birthday.  I wished him a Happy Birthday too.


I instantly flashed back to the exact day one year ago, when I was in Mr. Stacpoole's Grade Nine Science class and my friends and I were discussing my Birthday (I was blessed to have him for Science two years in a row). Mr. Stacpoole overheard us and asked if it was my birthday. When I told him it was, he said, "Me too!"

"A fellow Capricorn."  Aha!

I took the card out of my binder, showed it to him and asked if he had sent it.  He smiled and said he had, "because us January the 10thers need to stick together."  I thanked him and thought how nice it was that he had remembered our joint birthday and taken the time to send me a card.  It really made my day.

The next year, Grade 11, I did not have Mr. Stacpoole for any classes, but I remembered how good it felt to get that card from him and thought I would drop a birthday card in his mailbox, hopefully making his day.  So, that morning, I went to the mailboxes first thing, dropped off that card and got myself to homeroom.  As you are reading this, you can probably guess what happened next, but at the time, I had no expectations.  I sat down in homeroom and was handed another birthday card from, you guessed it, "A fellow Capricorn."  I was thrilled, and a little surprised.  I was no longer in his class and I would not be lucky enough to be in one of his classes the rest of my High School career.  That he remembered our birthday and sent me a card, when I was not even his student anymore was really very touching.

We exchanged cards again when I was in Grade 12 and Grade 13 (that was the last year we actually called it Grade 13 - it became OAC after that).  With Graduation, I figured that was probably the end of the story, but sure enough, a card from Mr. Stacpoole arrived in my parent's mailbox for me my first year of University.  And we continued to exchange birthday cards the year after that, and the year after that, and the year after that....  As Paul Harvey would say, "and now you know, the rest of the story."

I just did the math.  That beautiful birthday card that I got from Mr. Stacpoole this week is the 33rd birthday card he has sent me since Grade Ten.

So here's where I get to the point, as promised.

A few weeks ago, I blogged about my #OneWordOnt 2018 choice of "Relationships".  When I opened my birthday card from my fellow January 10ther this week, I started thinking about what a great example of relationship building this card represents.  I was in Mr. Stacpoole's class for two years.  I cannot say I remember a single amazing lesson plan - although I'm sure there were many because he was an outstanding teacher.  I do remember frog disection day - although more for the smell of formaldehyde and the feeling of cutting through the frog's skin (it was like a rubbery leather).  I also remember he had a funny joke to help us remember what mitosis was.  I don't remember the joke, but the punch line was "and he says, that's why my toes is cold!"  To this day, I can't see a picture of cells dividing without suddenly hearing him say that in my head.

What I do remember about Mr. Stacpoole's Science class is his soft voice, his towering height, his infectious laugh and the way he treated everyone of his students.  He valued our opinions and our thoughts.  He made us laugh and laughed with us.  He built relationships and community in that class and that is part of the reason we all learned so much from him.

How lucky was I to have had a role model like this?  As the year progresses, and I continue to reflect on my #OneWord focus on Relationships, I will keep his example in mind.

33 Years and counting of Birthday cards...that's a tough (but worthwhile) act to follow.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Reflections on The Global Read Along 2017

Reflections on Making Connections through the Global Read Aloud 2017

This was our first year participating in the Global Read Aloud Project (GRA) and it was a spectacular experience for our classroom.  The GRA started in 2010 and is the creation of Pernille Ripp, a 7th Grade Teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin.  It officially runs for six weeks starting in October each year, but can be shifted if needed based on school schedules. The idea is that classrooms around the world at a similar grade level, read the same book, at the same time, and share their learning and questions with each other through various platforms, such as Twitter, blogs, vlogs, Facebook, Skype, Google Hangouts, or any technology you want to use.  The goal is for students to make global connections and develop an enjoyment of reading. I do a poor job of explaining it.  Let's hear from Pernille about what the GRA is:

Our Experience with GRA'17
From the list of books on the GRA website, I chose A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness as our book.  It's about a young man who is dealing with his Mother's Cancer diagnosis and trying to come to grips with "his truth."  Pernille referred to it as a "heart" book.  It really was a book that everyone in the class could relate to and brought about so many great discussions on the themes within.  In fact, I blogged about a really powerful discussion our class had in an earlier post.

But, you can probably do that with any great piece of literature in the classroom, can't you?

Sure you can.  However, the beauty of the GRA is the Global Connections you make with other classrooms.  Beyond all the great pedagogy and literature activities you do in your classroom (and you are encouraged to do whatever you like, teach the book however you like) the idea is to use technology to connect with others.  You can make as many or as few connections as you like and make them in whatever way you like.  

How do you make these connections?  Through the GRA communities on Facebook, Google+ and Edmodo (among others), there are lists you can join where you share your contact info, or leave posts asking for a connection in certain countries, grades, etc.  All these connections start by joining the GRA through the website and becoming a member of the community in the platform of your choice.

Here's how we connected:

1.  Snail mail postcards.  We sent out postcards (a picture of the school was on this year's card, but next year I think we will try to send out St. Thomas landmark postcards) with a letter about our community, our school and our classroom, to 40 schools.  We included links to our classroom website and blogs/vlogs.  We did not receive as many as we sent, but that's OK.  We were still excited each time one arrived.  We took a picture of each card and shared it on our classroom Twitter account (@MehargsVikings) and our class website.  The students created a Google My Map and placed pins for each school we received a postcard from.  They tried to get a picture of the school to attach to each pin as well.  We received postcards from all over Canada and the United States.  Some were student made, some were commercially made with pictures from the areas they came from.  We proudly displayed all of these on our GRA bulletin board.

One of the postcards we received.

2.  Digital & Video Postcards.  The students each created a personal postcard using a Google Slide.  We combined them to make a Slide Show of everyone's card and shared it via the teacher email addresses we had, posting it on our class website and sharing it in our Twitter feed using the #GRA17AMC.  The class loves making videos, so they went out and got video of the school and local landmarks and tourist stops.  They then used Google Slides and iMovie to make a video Postcard which we shared the same way as the Slide Show.  If you would like to see the video, check it out on our class YouTube channel (if you are reading this blog after June 30, 2018 - those videos will have gone down due to limits on Image and Video Permissions).  They loved getting videos from other schools in North America - we even had a chain of back and forth videos with a school in Connecticut.  They'd answer our questions about them, where they lived, what they liked to do, or about the book with a video and then we would reciprocate.  It was a great way for schools without access to Skype or Google Hangouts to make connections.

An example of a Student's personal postcard made using Google Slides.

3.  Twitter #GRA17AMC.  By following each book's hashtag, you could participate in a slow chat about the book your class was reading, post questions or answer questions other classes posted.  This was not a huge hit in my classroom, mostly due to the time lag.  My students tended to want their questions answered immediately and didn't have a lot of patience to wait for pesky things like International Time Zones, i.e. for other schools around the world to be in class and see their question.  However, due to the spinning of the earth - this was often the best way to hear from classrooms that were much farther away and not in class at the same time we were, like the folks we Tweeted with in England and Australia.  We also made sure we added the hashtag to any photos or videos of activities relating to the book that we posted and enjoyed following what other classes around the world posted too.

4.  Blogs and Vlogs - WriteAboutFlipgrid.  As WriteAbout is a Blogging platform that was free for a year through the GRA, we used this to write about what we were reading and invited others to respond.  As a sponsor of the GRA, WriteAbout had many areas where students could exchange ideas and thoughts on the book.  Flipgrid allowed students who were not strong writers, or prefered a video medium to Vlog about the book.  We posted video questions and comments in our own grids and responded to those posted by other classes.  Often invitations to participate in a Flipgrid were shared through the #GRA17 on Twitter.  Because you can set up your grid so the Teacher moderates each video before it gets posted it is a great way to keep the videos on task and weed out any that are inappropriate or just plain silly.  It's also a good opportunity to talk to your class about good Digital Citizenship, their Digital Footprint and how your posts can affect others.

5.  Live Connections Through Google Hangouts.  Our Board does not support Skype in the classroom, but as a GAFE Board, does support Google Hangouts.  These were truly magical connections.  We started with a few Mystery Hangouts with a classroom in our Board (Thanks to Heidi Soloway and her class in London for participating in our first ever Mystery Hangout!), one with  another Ontario classroom and one in Indiana.  The class quickly adapted to using yes or no Questioning techniques to narrow down where each class was and used Google Maps to help us find them.  With these three classrooms, we were able to hold at least one Google Hangout a week (and often more than one) where the students talked about their interests, their school, their daily lives, and about questions and thoughts they had about the book.  Some students were more comfortable sharing live than others, but all were able to participate in their own way, at their own level.   Each Monday they would eagerly ask when we would be "Hanging out" that week and would log questions they wanted to ask once we connected live.  They loved discussing the different school calendar and school day with the students in Indiana.  As we got closer to American Thanksgiving, there was a lot of back and forth discussion about the differences between their holiday and ours.  The Christmas season and end of the official six week GRA program put these connections on hold, but we will be continuing to connect with the class in Indiana and another local Ontario school (different Board) in the new year.  We won't be talking about the book anymore, but we will continue to learn about each other - what makes us the same and what makes us different.

Were there some problems with these connections?  Sure there were.  One day the wifi went down and we had to reschedule the hangout.  Another day, the school in Indiana had a power outage - another reschedule.  I had a couple days where the computer I was using would not let me connect - so I called in our Tech Co-ordinator, David Carruthers (if you are reading this, David, once again...many thanks for your help with this!), and he had us up and running in no time.  I think these problems were great models of persistence and tenacity.  We never let a technical issue stop us from making connections.  Due to different time zones, live connections outside the Eastern and neighboring Time Zones were not really possible within the school day.  But, that's where the postcards, videos, blogs, vlogs  and Twitter Slow Chats filled in.  

The positives?  We made great connections with other students in other locations around the world.  We learned that while the world is a very big place, we have a lot in common and we have so much to share with each other.  We also read a pretty fantastic book.  It was a great experience for every student in the room and I have already signed us up to participate in GRA'18. 

Blogger's Note: As an added bonus for Teachers, The GRA communities for Teachers on the website, through Edmodo, Facebook, etc are also great and Teachers around the world openly share resources, lessons, activities as well as host discussions and forums about the program.  If you would like to learn more about the Global Read Aloud or join us for GRA'18 in October (the sign up is now open) please check out GRA website, follow the GRA on Twitter, or look for them on Edmodo, or Facebook.